James DePreist died on Friday in Scottsdale, Arizona at the age of 76, according to his manager Jason Bagdale.
DePreist was one of the first African-American conductors. He was also a National Medal of Arts winner.
DePreist was the Oregon Symphony’s music director from 1980 until 2003. He also served as the director emeritus of the Juilliard School’s conducting program in New York.
The Oregon Symphony was transformed from a small part-time group to a nationally recognized full-time orchestra under his direction. The symphony will dedicate its weekend performances to James DePreist. Oregon Symphony conductor Carlos Kalmar stated:
“We are talking about a man with an international career, who achieved many things on international stages. And you can only do that if — aside from technicalities — you are a real personality, someone the musicians look up to, and you keep the audiences very, very interested. And I think in that sense Jimmy was great.”
The Los Angeles Times notes that Bagdale explained James DePreist died of complications from his massive heart attack. Along with a distinguished career internationally and with the Oregon Symphony, DePreist also became the music director at the Pasadena Symphony in 2010.
Paul Jan Zdunek stated of the late conductor:
“James came in and was just a Zen master. He had this aura about him. He didn’t have to say anything. It was the way he looked at you and held himself. And his musicianship was beyond reproach.”
Throughout his career, DePreist created more than 50 recordings and published two volumes of poetry. Maya Angelou praised his work, saying it had “the tautness of a perfectly pitched viola and much of its resonance.”
James DePreist is survived by his wife, Ginette, as well as two daughters and two grandchildren.