Saturday, January 31, 2009

Kazem Abdullah, African American Conductor, Makes Debut at Metropolitan Opera

The Chicago classical music radio host Sergio Mims alerted us to the Metropolitan Opera debut of Kazem Abdullah. An interview with is followed by a review from The New York Times:
By Robert Hilferty
27 Jan 2009 
Kazem Abdullah makes his Met Opera debut conducting Orfeo ed Euridice Jan. 28 and 31. The young maestro discusses his approach to the job, the scarcity of African-American conductors, and how his speech impediment has factored into his work. 'There’s no set course if you want to be a conductor,' says Kazem Abdullah, 29, who makes his Met debut this week in Orfeo ed Euridice. An assistant conductor there the past four seasons, he now emerges from that shady underworld, taking center pit on Wednesday and Saturday. 'I’m not nervous,' said the Indiana-born, Dayton-raised musician, whose exotic name was bestowed by his Sierra Leonean father. 'It’s going to be lots of fun.'”

Abdullah started on clarinet, excelling to the point where he could play in the New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas. He had already flirted with conducting in classes at Aspen and Verbier, but decided to go the whole hog in Miami.” “'Kazem’s this calm, sunny, constructive personality in the service of rather difficult music,' said an impressed Tilson Thomas.” “Black conductors are rare— the last one in a similar position to his was Calvin Simmons, who died tragically at age 32 in 1982. And there are of course other fine conductors out there like James DePriest. But Abdullah envisions more African American interest in classical music during the hopeful Age of Obama, in a 'globalized world where more and more people have access to this art form.' He himself was ignited as a kid catching great black singers like Price, Norman and Battle on radio broadcasts and 'Live from Lincoln Center.' Abdullah is slated to conduct Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha in 2010 at the Chatelet in Paris. 'Joplin was trying to find legitimacy as a black classical composer,' he said. 'So I feel simpatico. To think this son of slaves created such a great opera about the African American experience!'”  [Full Post]  [James DePreist (b. 1936) and Scott Joplin (1868-1917) are profiled at]
By Anthony Tommasini
Published: January 30, 2009
For Wednesday’s performance Ms. Blythe also seemed to inspire the conductor Kazem Abdullah, in his Met debut, who took over for James Levine. The Indiana-born Mr. Abdullah, 29, is an assistant conductor on the Met staff. Mr. Abdullah conducted a confident performance, especially during the lively dances, and was impressively responsive to the singers during their long stretches of orchestra-accompanied recitative, which must flow with a combination of urgency and flexibility.  [Full Post]

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