PHILADELPHIA –- Internationally acclaimed maestro James A. DePreist received the University of Pennsylvania’s first Creative Spirit Award in recognition of his artistic leadership and life-long commitment to the arts.
The award, a highlight of Penn’s yearlong celebration of Arts and the City Year, was presented during ceremonies at the 75th Alumni Award of Merit gala, an annual event that recognizes outstanding Penn alumni volunteerism.
DePreist, who is currently director of conducting and orchestral studies at the Juilliard School in New York and laureate music director of the Oregon Symphony, holds two Penn degrees, a bachelor’s in business from the Wharton School and a master’s in communications from the Annenberg School for Communication. Penn also awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1976.
“What does a person with degrees in business and communication do? If you are James DePreist, you combine your Penn-taught skills with your natural talent to become one of America’s finest orchestral conductors,” fellow alumnus Joseph Glossberg said, in presenting the award. “You have been defying even your own expectations throughout your life.”
“I am deeply honored and touched,” DePreist said. “This was a wonderful reason to come back to campus. The University of Pennsylvania remains an important part of my history and life.”
While at studying at Penn to become a lawyer, this Philadelphia native didn’t stop pursuing his true passion, music. He played piano, studied musicology, formed a jazz group and even led the Penn Band at football games. He went on to study music at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, win first prize in an International Music Competition for Conductors and serve as assistant conductor under Leonard Bernstein at the New York Philharmonic.
DePreist served as music director with the Orchestre symphonique
de Quebec and was principal conductor of the Malmo Symphony in Sweden and musical director of the Orchestre philharmonique de Monte-Carlo in Monaco. He spent more than two decades as conductor of The Oregon Symphony.
He is also a guest conductor of orchestras throughout the world, including the Philadelphia Orchestra in a commemorative concert that celebrated Penn’s 250th anniversary. His list of awards includes the National Medal of Arts.
DePreist was instrumental in persuading his aunt, Marian Anderson, to leave her papers to the Penn Libraries, establishing the Marian Anderson Archive and further strengthening the collections by donating his own papers.
The Penn Creative Spirit Award was conceived as a way to recognize members of the Penn community who have displayed extraordinary dedication to artistic endeavors, have created a lasting impact on their creative fields and are widely regarded as an exemplary figure in the arts.