Honorary Degree: James DePreist
Citation presented by Robert W. Pound, Associate Professor of Music
Conferring of the degree by President William G. Durden '71
From left: Trustee Emeritus Robert Brasler '58, honorary-degree recipient James DePreist, Associate Professor of Music Robert Pound and President William G. Durden '71.
Maestro James DePreist, we honor you here today for your outstanding contributions to humanity through music.
Though only four of the nearly 600 members of the class of 2011 are music majors who have actually studied conducting, your career and accomplishments evince the value and rewards of a liberal-arts education as well as the rewards of fortitude and perseverance in the face of overwhelming difficulties.
A native of the great state of Pennsylvania, you received your bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. Accepted to the prestigious Wharton School, you matriculated there specifically because its undergraduate program comprised a balanced, liberal-arts education, and we therefore note with great satisfaction that your extraordinary accomplishments in the highly specialized field of conducting began with a liberal-arts degree.
While studying law, music necessarily remained an extracurricular activity for you. A degree and career in law following the role model of your godfather was the most obvious and potentially prosperous life-plan you could see. However, shortly before you were to take the LSAT, a serendipitous, eight-hour conversation with schoolmate Henry Jaglom (now an accomplished filmmaker) led you to follow your passion on the path of a professional musician.
Your promising conducting career nearly ended when you contracted polio at the age of 26 while on a State Department tour; you found yourself paralyzed below the waist and temporarily stranded in Bangkok, Thailand.
You were undaunted by this seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Compelled by your confidence and conviction, you entered the prestigious Dmitri Mitropoulous International Conducting Competition, reaching the semifinals that same year. The next year, 1963, you returned to claim first prize.
For the 1965-66 season, you were selected by Leonard Bernstein to be assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. You achieved a highly-acclaimed professional debut with the Rotterdam Philharmonic in 1969. In 1971 music director Antal Doráti invited you to join the National Symphony Orchestra as Associate Conductor. With this appointment you embodied a manifestation of social justice: then the home of the National Symphony Orchestra, Constitution Hall was the same hall in which your Aunt, distinguished mezzo-soprano Marian Anderson, was denied the right to perform some 30 years earlier for being African-American.
Throughout your nearly 50-year career, you have led many of the world’s finest orchestras including those in New York, Berlin, London, Tokyo, and Vienna, just to name a few. You served as Music Director of the Oregon Symphony for 23 years, shepherding that ensemble from being a part-time orchestra through the long, difficult battle to secure livable wages for all the musicians finally to make it one of the most revered ensembles in the United States.
You have made over 50 recordings in your career including the highly celebrated series of the works of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich with the Helsinki Philharmonic. You were hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “one of the finest conductors the nation has produced,” and you were awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2005.
After four decades of service as a conductor, you accepted the invitation of the President of the Juilliard School in New York to become Director of Conducting and Orchestral Studies. In that role, you find fulfillment because, in your own words, you can “give back to the music world by teaching.” My colleagues and I confidently propose that you have given and continue to give to the wider world through your music making and as a model of fortitude, commitment, optimism and passion.
Mr. President, for his demonstration of personal fortitude while pursuing excellence in the field of his passion despite daunting obstacles, for living a model life of the potential in each of us, a model to this community, this college, and the Class of 2011, I am honored to present to you Maestro James DePreist for the honorary degree of Doctor of Arts.
James DePreist, upon the recommendation of the Faculty to the Board of Trustees, and by its mandamus, I confer upon you the Degree of Doctor of Arts, honoris causa, with all the rights, privileges, and distinction thereunto appertaining, in token of which I present you with this diploma and cause you to be invested with the hood of Dickinson College appropriate to the degree.