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James DePreist, Oregon Symphony Music Director, Receives 2000 Ditson Conductor's Award

By Ulrika Brand

James DePriest
(Photo Courtesy the Oregon Symphony)

James DePreist, music director of the Oregon Symphony since 1980, has been named the winner of the 2000 Ditson Conductor's Award for the advancement of American music, presented annually by Columbia.

The award, which is the oldest honoring conductors for their support of American music, was presented November 1 in conjunction with a Juilliard Symphony concert at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. The evening's program featured John Adams' The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestra, William Walton's Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod and Maurice Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe: Suite No. 2.

The Ditson Conductor's Award was established in 1945 by the Alice M. Ditson Fund at Columbia. Past recipients include Leonard Bernstein, Eugene Ormandy, Leopold Stokowski, Joann Falletta and Christoph von Dohnányi.

Columbia MacDowell Professor of Music George Edwards, secretary of the Ditson Fund Advisory Committee, presented the 56th annual award and the $5,000 prize to DePreist. He read a citation from Columbia's President George Rupp that acknowledged DePreist's leadership in building the Oregon Symphony from an important regional orchestra to one worthy of national attention.

The citation stated, "In addition to inspired performances of standard works, you are especially admired for your consistent, effective, and passionate advocacy of music by American composers. In your tenure with the Oregon Symphony, you have conducted more than 80 different American works, by more than 50 different composers; many of these performances were premieres, and many have subsequently been recorded under your direction.

"It is for this devotion to the cause of American music, often by younger or less well-known composers, that Columbia is honored to present you with the Ditson Conductor's Award for 2000," concluded Rupp.

DePreist recently extended his contract with the Oregon Symphony through the 2004-2005 season and just completed four years as Music Director of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic. DePreist has been described by the Chicago Sun-Times as "one of the most important American conductors of the day," and by the Chicago Tribune as "one of the finest conductors this nation has produced."

Born in Philadelphia in 1936, DePreist studied composition with Vincent Persichetti at the Philadelphia Conservatory and earned a bachelor's and a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1962, while on a State Department tour in Bangkok, he contracted polio but recovered sufficiently to win a first prize in the 1964 Dimitri Mitropoulos International Conducting Competition. He was selected by Leonard Bernstein to be an assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic for the 1965-1966 season.

DePreist made his highly acclaimed European debut with the Rotterdam Philharmonic in 1969. In the same year he was awarded a Martha Baird Rockefeller grant. Concerts soon followed in Stockholm, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, Belgium and Italy. In 1971 Antal Dorati chose DePreist to become his associate conductor with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.

In 1976 DePreist became music director of the Quebec Symphony, Canada's oldest orchestra, where he remained until 1983. In 1980 he was named music director and conductor of the Oregon Symphony, which he guided into the ranks of the major United States orchestras.

Much in demand as a guest conductor, DePreist has a distinguished career in America and abroad, regularly performing with the major American orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony and the New York Philharmonic. Recent and future engagements abroad include appearances in Amsterdam, Tokyo, Helsinki, Prague, Vienna, England, France and Australia. In the spring of 1998, DePreist led the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic on a second United States tour.

DePreist has a recorded repertoire that includes 35 compact discs, and he has recently entered into a five-year, ten-CD recording project with the Oregon Symphony, which will include the recording of works by American composers.

Published: Nov 02, 2000
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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