Faculty Spotlight: James Orent

Q: When and how did you start music? A: I think it was when I was seven or eight years old. My mom played piano. She was an artist and she wanted all of us [my brothers and me] to play music and that’s when the Beatles were big, so I wanted to play guitar. But my mom said I have to pick a classical instrument first, so I picked up violin. I started lesson[s] with Stanley Benson who played in Boston Symphony, and I have been pursuing a dual career in music and aviation… Anyway, I have been playing and conducting with Boston Symphony and Boston Pops. I am the unofficial assistant conductor. For example, once Boston Pops called me and said, “You have to conduct tonight in Chicago,” so I flew there. I was in front of 13,000 people and I had to learn the piece really quickly. Q: When did you start getting “serious” with music? A: Well, my parents wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. My brothers actually are a lawyer and a dentist. I went to Amherst College and then Yale School of Music, and people said I should conduct. So, I studied conducting by watching others conduct. I spent two summers in Maine and one year in Yale studying conducting and also studied in Tanglewood. There was a program in Exxon Mobil Corporation. They were financing a conducting program and I won the semi-final, but they cancelled the final and I got a job in Pennsylvania with Erie Philharmonic. But then there was a problem with the funding later, so I came back and played violin in Boston Pops… There, someone recognized me and suggested me as a conductor. Then, when Mr. Lockhart was hired, I became the chief understudy. I’m also the faculty conductor in Boston Conservatory and the music director of Brockton Symphony. Also, I am the assistant concert master for Boston Lyric Opera. Q: How was your first performance with Andover orchestra today? A: Very exciting. There was a tremendous amount of energy coming from the students, and the level of music intelligence is much higher than I expected at this level. As much as I am challenging you guys, you guys are challenging me as a conductor! Q: How and why did you decide to conduct at a high school like PA? A: Actually, the school approached me first. A faculty member in the music department recommended me, so he called me. At one point in life, I wanted to conduct all levels of musicians. Most conductors focus on one level, but I like a variety. I like to bring what I learn from the Boston Symphony to here, and the energy from here to Boston Symphony. Q: Have you ever conducted high school level before? A: I conducted the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, and when I was in high school, I conducted Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms with the student orchestra. Q: Do you have any favorite conductor, soloist, orchestra or composer? A: My favorite composer is Dvorak. That is because I find his “voice” to be most human – warm and resonant with low strings, brass and winds. I started my career with contemporary music and then I started classical music later. If you would like to get more information about Mr. Orent, visit