NEWS: Pasadena Symphony Artistic Advisor James DePreist dies at age 76

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

James DePreist, one of the most prominent African-American conductors who has served as artistic advisor of the Pasadena Symphony since 2010, died today at the age of 76 at his home in Scottsdale.

DePreist became the PSO’s artistic advisor in June 2010, after the orchestra severed ties with its long-time music director, Jorge Mester. DePreist helped the orchestra’s management choose a series of guest conductors during the next three seasons and conducted two concerts himself.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we mourn the passing of our dear friend and Artistic Advisor James DePreist,” states Paul Jan Zdunek, Chief Executive Officer of the Pasadena Symphony Association. “Maestro DePreist, or Jimmy as he preferred to be called, was not only a consummate musician and trailblazing conductor, but also the most thoughtful, loving and centered human being who touched us all so deeply.

The PSO will dedicated tomorrow’s concerts at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium to DePreist’s memory (LINK). “It is fitting,” says Zdunek, “that we remember his life and spirit this weekend with the previously scheduled Symphony No. 4 of Gustav Mahler which ends with an ethereal movement describing The Heavenly Life.’ ”

DePreist was both a noted conductor and a renowned teacher and was one of the first African-Americans to head a major symphony orchestra. At the time of his death, he was the Director Emeritus of Conducting and Orchestral Studies at The Juilliard School and Laureate Music Director of the Oregon Symphony.

DePreist, who was born in Philadelphia, was the nephew of famed contralto Marian Anderson. He contracted polio in 1962 while on a State Department tour in Thailand. Although he was forced to conduct from a wheelchair, he went on to a notable career, including 24 years at the helm of the Oregon Symphony in Eugene.

A Pasadena Star-News story is HERE.

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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