THE conductor sliced the air with his baton, his head swaying gracefully, the orchestra playing rapturous phrases. it was in the 1940s, and the man on the podium was Dean Dixon, a Black man. In the audience was young Denis de Coteau, watching with his father as Dixon led the New York Philharmonic, and deciding then and there that he, too, would become a symphony conductor.
Dixon was the first Black to conduct a major symphony orchestra, and de Coteau, now music director of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, recalls: "I couldn't believe a Black man was standing there coaxing such beautiful sound from a hundred musicians."
Forty years later, an increasing number of Black conductors are at work in concert halls in the U. S., Canada and around the world, holding positions as music directors, assistant conductors and guest conductors. Among the leading full-time conductors are james DePriest, Paul Freeman, Isaiah jackson, Raymond Harvey, William Henry Curry, Willie Anthony Waters and de Coteau. Two of the fastest-rising stars in the field, Michael Morgan and Leslie Dunner, are assistant conductors of major orchestras. …