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BWAC S2E8 - Mark Williams - On Equity, Experience and Discovery in the Orchestra World

This episode featuring Mark Williams, Chief Artistic Officer of the Cleveland Orchestra, is the continuation of our series focusing on black and brown leaders in the performing arts space.

This episode was recorded months ago- long before quarantine - long before our latest encounters with nationwide protests rejecting police brutalism and racism. But Mark Williams, as a man, as a cultural leader holds much meaning in our world. In a time where it’s not uncommon to read about, even in 2020, a black person becoming “the first of something”, Mark’s historical mark, pun intended on the world is one of significance as the first black man to manage artistic operations with a major symphony orchestra- a distinction he unequivocally deems a sad one.

In spite of the context of his place in history, Mark stands out as an exquisite voice in the orchestral world, casting out a compelling vision about how orchestras can widen opportunity lanes for black and brown leaders, and how he feels conservatories fail its students in the lack of curricular rigor around the history and repertoire of the black composers. I appreciated his candor with how these conditions have impacted his own work at the Cleveland Orchestra.

Mark, at the tail end of his talk, shares why in spite of being a black man in a largely white space he will not turn his back on the art form he loves and why he is devoted to providing windows and mirrors to black and brown emerging leaders in this space through mentoring.

I hope you can hear in his vision and his earnest expression why Mark Williams is at once a guardian of the symphonic art form art as well as a visionary prodding it into new realms of adventure and exploration.

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