Orchestra leader James DePriest dies

Feb. 10, 2013 at 10:21 AM
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., Feb. 10 (UPI) -- James DePriest, one of the few black conductors to achieve international fame, died at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., at age 76, his manager said.

The cause of DePriest's death Friday wasn't mentioned in the announcement by Jason Bagdale but DePriest's wife, Ginette, told The (Portland) Oregonian he had been in and out of the hospital since having a heart attack in March.

In 1962, DePriest contracted polio while touring in Asia, leaving both legs paralyzed and forcing him to use the wheelchair, The New York Times reported Saturday. In 1964, DePriest won the gold medal in the Dmitri Mitropoulos International Conducting Competition and in 1965 he became an assistant conductor to Leonard Bernstein at the New York Philharmonic.

DePreist was born in Philadelphia, completed his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Pennsylvania, and studied composition and conducting at the Philadelphia Conservatory.

DePreist made his European conducting debut with the Rotterdam Philharmonic in 1969. From 1971 to 1974, he was appointed associate conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington.

He spent nearly 25 years with the Oregon Symphony in Portland beginning in 1980, transforming it from a popular regional group to an orchestra with a broader following because of the more than a dozen records the orchestra recorded while he was conductor, the Times said.

After he left the Oregon Symphony in 2003, DePriest joined the Juilliard School in New York, the Times said. From 2005 to 2008, DePreist was the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra's permanent conductor.

DePriest published two books of poetry and received many honors, including the National Medal of Arts in 2005.

Survivors include his wife, two daughters from his first marriage and two grandchildren.

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