PORTLAND -- Beloved former Oregon Symphony director James DePreist died Friday morning, according to the Juilliard School.

At the time of his death, DePreist, 76, was Director Emeritus of Conducting and Orchestral Studies at The Juilliard School and Laureate Music Director of the Oregon Symphony.

The modern era of the Oregon Symphony began with Jimmy, and maybe so did our general agreement that we could and should take our culture seriously, said longtime Portland arts critic Barry Johnson. That is leadership of a great order, and that's another thing that Jimmy was -- a great leader.

According to his Juilliard biography he appeared with every major North American orchestra, and internationally, he has conducted in Amsterdam, Berlin, Budapest, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Manchester, Melbourne, Montreal, Munich, Prague, Rome, Rotterdam, Seoul, Stockholm, Stuttgart, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Toronto and Vienna.

His varied recorded repertoire includes a celebrated Shostakovich series with the Helsinki Philharmonic and 15 recordings with the Oregon Symphony which have helped establish that orchestra as one of America's finest, the biography reads.

His great touch with Romantic era masterpieces filled our ears with those lush sounds, and he had sympathy for modern music, too, Johnson said. Mostly, I remember that sonorous baritone voice of his, urging us to enjoy music as much as he did.

Born in 1936 in Philadelphia, he studied at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music and earned a Master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Portland audiences could not help but notice his frail walk, caused by getting polio while on a tour in Thailand in 1962.

He was the nephew of contralto Marian Anderson, according to his biography. In 2005 George W Bush presented DePreist with the National Medal of Arts, the nation's highest honor for artistic excellence.

While a superstar in the classical world, his most famous composition may be the theme from The Cosby Show, a collaboration with good friend Bill Cosby.

He was appointed to the Oregon Symphony conductor job in 1980. Shortly, the symphony was raised to major orchestra status, according to the symphony biography.

DePreist also oversaw the move of the symphony from Keller Auditorium to the new Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, allowing musicians to practice for the first time in the venue in which they played. Sterling recordings followed along with a surge in classical interest fans in Portland.

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