Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s first Black music director brings experience and ‘magic’

CHARLOTTE — Kwame Ryan conducts music with vigor, conviction, and a bit of Caribbean flair.

To him, music is more than the scores of notes.

“I just find it so magical and transporting, almost intoxicating, that sort of audio magic that comes out of a symphony orchestra,” Ryan told Channel 9′s Deneige Broom.

Ryan is bringing that magic to the Queen City. He will be the next music director for the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra after a unanimous selection by the search committee.

He’s conducted orchestras around the world, including in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and U.S. cities like Houston, St. Louis, and New York. He says he fell in love with Charlotte.

“It’s just a really buzzy, diverse town and I was really happy to be there,” Ryan told Broom.

But there’s one big distinction -- Ryan is the first Black man in charge of the Charlotte orchestra since its inception.

A history of the music directors for the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

“I was just never allowed to doubt that I could achieve my goals for whatever reason, and certainly not because of my race or my skin color,” he said.

Ryan grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, where his parents were instrumental in cultivating his love of education and the performing arts.

He told Channel 9 that a lack of diversity in his field can be discouraging. According to a study by the League of American Orchestras, only two percent of all orchestra music directors are Black. But he believes that if there’s one thing that can create cultural harmony, it’s music.

“There’s something really unifying about bringing that training and that passion and that focus to bear in the service of something that’s as beautiful and powerful as music,” Ryan said.

He’s stepping into an interim role in April, and he’ll officially be the music director in September. He’ll split his time between his home in Germany and Charlotte.

Ryan told Broom he hopes that aspiring musicians continue to break barriers.

He says, “I do think that the most important things are passion, focus, and believing in yourself.”

You can see the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s schedule for the year and buy tickets at this link.

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