Sneak Peek: Maestro William Henry Curry Podcast

Jo Reed: It's not easy to be a conductor, period. But it has to be particularly difficult to be an African-American conductor. That’s certainly true now, but it had to have been even more when you were starting out.

Maestro W.H. Curry: Well, any African-American classical artist will tell you, we don't talk about this in interviews because we're afraid of being misquoted. But let me tell you one story. Lorin Maazel mentored me. At this time, I was, like, 24. He was at this time the conductor not only of the Cleveland Orchestra but the Music of the Vienna Opera, arguably the greatest opera company in Europe. So he saw me conduct a second time and was wonderfully flattering. And he said, "What you need now is management. I'm going to get you in the office of the Harold Shaw in New York." Harold Shaw was amongst other things, the manager of arguably the greatest pianist of the 20th century, Vladimir Horowitz, who was still alive at the time. So this was 1980. I get into the lobby and he has me cool my heels for 45 minutes. Finally, I'm escorted into the office and within about two minutes he said, "You know, I can't do anything with a Black conductor." Now there's a thing called the glass ceiling. There's also a thing Black people call the "N" word wake-up call where you suddenly realize as a young person other people have a problem with you and you were too young to look at this clearly but now you had your head broken on the glass ceiling and you know reality. Even though Lorin Maazel, one of the five great conductors of the world, has gotten you into this man's office, because you're Black you've got to get out of his office. So, yes, that's just one story.