Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
James DePreist was born in Philadelphia on November 21, 1936. At the age of six, his father died, leaving him in the care of his mother, Ethel DePreist, and his aunt, the legendary contralto Marian Anderson. He earned the degrees of Bachelor of Science in Economics and Master of Arts in Communication from the University of Pennsylvania, with plans to go to law school. He had an avocational interest in music and he performed jazz while a student at the University. His award-winning jazz quintet appeared on national TV, and he established the first National Jazz Fraternity at the University of Pennsylvania. He also studied composition with Vincent Persichetti at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music and composed several ballets. In 1962 DePreist traveled in the Middle East and Asia on behalf of the State Department as an American Specialist in Music. His tour of Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Egypt and Lebanon was so successful that he was invited to return the following year. It was during this 1962 tour that he realized that he wanted to devote his life to conducting. He contracted polio in Bangkok and was forced to return to the United States for physical therapy. While in the hospital, he continued his study of the orchestral repertoire in the hope that he would be able to conduct again. Six months later, walking with the aid of crutches and braces, he entered the 1963 Dimitri Mitropoulos International Music Competition for Conductors. The following year he entered the competition again and won first prize. He was selected by Leonard Bernstein to be an assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic for the 1965-66 season, becoming the first American Mitropoulos winner to serve as Bernstein's assistant.
In 1967 DePreist moved to Holland, where he lived for three years. He made a successful European debut in 1969 with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. Following this success, he received many offers to guest-conduct in Europe and in North America, including several appearances with the Stockholm Philharmonic, which brought him rave reviews. During that same year he was awarded a Martha Baird Rockefeller grant.
DePreist became an associate conductor under Antal Dorati at the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. in 1971. He remained there until 1975, and the following year he accepted his first position at the level of music director with the Orchestre symphonique de Quebec, Canada's oldest symphony orchestra. He was excited by the challenge of selecting his own repertoire and personally shaping an orchestra. He remained as music director until 1983, continuing to guest-conduct orchestras in Helsinki, Stockholm, Israel, and Toronto.
DePreist was named music director of the Oregon Symphony in 1980. He demonstrated that he was fully committed to transforming the Oregon Symphony into an orchestra of national prominence. Beyond his guidance as a conductor, he dedicated himself to the community of Portland. He was involved in fund-raising activities and added his influence to the effort to build a new performance venue, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he programmed a variety of contemporary works along with the standard orchestral repertoire and expanded the orchestra's audience. He also made a series of recordings for Delos and Koch. Ovation critic Paul Turok wrote of Bravura, his first recording: "In less than a decade, James DePreist has built an orchestra of regional significance into one worthy of national, and perhaps even international, attention." DePreist remained with the Oregon Symphony for twenty-four years. Although his final season was scheduled to be 2004-2005, he stepped down a year earlier to facilitate the search for a new conductor.
DePreist continued to be highly in demand, not only as a guest conductor, but also as a music director. He became principal conductor of the Malmo Symphony in Stockholm, Sweden from 1991 until 1994. During this period he recorded extensively for BIS with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and the Malmo Symphony. He also made a series of internationally acclaimed recordings of the Shostakovich symphonies with the Helsinki Philharmonic. His recording of the two Shostakovich cello concertos with soloist Torleif Thedeen and the Malmo Symphony won a 1995 Cannes Classical Music Award.
In 1994 DePreist became the musical director of the Orchestre philharmonique de Monte-Carlo in Monaco. He remained at this post until 1998, while continuing with his directorship of the Oregon Symphony and his many appearances as a guest conductor. Among these was his debut with the Boston Symphony in 1997, which led to a second invitation to conduct at the 1998 Tanglewood Music Festival. Additional summer festival appearances included the Aspen Music Festival, Wolf Trap, the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia, and subsequent concerts at Tanglewood in 1999 and 2000. He made successful appearances with other major orchestras, such as the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh symphony orchestras. In addition, he conducted the Baltimore Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, the Houston Symphony, the Juilliard Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Atlanta Symphony and the National Symphony, among others. DePreist also had an extensive list of international appearances. These include engagements with the Sydney and Melbourne orchestras in Australia, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in England, the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Tonkunstler Orchestra, the Tokyo Metropolitan Orchestra, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestre de chambre de Lausanne in France, and the Utrecht Symphony Orchestra. Following his retirement from the Oregon Symphony, he taught at Juilliard for eight years, during which time he also conducted the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.
DePreist authored two books of poetry, This Precipice Garden, and The Distant Siren. He also wrote many articles for newspapers and magazines and frequently appeared as a public speaker. He was awarded fifteen honorary doctorates and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992. He was also a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.
