City timpanist drums up gig in Washington


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Another Winnipegger could make a bigger bang in Washington than former premier Gary Doer.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/10/2009 (4895 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Another Winnipegger could make a bigger bang in Washington than former premier Gary Doer.

Jauvon Gilliam, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s principal timpanist for the past seven years, has been hired to thump the monster kettle drums for the U.S. National Symphony Orchestra.

"Maybe I’ll run into (Doer) down there," joked Gilliam, 30, who was the NSO selection committee’s unanimous choice from about 60 candidates in a rigorous series of auditions.

"I’ll try to get him comps for the first concert I’m there for next March. It’s a great program. We’ll be doing Verdi’s Requiem."

Doer recently took up his duties as Canada’s new U.S. ambassador. An official with the 100-member orchestra, part of Washington’s ultra-tony Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, said that Gilliam’s appointment as principal timpanist could not be confirmed until his contract was signed.

His is one of four positions, including two violins and a trombone, filled by the band’s music director designate, German-born Christoph Eschenbach.

"We’re sorry to lose him because he’s so talented and such a nice man," said WSO executive director Trudy Schroeder, who let the cat out of the bag.

"But this is huge. He deserves the hoopla."

In a day when orchestra jobs are few and far between, it’s rare for WSO musicians to move to major institutions.

Former conductor Bramwell Tovey was hired by Vancouver in 2000, cellist Arek Tesarczyk joined the Minnesota Orchestra in 2004 and assistant conductor Rei Hotoda moved to Dallas this past year.

In the WSO, Gilliam bangs his drums at the rear of the stage beside longtime principal percussionist Fred Liessens. He also teaches percussion at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Music.

"It’s the conductor who gets the orchestra going, but it’s my job to keep them going," Gilliam said.

"It’s like the relationship between a pitcher and a catcher. He throws it and I catch it."

Gilliam grew up as an only child in Gary, Ind. He was hired out of his master’s program for his first orchestra job by the WSO’s then music director Andrey Boreyko.

"I knew nothing about Canada. After I won the audition, I went to Earls on Main and pulled out a map to see where Winnipeg was," he said.

Gilliam, who will be here through February, says his salary will increase four-fold in Washington. He is one of two blacks in the 67-member WSO (the other is principal tuba Chris Lee, a Torontonian). He thinks he will be one of four at the National.

He’s well aware, however, that another famous African-American has recently taken up residence in the U.S. capital.

"I voted for him not just because he’s black but because he and Michelle are supporters of the arts," Gilliam said.

"If I meet him, you can bet it’ll be all over my Facebook page."


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