By Evan J. Cutts
Leesburg, VA —“I believe success is a constant and moving thing; its meaning changes from moment to moment. Looking forward at my tasks, there is no “I made it” really,” explains Dr. Julius P. Williams, the newly-appointed President of the Conductors Guild, and professor of composition and Conductor of the Contemporary Symphony Orchestra at Berklee College of Music. In his new role, Dr. Williams aims to apply his passionate expertise and leadership skills to further the growth and reach of the global organization.
“My responsibility as President is to help conductors become even better leaders, to elevate their training and provide development resources. At the guild level, I’m creating more programs to facilitate that process,” he says.
The global membership organization supports conductors in a variety of fields ranging from opera and ballet to band and chamber ensembles, and of course, symphony conducting—in which Dr. Williams specializes.
“I’m working on connecting major conductors and symphonies from around the world to develop our public relations and talk [in-depth] about what they do,” he explains. “Looking at February of 2020, we’re organizing an international conductor’s conference in Montreal to create new mentorship opportunities for our guild members.”
“When you think about it, ‘conductor’ is another word for ‘leader’. We have to work with groups of orchestra musicians, soloists, and composers. Other times, it’s the board of Directors and administrative staff. So, developing your people skills is necessary to be a leader and a conductor.”
It goes without saying that an experienced conductor, as well as an experienced leader, must be able to listen to their collaborators. Dr. Williams adds, “a big part of being a conductor is [the ability] to guide a group of people with many different thoughts and ideas.” With this approach in mind, Dr. Williams hopes to help guild members develop leadership skills in music and administration by expanding workshop and training programs at the Conductors Guild.
Passion is another trait that is often attributed to both leaders and artists. Maestro Williams’ passion for composing and conducting has sustained him for over thirty years. From his 1987 debut with the “Symphony Saint Paulia” inaugural concerts at Carnegie Hall to legendary performances with The Prague Radio Symphony, The Moscow Conservatory Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Williams’ has charted a path all his own.
“While conducting abroad in Europe, I was received very differently in those countries than I was early in my career in the United States. [Europeans] still saw color but they did not question my ability because of it. That said, the US has changed in many ways over the last twenty, twenty-five years,” he says. “There are more African-American conductors today, that’s for certain. But our representation at the level of music directors for major orchestras can still be improved.”
The many cultural shifts in our country and classical music have yielded exciting opportunities for conductors of color. Maestro Williams points out that Conductors Guild member Damon Gupton has broken new ground as the guild’s first actor-conductor; Gumpton plays the role of Bill Henderson in the hit CW television show Black Lightning. Maestro Williams hopes to continue breaking new ground for conductors and classical music lovers alike by elevating the art and influence of the Guild’s members.
“In my work with the Conductors Guild as well as with Berklee, it is important for me to connect with listeners and show them that African Americans are not just in the mainstream of pop music. We are in the mainstream of symphony and classical music as well.”
Witness Maestro Williams in action at the 2016 Berklee Jubilee Celebration Orchestra – The Legacy: An Overture of African American Spirituals: