During his first year in the master of music program at Northwestern, Roderick Cox ’11 MMus took an orchestral conducting course with Victor Yampolsky, director of the University’s orchestra program. To Cox’s surprise, Yampolsky told him he should think about becoming a professional orchestral conductor. At first, Cox did not take the recommendation seriously. He had an interest in conducting, but Cox had entered Northwestern’s graduate school for wind band conducting and planned on becoming a band director. “I thought my path was set,” the Macon, Ga., native explains, but he eventually worked up the courage to request a change, becoming the only student in the conducting program to study both disciplines. He took classes under both Yampolsky and Mallory Thompson ’79, ’80 MMus and since graduating has become a young star in the classical music world. He was named the associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra in 2016 and received the Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award in 2018, a $30,000 prize and one of the most prestigious honors for a young American conductor. As one of the nation’s few African American orchestral conductors, Cox also occupies a highly visible position in an industry not noted for its inclusiveness, and he hopes his work continues to inspire people from different backgrounds to pursue music. He helped start the Roderick Cox Music Initiative, a program designed to nurture the next generation of musicians and conductors through 24 music scholarships that will be granted over three years to youth in underserved communities. Since receiving the Solti award, Cox has performed across Europe and made his debut with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Houston Grand Opera. Now based in Berlin, he is continuing to pursue orchestral conducting, and he’ll return to the States during the summer for performances with the Houston Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra. “The interesting part of becoming a conductor is that the journey is different for everyone,” Cox says. “There’s no one way to become one. It is up to the imagination, drive and work ethic of the individual in determining the outcome.”
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