Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Detroit Free Press: 'Conductor John McLaughlin Williams is a man without an orchestra'

[Conductor John McLaughlin Williams usually keeps his 2007 Grammy tucked away; he was nominated for another one this year, but lost.]

“A conductor and recent local transplant was up for a Grammy Award on Sunday. It was Leonard Slatkin, the high-powered new music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, right? Wrong.
It was John McLaughlin Williams, a 51-year-old native of North Carolina, who lives in Livonia with his wife and daughter. Don't feel bad about not recognizing him. He's also unknown among the classical music elite -- in spite of recording 10 CDs, winning a Grammy in 2007 for a performance by French modernist Olivier Messiaen and earning ringing endorsements from producers, musicians and critics.”

“Williams studied violin at Boston University and the New England Conservatory, but spent nearly 20 years freelancing, working with the Boston Symphony, Boston Pops and even soloing with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. He spent a season with the Houston Symphony and a season as concertmaster (first violinist) with the Virginia Symphony. But he finally realized that the only way he could play the music that most excited him would be if he could call the tune: He had to conduct. So he enrolled at the Cleveland Institute of Music to study the craft. He launched his postgraduate career by conducting music by the pioneering 20th-Century African-American composer William Grant Still at a conference. A label owner heard Williams and recommended him to the Ledins -- who were producing the burgeoning American Classics series on the Naxos label. 'I was invited to pitch projects, and here's where “Baker's” came into play,' says Williams. 'I could look at what had been recorded and see the holes.' As traditional major labels curtailed activities in the late '90s, Naxos was making hay by releasing inexpensive CDs of fresh repertoire and keeping costs low by avoiding star performers. That's how Williams got paired with a Ukrainian orchestra and why, once he proved his mettle, he keeps getting called for recordings.”  [Full Post]

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