Alumni Spotlight: Diane Wittry

By Elaine Murphy ’96, DMA ’07

Diane Wittry grew up in Pasadena, the daughter of a USC professor; her father was on the faculty of the Engineering Department/Materials Sciences Division. She began her musical career performing all over Southern California as a violinist. “I was in the Pasadena Youth Orchestra and I was Concertmaster in the San Gabriel Valley Youth Orchestra.” She also performed as a soloist with the Orchestra. “I played the Wieniawski D Minor Concerto when I was a senior in High School. There were a lot of good players in those groups who went on to professional careers.”

Wittry enrolled at USC and began her conducting studies with Daniel Lewis; she graduated with honors. She also studied at the Aspen School of Music, receiving a conducting fellowship while still a student at USC. “I was there in the late eighties.” In Aspen, she met Jorge Mester. “It was shortly after that when he asked me to be his assistant. I was still a conducting fellow at Aspen.”

Invited to conduct all over the world, Wittry served as the Music Director of the Symphony of the Southeast Texas. “I was in Texas for almost ten years. I met someone there – my husband! I lived in Beaumont. I was commuting between Texas and Los Angeles. I was the Assistant Conductor for the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra and Music Director for the Symphony of the Southeast Texas. I got to see the family. It was a great learning opportunity.”

Currently, Wittry is the Music Director and Conductor of the Allentown Symphony in Pennsylvania, the Norwalk Symphony in Connecticut, and the Artistic Director of the Ridgewood Symphony in New Jersey. “As I plan my season, I try to plan something for all types of people. I like to partner with other organizations like a ballet company, a chorus or a museum. I want something to enhance the art form. When we did “Swan Lake”, we condensed it down and invited a local ballet company and soloists from the Boston Ballet Company.” Wittry understands the importance of good press and she writes a column once a month for The Hour (a daily paper in Norwalk, CT) commenting on upcoming orchestra concerts; “I keep it light and interesting”. She also travels and guest conducts all over the United States and the rest of the world. “I just conducted the Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra. It was great. I saw people I went to school with at USC. There was a girl who had been a student at Arrow Bear when I was a counselor at the camp!” Traveling all over the world, Wittry mentions really enjoying conducting in Japan. “I lived there, in Japan, for about six months, when I was thirteen years old. It was a suburb of Osaka. I loved it. When I guest conduct there now, they (the Orchestra Osaka Symphoniker) treat me like royalty.”

In addition to her conducting, Wittry has been hard at work as a composer. The Allentown Symphony Orchestra premiered her latest musical offering Mist in March, 2008. Written to be premiered by her own orchestra, the piece was a major project for Wittry.” “When I write, I need to separate my conducting and my composing. I need a whole day at the piano. Not just an hour here or an hour there. The piece pretty much wrote itself. It was an intense process. It told me where it wanted to go.” She is now planning to record the work. “We are planning on making a recording in Slovakia. People are asking…they took to it.”

As well as her musical composition, Wittry has written a book published by Oxford press titled Beyond the Baton, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. “The writing went quickly. The editing took some time. It has some vital information on conducting. The job has expanded over the years. I have tried to define the roles and keep people from making career killing mistakes. Being a conductor involves a lot more than just standing on the podium. The book discusses artistic leadership, planning, artistic and pops programs, meeting with the Board, dealing with unions, sitting on committees, supervising staff, meeting the press and dealing with interviews.” Wittry also helps other professionals with their careers. “In the summer, I do a conducting workshop that is based on my book.” She also serves as a mentor for the League of American Orchestras. “Basically I have phone conversations that are conference calls with several people where young conductors can call up and ask for advice.”

TAGS: Alumni, Classical Division, Classical Performance and Composition, Conducting,

Never miss a story

Subscribe to USC Thornton’s e-newsletter