First African-American BSO Maestro Takes The Podium

Thomas Wilkins interacts with the audience at a BSO Family Concert in March 2010. (Michael J. Lutch/Courtesy BSO)
Thomas Wilkins interacts with the audience at a BSO Family Concert in March 2010. (Michael J. Lutch/Courtesy BSO)

The Boston Symphony Orchestra is making history Wednesday with the appointment of the organization's first African-American maestro.

Thomas Wilkins will kick off his tenure as the BSO Youth and Family Concerts Conductor with two daytime performances at Symphony Hall. The shows are the first of seven in a program called, "Community Pride: A Musical Look at Cooperation, Communication, and Conviction." The series runs through Saturday.

In his new position Wilkins will also engage in outreach, working with the BSO's education department to help advocate for music education programs in schools throughout Massachusetts.

Reached by phone after a morning rehearsal, Wilkins acknowledged that he will likely serve as an inspiration to kids who have had little exposure to classical music.

"It saddens me that we still have to have this kind of conversation in the 21st century, but it delights me that it creates the opportunity for some kid who maybe looks like me to see me and realize that 'Yes, even this is a possibility for my life,' " he said.

Wilkins recalled his first experience with a live orchestra when he was only 8 years old. That's when the conducting bug first bit him, he admitted. Now he's excited to come full circle in Boston, opening the hearts and minds of young people to the power of live orchestral performance. He also said he hopes to show kids that hard work and dedication can help make any dream come true.

In March 2010 Wilkins lead his first BSO youth concert as a guest conductor.

"When we saw the impact Thomas Wilkins had on an audience of students who attended last year's youth concerts, we immediately knew we had to seriously consider developing a more formal relationship with him," BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe said in a press release.

Which, of course, they did.

The BSO's youth concert series has been running since 1959. Before hiring Wilkins the endowed conductor position had been vacant since 2004. Before that, from 1995, Boston Pops leader Keith Lockhart held the seat.

Thomas Wilkins has a fair bit on his plate, which isn't unusual for a successful maestro. He's also the music director of the Omaha Symphony and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra's principal guest conductor.

Throughout his career, Wilkins has dedicated himself to bringing his passion for music and education to kids and grown-up audiences around the country. His debut BSO Youth and Family Concert program includes the second movement from Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony and John Williams' popular theme for Star Wars.

May the force be with him!

This program aired on February 16, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Andrea Shea Correspondent, Arts & Culture
Andrea Shea is a correspondent for WBUR's arts & culture reporter.



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