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Thomas Wilkins is Music Director of the Omaha Symphony; a position he has held since 2005. Additionally, he is Principal Conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the Boston Symphony’s Artistic Advisor, Education, and Community Engagement, and Indiana University’s Henry A. Upper Chair of Orchestral Conducting established by the late Barbara and David Jacobs as a part of that University’s “Matching the Promise Campaign.” Past positions have included resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony and Florida Orchestra (Tampa Bay) and associate conductor of the Richmond (VA) Symphony. He also has served on the music faculties of North Park University (Chicago), the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
Devoted to promoting a life-long enthusiasm for music, Thomas Wilkins brings energy and commitment to audiences of all ages. He is hailed as a master at communicating and connecting with audiences. Following his highly successful first season with the Boston Symphony, the Boston Globe named him among the “Best People and Ideas of 2011.” In 2014, Wilkins received the prestigious “Outstanding Artist” award at the Nebraska Governor’s Arts Awards, for his significant contribution to music in the state while in 2018 Thomas Wilkins received the Leonard Bernstein Lifetime Achievement Award for the Elevation of Music in Society conferred by Boston’s Longy School of Music. And in 2019 the Virginia Symphony bestowed Thomas Wilkins with their annual Dreamer Award.
During his conducting career, he has led orchestras throughout the United States, including the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cincinnati Symphony and the National Symphony—all of which he will return to guest conduct in 2019. Additionally, he has guest conducted the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras, the Symphonies of Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Baltimore, San Diego, and Utah, and the Buffalo and Rochester Philharmonics, as well as at the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago.
His commitment to community has been demonstrated by his participation on several boards of directors, including the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, the Charles Drew Health Center (Omaha), the Center Against Spouse Abuse in Tampa Bay, and the Museum of Fine Arts as well as the Academy Preparatory Center both in St. Petersburg, FL. Currently, he serves as chairman of the board for the Raymond James Charitable Endowment Fund and as national ambassador for the non-profit World Pediatric Project headquartered in Richmond, VA, which provides children throughout Central America and the Caribbean with critical surgical and diagnostic care.
A native of Norfolk, VA, Thomas Wilkins is a graduate of the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He and his wife Sheri-Lee, are the proud parents of twin daughters, Erica and Nicole.
Thomas Wilkins, conductor
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“You have to be totally comfortable wherever,” Carter says. “I feel that music equals life, that’s the way my teacher always taught me. You just can’t go through life and experience it fully with a set of blinders on. I think there’s tremendous beauty in cross-pollinations of music and influences.”
In many ways, weaving together divergent impulses is at the heart of Carter’s music. Like the late tenor sax titan Ben Webster, he’s given to furious, high-velocity solos, but is just as likely to wax sentimental, using his big, bruising tone to tenderly caress a comely melody. In 2000, he released two albums simultaneously that amounted to an anti-manifesto, a proclamation that everything is fair game.
On Chasin’ the Gypsy, a voluptuous, lyrical session partly inspired by the timeless collaboration between Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, he assembled a thrilling group with violinist Regina Carter and Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, for a project born out of some sound check jamming with Lubambo and Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista during a tour with Kathleen Battle. The groove-laden Layin’ in the Cut, featuring James Blood Ulmer’s former rhythm section with electric bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer Grant Calvin Weston, combines harmolodic freedom with a deep reservoir of funk, and developed out of a project inspired by another legendary guitarist, Jimi Hendrix.
He reinvented the organ combo (with 2005’s Out of Nowhere and again in 2009 with John Medeski on Heaven and Earth), explored the music of alt-rock band Pavement (on 2005’s Gold Sounds), and paid loving tribute to Billie Holiday (on 2003’s Gardenias for Lady Day). Taken in context, Carter’s creative rendezvous with composer, Roberto Sierra, with the Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra made perfect sense.
Now Carter presents us with James Carter’s Elektrik Outlet, a new configuration within which he has found a new groove to explore. Shifting his sax into a keen array of electronics and pedals just might be the perfect “outlet” for Carter to tap into that “frustrated guitarist” that he often describes himself to be. An excellent selection of tunes from Eddie Harris, Gene Ammons, Al Jarreau, Stevie Wonder, Minnie Ripperton and others provides impetus for Carter’s Elektrik Outlet to sizzle, slide, and pop. Adding energy to the group are fellow Detroit artists, Gerard Gibbs on electronic keyboards, Ralphe Armstrong on electric bass and Alex White on drums.
James Carter, saxophones