James DePreist, the conductor and educator who had been artistic advisor for Pasadena Symphony and Pops since 2010, died on Friday at 76.
DePreist died at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., of complications from a heart attack he suffered last spring.
In 2005, DePreist received America's highest artistic honor, the National Medal of Arts, from President George W. Bush. He was a nephew of the great contralto Marian Anderson.
DePreist, who contracted polio in 1962, conducted from a wheelchair. He was active on both coasts, having led the Oregon Symphony for 23 years and serving as director of conducting and orchestral studies at the Juilliard School in New York City.
DePreist was hired by the Pasadena Symphony in June 2010 as the venerable orchestra was attempting to dig itself out of financial difficulties. At the time the orchestra had severed ties with its longtime conductor Jorge Mester. DePreist did some conducting for Pasadena as well as serving in an advisory capacity.
"My job is to keep my eye on the artistic ball no matter what happens," he told The Times in October 2010. "In a crisis it's easy for everybody in an organization to become so focused on saving money that they lose sight of the fact that if you're going to have an orchestra, you still have to produce great music. Music advisors act as reminders of the mission."
Following heart bypass surgery last April, he had to cancel a conducting gig with the Pasadena Symphony at the Ambassador Auditorium.
Paul Jan Zdunek, chief executive officer of the Pasadena Symphony Assn., said in a statement: “It is with the heaviest of hearts that we mourn the passing of our dear friend and Artistic Advisor James DePreist.
"Maestro DePreist, or Jimmy as he preferred to be called, was not only a consummate musician and trailblazing conductor, but also the most thoughtful, loving and centered human being who touched us all so deeply.”
The symphony has two concerts scheduled for Saturday.
“It is fitting," Zdunek said, "that we remember his life and spirit this weekend with the previously scheduled Symphony No. 4 of Gustav Mahler which ends with an ethereal movement describing ‘The Heavenly Life.’”