James DePreist will take up the post of music director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo’s Daily Yomiuri reports.
He will take over when current music director Gary Bertini steps down in March, with the title of “permanent conductor,” and an initial contract of three years.
Although he has a high opinion of the TMSO, his plans include improving the quality of the orchestra. “I think it should have a distinctive sound,” he told the Daily Yomiuri. “It’s hard to achieve, but possible. . . After a little while [it should be possible] for people to close their eyes. . . but be able to tell that, because of the sound, that is the TMSO.”
He also hopes to broaden the orchestra’s repertoire, especially in the areas of American and Swedish music.
DePreist, who for 23 years was music director of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, currently serves as principal artistic advisor of the Phoenix Symphony and is director of conducting and orchestral studies at the Juilliard School. After leaving the music director post at the OSO in 2003, he became the orchestra’s laureate music director.
In 1962, DePreist contracted polio while working in Bangkok, and he now conducts from a wheelchair. This has not interfered with a long and illustrious career, including first prize in the Dimitri Mitropoulous International Conducting Competition in 1964, and being chosen as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, in 1965-66, by Leonard Bernstein.
After making his European debut in 1969, he conducted orchestras all over the world, and has been music director of l’Orchestre Symphonique de Québec and l’Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo. He is credited with turning the Oregon Symphony from a little-known regional orchestra into a well-respected international one.
According to DePreist, the music director’s job is to leave the orchestra “better after you’ve left than it was when you came. I’ve done, I think, a lot—got a new hall, higher salaries, recordings, tours—I think that was my contribution. It was time for someone else to do other things with the orchestra.”
The TMSO was established by the Tokyo metropolitan government in 1965, and is one of the most well-regarded ensembles in Japan. Former music directors include Tadashi Mori, Akeo Watanabe, and Hiroshi Wakasugi.
Concerts in celebration of DePreist’s appointment will take place in different Tokyo venues on May 19 and 20, with two more concerts conducted by DePreist on May 25 and 29.