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*Julius Williams was born on this date in 1954. He is a Black composer, conductor, college professor, and pianist.
He is the son of Julius and Julia Williams and has one brother (Michael). From The Bronx, New York, Julius Penson Williams was educated in the New York public school system and graduated in 1972 from Andrew Jackson High School, a performing arts school in Queens, New York. Williams attended Herbert Lehman College and The Hartt School, receiving his B.S. and M.M.E.
Many symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles around the globe have performed his music. He was Composer-in-Residence of Connecticut’s Nutmeg Ballet Company, which premiered his ballet Cinderella. The New York Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta, premiered his Norman Overture. Williams has composed operas, symphonies, and choral works for the stage, concert hall, film, and television. Primarily a classically trained musician, he can delve into all aspects of music, including jazz and popular idioms.
Williams writes in a wide number of genres, including gospel, jazz, and other contemporary idioms, film (IMDB), and TV. He was assistant music director at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, from 1980 to 1982; he left to pursue an orchestral conducting career. Williams studied orchestral conducting and composition at the Aspen Music School in Colorado (1984–87), where he was both a conducting and composition fellow.
In 1985, his opera Guinevere premiered at the Aspen Music Festival to great acclaim. He was also the artistic director of Perform American concerts conducted in Croatia, Serbia, and Spain. Named music director of the Spain Costa de Sol festival in 1987, he also became artistic director of the School of Choral Studies of the New York State Summer School of the Arts, part of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, from 1988 to 1995. From 1998–2008 he was the Washington Symphony Orchestra music director in Washington, DC.
Williams has over thirty-five guests conducting experiences and more than eleven artist-in-residencies, visiting fellowships, and teaching positions. Williams has also received awards for musical excellence and contributions from classical to African American folk music: the Detroit Symphony’s Emerging Composer Award, the Gracie Allen Documentary Award, the Distinguished Medal of Artistic Achievement of the Ecuador Youth Symphony Orchestra Foundation, an Honorary Distinguished Alumnus Award of Langston University, and the National Culture of the Arts Award of the Association of Foreign Language Teachers of New York. In 1997 he received a Proclamation from the city of Gadsden, Alabama, for his Concerto written for its Sesquicentennial and recently received a similar civic contribution award from Ellington, Connecticut, as well as being awarded the Key to the City of Dallas, Texas, for his successful conducting debut there. In addition, he has received ASCAP Awards in Composition.
He has studied, performed, and taught extensively abroad, including at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow and The Shanghai Conservatory in China, where he served as the first American Adjudicator of the Rivers Music Competition. Williams has served on the faculties of Wesleyan University, the University of Hartford, and the University of Vermont. He has been Visiting Conductor of Orchestra at Skidmore College in Saratoga, New York, an Affiliate Artist-Teacher of Composition at Purchase College of the State University of New York, Visiting Associate Professor and Jessie Ball Dupont Scholar at Shenandoah University and Conservatory in Virginia (1982).
Julius Williams’s educational consulting and speaking engagements have included the Artistic Advisory Committee of the Queens Symphony Orchestra in New York (1992–95), the Advisory Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Adjudication Committee for the Fulbright Awards, and as Educational Consultant to the Norwalk Symphony in Connecticut, and served on the Panel of Jazz and Orchestral Music for The Boston Symphony Orchestra. He served as a panelist for the McKnight Fellowships in 2012. He is also presently a member of the Board of Directors of the Conductors Guild and Artistic Advisor of Videmus, an organization that performs concert music by African American composers.
Williams has written articles, edited an anthology, and been published in journals on the music of African Americans, including an article on Duke Ellington (Emerge Magazine, 1999), and is co-author/editor of a vocal anthology on Hall Johnson (Carl Fischer, 2003). Since 1995 Williams has been a full Professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and a resident conductor of A Trilogy Opera Company. Williams has credited composer Ulysses Kay as an influence on his music, as well as Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, John Corigliano, Fred D. Norman, Morton Gould, and John L. Motley.
Williams was featured on national television when he was interviewed by the Jazz great William Taylor on CBS News Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt (September 11, 1988) about his career and struggles as an African American conductor and composer. His discography includes the critically acclaimed Symphonic Brotherhood, a collection of African American symphonic music, Shades of Blue, The New American Romanticism, Somewhere Far Away, Places in Time, The American Soloist, and Midnight Tolls, all on the Albany Records label. Keene State College in New Hampshire earned him an honorary doctorate in 2009.
In 2012 he released two recordings: Heart on the Wall for soprano and orchestra on Albany Records and Orchestral Equilibrium on Centaur Records. Fanfare magazine published extensive profiles on these recordings in 2006 (Peter Burwasser), 2010, and 2012 (Lynn Bayley). He was cited in the celebration of Carnegie Hall as one of the few African American conductors compiled by opera star Jessye Norman. In 2013 Williams was featured in a series on African American composers on Swedish public radio. Williams has three children, Malcolm, 20; Ariel, 26; and Julius, 35. He has been a pioneer working tirelessly advocating for the works of African American performers and composers, paving the way and mentoring younger African American conductors.
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