Thursday, September 10, 2009

Los Angeles Times: 'Hollywood Bowl's Thomas Wilkins a classical case of beating the odds'

[Conductor Thomas Wilkins (Ken Hively, Los Angeles Times / June 20, 2008)]
Los Angeles Times
Classical Music
Hollywood Bowl's Thomas Wilkins a classical case of beating the odds
He's one of the few African Americans leading major orchestras.
By Greg Braxton
September 9, 2009
When conductor Thomas Wilkins takes his place at the podium in front of a major orchestra, he knows what he
won't be doing. 'I used to wave my arms a lot when I was starting out my conducting career,' said Wilkins, principal guest conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. 'It was a very physical thing for me. But ultimately I learned that less is more. There are physical benefits of not over-conducting.' He added, 'It's about trusting the orchestra, which allows me to put more focus on the essence of the music, the shape of the sound. The better the orchestra, the less need for them to be timed.'

“Wilkins, who will guide the orchestra Friday through Sunday in the Bowl's fireworks finale, 'Blame It on Rio,' is also aware that no matter what he does with his arms, he instantly attracts attention -- not only of musicians, but of audiences -- in another, more subtle way: He is one of the few African American conductors leading major orchestras. As music director of the Omaha Symphony and resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony, Wilkins is gaining recognition as the ranks of major conductors grow more culturally diverse.”

“Nonetheless, Wilkins and others bemoan the fact that the number of professional African American conductors is still small. 'There certainly are not a lot at the upper lever professionally,' Wilkins said. 'At my level, there's probably less than 10 in the country.' Among the most prominent African American maestros are James DePreist, director of conducting and orchestral studies at the Juilliard School and laureate music director of the Oregon Symphony; Paul Freeman, founding music director of the Chicago Sinfonietta; and Michael Morgan, music director of Oakland East Bay Symphony. Kay George Roberts, founder and music director of the New England Orchestra in Lowell, Mass., is one of the few female African American conductors.” [Full Post] [Paul Freeman and James DePreist are profiled at]

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