DePreist died on February 8, 2013, in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the age of 76. He was survived by his wife Ginette DePreist and two daughters, Tracy and Jennifer, from his first marriage to Betty Childress.
The collection of James DePreist's papers offers a variety of documents and memorabilia. The documents, like the life of a busy conductor, cover a broad range: contracts from all over the world, correspondence and promotional material in a variety of languages (including French, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish, and Japanese), over three hundred photographs spanning eight decades, and a large collection of programs and concert reviews. In addition, the collection contains many oversize objects, including scores, awards, commemorative objects and memorabilia.
The DePreist papers include many recordings of DePreist (in the form of record albums, audio cassettes, digital audio tapes, minidiscs, camcorder tapes, cds, vhs tapes and reel to reel recordings). The original media is restricted, but can be reformatted for research use (please see Conditions Governing Access note). Recordings received from DePreist of other classical and popular artists that were not inscribed have been removed from the collection; a 2007 separation list following the series description lists those recordings, as one indicator of DePreist's musical interests. Many of the scores in the collection are annotated and his writings illustrate his ability to express ideas and convey emotions. Some highlights include his poems and the 1980 interview he gave upon his appointment as the music director of the Oregon Symphony. Other writings of interest are his essay "The Tour," which describes his 1962 tour of Asia and bout with polio.
The series of documents concerning orchestras that he guest-conducted shows the breadth of his professional travel and the international array of orchestras that he conducted. The collection of programs is also representative of many countries, highlighting an international career. In the series containing documents from the Orchestre philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, some of the correspondence provides glimpses into the unique difficulties of being a music director in a monarchical society. Also this series shows DePreist's grasp of the French language in his communication with Rene Croesi, the orchestra's head administrator.
The collection of documents on the Oregon Symphony provide a significant portrayal of the great effort and commitment DePreist expended on the orchestra's behalf. In particular, his notes and lists regarding programming reveal some of the demanding aspects of the Music Director's job, as do newspaper articles he wrote during the Oregon Symphony's fiscal crisis.
Although there are relatively few memorabilia or documents from Mr. DePreist's youth, a drawing in the postage stamp album is of interest, as are his early writing on jazz and the few photographs from his childhood and student days. Early photographs and memorabilia of Ethel DePreist and Marian Anderson, a few photographs of James DePreist with his jazz combo during his college years, and of a radio interview in Bangkok of few years later may be found in the photograph albums.
James DePreist's "Aunt Marian" was a formative influence. While the collection does not include a large amount of material connected with Anderson, she has a presence throughout, appearing in photographs, recordings, and memorabilia. The collection also includes the forward James DePreist wrote for her autobiography and clippings about her that he saved.
There is relatively little information about the 1970s. DePreist was an associate conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra from 1971 to 1975 before taking the position of music director of the Orchestre symphonique de Quebec in 1976, but there is little, if anything, about his experience as an apprentice under Antal Dorati (although there is a 1986 letter from Antal Dorati in the correspondence). Additionally, there is relatively little information about his first principal conducting position in Quebec. There is a corresponding weakness in the "Programs" series, with few programs from his concerts in Quebec. The file on the Orchestre symphonique de Quebec in the guest conducting series, which contains materials from later guest appearances with this orchestra, contains two brief documents referring to his earlier departure.
The collection highlights his career during the 1980s and 1990s. His professional activities during this time are revealed through numerous orchestra contracts, a large portion of the photography collection is devoted to this era, and many of the awards in the collection are from these two decades. The scope of the collection from this period affords access into the process of running an orchestra and into the role of music director. The material in the collection documents James DePreist's contributions, both in the United States and abroad.
Gift of James DePreist, 2001-2005; gift of Ginette DePreist, 2015.
The original gift from James DePreist consisted of 64 boxes of material. In 2015, James DePreist's widow, Ginette DePreist, gifted additional material to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. Materials from the 2016 gifts can be found in boxes 65 to 130.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Access Restrictions
The bulk of this collection is open for research use; however, access to original audio/visual materials and computer files (located in Series XVII. Recordings) is restricted. The Kislak Center will provide access to the information on these materials from duplicate master files. If the original does not already have a copy, it will be sent to an outside vendor for copying. Patrons are financially responsible for the cost. The turnaround time from request to delivery of digital items is about two weeks for up to five items and three to seven weeks for more than five items. Please contact Reprographic Services (email@example.com) for cost estimates and ordering. Once digital items are received, researchers will have access to the files on a dedicated computer in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. Researchers should be aware of specifics of copyright law and act accordingly.
In addition, student records contained in Series XX. Teaching (Box 75, Folders 3-4) are also restricted. Researchers interested in these files should contact the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.