Thursday, October 11, 2007

Kwamé Ryan, Black Canadian Conductor in Bordeaux

(Note this post is being published a second time because of an error in the URL)

125 years ago today, on Oct. 11, 1882, a Black composer was born in Drummondville, Ontario, since incorporated into Niagara Falls. He left Canada with his family as a child, and settled in the United States. His name was R. Nathaniel Dett, who is profiled at

Kwamé Ryan is a Black conductor who was also born in Canada. His agent, HarrisonParrott, summarizes his youth and career:

Canadian born Kwamé Ryan grew up in Trinidad, where he received his first musical education. At the age of fourteen he attended boarding school in England where he studied conducting, piano, voice, and double bass, before moving on to study musicology at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University, and conducting with the conductor and composer Peter Eötvös.”

Beginning with the 2007-2008 season, Kwamé holds the post of Music Director for the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine. Maestro Ryan was Music Director Designate for the orchestra in the 2006-2007 season, his agent relates, with responsibility for numerous presentations, including a staged production of Berlioz's La Mort de Cleopatre and Poulenc's La Voix Humaine with Mireille Delunsch in January 2007. HarrisonParrot continues:

Recent highlights have included his English National Opera debut in autumn 2005, conducting Strauss' Salome, a highly acclaimed debut at the opening concert of the 2004 Edinburgh Festival where he conducted Honegger's Jeanne d'arc au bűcher and the world premiere of Pintscher's L'espace dernier at the Bastille in Paris in January 2005.”

Kwamé Ryan maintained a heavy schedule of North American appearances last season, we are told, and plans to continue to do so this season, the agent reports. On Dec. 11, 2006, Tim Page of The Washington Post reviewed Kwamé Ryan's performance as Guest Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra:

The BSO's Concentrated Concert

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 11, 2006; C01

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra plays with such tenderness and welling musicality that it makes many other ensembles seem loud and muscle-bound. On Saturday morning, the BSO offered a brief, lovely program at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, under the direction of Kwame Ryan.

Ryan would seem to be a genuine find. He grew up in Trinidad, took most of his musical studies in England and has served in important positions at the Stuttgart State Opera and the Freiburg Opera in Germany. Most recently, he conducted the English National Opera and the opening concert of the Edinburgh Festival. He is particularly well suited to the Baltimore players, whom he conducts with affection and authority.

He was well-partnered on Saturday by the pianist Markus Groh, who calls to mind such great Germanic pianists of the past as Wilhelm Backhaus and Edwin Fischer with his attention to form and his strong technique, which, however, is never employed for the sake of mere massiveness.

From the beginning of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, Groh and Ryan seemed in full harmony. The pianist took firm authority in the opening Allegro Moderato (as opposed to the softer flow of the orchestral playing) and then there was a role reversal in the strange and marvelous second movement -- a musical dialogue where the orchestra is blunt and aggressive and the piano introspective and almost pleading. Finally, piano and orchestra exploded together joyfully, happy partners, in the concluding Rondo.”

For a more recent and more personal account of Maestro Ryan's conducting, we turn to a post entitled “College Essay in Retrospect” at the blog

“Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My friends, I present to you the labor of 16 drafts and hours of breakdowns. It is my college essay. After drafting essays about conducting, directing, and even about my eyebrows as a metaphor for my personality and mannerisms, I sent in this sad little conglomeration of 500 words. So, for those curious, this is how I sold myself to nine schools in one page:

Diminuendo: The once-blazing house lights cool to a reverent blue. Subito piano: the volume of an excited audience crackles and diminishes abruptly. It’s a concerto—the conductor, the soloist—disguised as a Rachmaninov symphony. My neighbor precariously teeters on the edge of her seat and eventually leans over so far that her threatening elbows encroach on my personal space, and I’m fairly certain the gentleman to my right is sweating profusely although the current room temperature is approximately sixty degrees. It could have been the Mexican food he’d consumed for his dinner. It could be Rachmaninov (after all, I am no exception to this falderal—I am in tears within minutes). But I’m fairly certain it is Kwamé Ryan that is the root of our emotional turbulence. Never, in my extensive symphony-going career, have I witnessed a man snatch an audience so quickly or with such force. He is our conductor.

Ryan sends us into a rapturous maelstrom from exposition to recapitulation. He is unconventional. He conducts sans baton. He closes his eyes, barely consults the score, and sways with the music. My heartbeat unabashedly becomes dependent on each pulse of his wrist to the three-four rhapsody. As absurd as it may seem, this clean-cut man clad in a freshly-pressed tuxedo, is one of the most radical conductors of our time, and my most prevalent intrigue.” gives the details of a DVD of an opera conducted by Kwamé Ryan in 2005. The composer is Karl Amadeus Hartmann, K.A.; the work is Simplicius Simplicissimus. Maestro Ryan conducts the Stuttgart State Opera Chorus and Stuttgart State Opera Orchestra. The DVD was released in 2007; the time is 85 minutes. Among the CDs recorded by Kwamé Ryan is Neither, opera in one act for soprano and orchestra; Morton Feldman, composer; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Kwamé Ryan, conductor; Col Legno (2000).

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