James DePreist | Orchestra conductor, 76

James DePreist in 2003.
James DePreist in 2003.
Posted: February 12, 2013

James DePreist, 76, artistic adviser to the Pasadena Symphony and Pops and one of the few black conductors to lead major orchestras in the United States and abroad, died Friday, Feb. 8, at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., of complications from a heart attack he had last spring, said his manager.

Mr. DePreist overcame polio in his 20s to pursue a conducting career that, over four decades, took him to stages from Sweden to Japan. His longest and most distinguished tenure was with the Oregon Symphony, where he was music director from 1980 to 2003, a period when that orchestra gained national and international renown.

In 2010, he assumed the top musical post at the Pasadena Symphony after the unamicable departure of its longtime music director, Jorge Mester.

"We brought him in after our 25-years-long music director left. There was a bit of uneasiness and unsettled feelings among the orchestra," Paul Jan Zdunek, chief executive of the Pasadena Symphony Association, said Friday.

"James came in and was just a Zen master. He had this aura about him. . . ." Zdunek said. "And his musicianship was beyond reproach."

Mr. DePreist was also permanent conductor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and director emeritus of conducting and orchestral studies at the Juilliard School in New York.

He was a nephew of Marian Anderson, the celebrated contralto. Mr. DePreist was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the nation's highest honor for artistic achievement, by President George W. Bush in 2005.

Mr. DePreist is survived by his wife, Ginette, two daughters, and two grandchildren. - L.A. Times

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