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Interview | William Henry Curry

By Dan McHugh

As we continue to celebrate Black History Month at The Classical Station, we feature an interview with conductor William Henry Curry. Maestro Curry is the Music Director of the Durham Symphony Orchestra in Durham, North Carolina, and was the Associate Conductor of the North Carolina Symphony for 20 years. In this conversation he discusses his education at Oberlin Conservatory, reminisces about his first jobs conducting in his early 20’s, learning to love Haydn, and more.

William Henry Curry grew up in Pittsburgh and began studying the viola at age eleven thanks to the support of Eugene Reichenfeld. When he wasn’t practicing his viola, he would often conduct his favorite classical pieces in the mirror. His mentor quickly realized that the young Curry was a true musician, borrowing scores and “inhaling” the music. At the age of 15, Mr. Reichenfeld gave Curry the chance to conduct the high school orchestra and compares the experience to being thrown into the deep end of the pool.

He studied conducting at the Oberlin Conservatory. Through his experience conducting the Oberlin Orchestra, he learned that along with waving your arms and cheerleading the instrumentalists,

“A conductor not only has to be an inspirational presence, a positive presence, but they have to be like a doctor with a stethoscope at the rehearsals. It’s your job to find out what is incorrect and to change that. The orchestra cannot do that by themselves.”

In other words, this is the part of conducting that you don’t get to see on YouTube.

On more than one occasion, Maestro Curry found himself accepting multiple job offers in the same week. After leaving his first conducting position in Richmond, Virginia, he became the Resident Conductor at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Associate Conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony. Along with driving eleven hours to and from rehearsals, Curry fondly remembers the first time he got to conduct some of the most famous pieces in classical music. He said, “I looked at my schedule from the fall of ‘83 just two days ago. Every day I was conducting a different orchestra and a different piece of music for the first time. It only worked out because … I had been an absolute classical music nerd from the age of 14. I was already conducting Tchaikovsky’s Fourth in the mirror to are recording when I’m 14. I had a lot of education well before I hit Oberlin because I was so obsessed with great music.”

With so many classical composers, it is inevitable that there are some that elude us. For Maestro Curry, that composer is Haydn, the “Father of the Symphony”. His mentor, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, said “Don’t worry – Certain composers will come to you later in life. Don’t give up. Do a Haydn symphony every five or eight years, and eventually, you’ll understand his style and you’ll understand his voice.” Maestro Curry took his advice and said “I did this for the longest time. And it wasn’t until three years ago that I finally got Haydn!”

Listen to the entire interview with William Henry Curry, hosted by Rob Kennedy.

Photo of Maestro Curry by Michael Zirkle