One of America’s most-watched musical conductors, Kazem Abdullah recently joined Brazil’s internationally renowned Orquestra de São Paulo. Celebrated for his work with the Metropolitan Opera, the precocious maestro has been involved in this competitive field since age 10, and though he has just the hint of a stutter, there’s nothing stilted about his commanding presence in front of any orchestra.
WATCH THEGRIO’S 100 KAZEM ABDULLAH HERE
VIDEO reported, produced and directed by Rima Abdelkader
VIDEO shot by Christopher Nelson
Named by his Sierra Leonean father, Kazem Abdullah is an Indiana-born, Dayton-raised talent who has conducted orchestras everywhere, from Mexico to New York, Ottawa to Helsinki. Abdullah’s calm and sunny personality serves to elicit patience with intricately complex music, and his impressive, confident performances have earned him recognition as one of the Daily Beast’s “Young Rock Stars of the Conducting World.”
Kazem Abdullah is making history … as the first African-American directing performances for such an esteemed orchestra since another young maestro, Calvin Simmons, passed away in 1982. Abdullah envisions increased African-American interest in classical music, hoping to use his high profile to show the potential of black youth, recalling his own inspiration gleaned from musical figures like great sopranos Leontyne Price and Jessye Norman. He believes in a “globalized world, where more and more people have access to this art form.”
What’s next for Kazem?
In his new post with the Orquestra de São Paulo, Kazem will be conducting at least 56 unique productions this upcoming year, each to undergo multiple performances.
In his own words …
In reference to his stutter, Abdullah told Playbill Arts in 2009, “There’ve been great people with speech impediments, such as Winston Churchill. I’ve never considered it a barrier because I knew I’d be able to control it. In a way, it was extra training in not going on and on but just saying what absolutely needs to be said about the music.”
A favorite quote …
“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” – Miles Davis
A little-known fact …
As a double-bassist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Henry Lewis was the first black instrumentalist in a major symphony orchestra and the first African-American to lead a major symphony orchestra in 1968 with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
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