Born November 21, 1936; died February 8, 2013
The American conductor James DePreist has died; he was 76. A nephew of the contralto Marion Anderson, DePreist was the first African-American conductor to appear regularly with the world’s leading orchestras.
DePreist was born in Philadelphia where he later studied, working at the Philadelphia Conservatory with Vincent Persichetti and gaining both his bachelor and master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. DePreist contracted polio on a trip to Bangkok but recovered sufficiently to work as Leonard Bernstein’s assistant at the New York Philharmonic in the 1965-66 season.
DePreist made his European debut with the Rotterdam PO in 1969 and soon appeared with many of Europe’s ensembles. In 1971 he was named associate conductor of the National Symphony in Washington DC during Antal Dorati’s tenure and in 1976 he became music director of the Quebec SO, a post he held until 1983. In 1980 he’d also be appointed music director of the Oregon SO, an ensemble whose conductor laureate he was at the time of his death. During his career he also hald posts with orchestras in Malmö, Monte-Carlo, Pasadena and Tokyo where he achieved something approaching cult status appearing in an anime book in cartoon form as the conductor of a fictitious orchestra.
He recorded extensively, primarily with the Oregon orchestra but also with the Helsinki PO and LSO. A disc of Respighi’s Roman Trilogy for Delos was warmly recommended by Edward Greenfield in Gramophone in November 2001. James DePreist was also emeritus director of Conducting and Orchestral Studies at New York’s Juilliard School. In 2005 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President George W Bush, the USA’s highest honour to recognise artistic achievement.