Longtime Music Director and Conductor of the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, Ulysses Kirksey, Dies of Illness | Richmond Free Press
Ulysses Kirksey grew up in Richmond, traveled the world with his cello, and returned to Petersburg, where he conducted the community symphony orchestra for 32 years.
Mr. Kirksey is remembered for his musical leadership and talent after his death on Friday August 13, 2021. He had been hospitalized in an area hospital for what his family described as “a long illness”.
Funeral arrangements remained incomplete by the Free Press deadline.
Mr. Kirksey was an institution in Petersburg working with the orchestra to spread the joy of music in a voluntary organization that catered for performers ranging from teenagers to retirees. He is credited with improving the string section and expanding the selection of music played by the symphony.
“You can do whatever you want with an orchestra,” Kirksey once said. “You can bring all of these people together and make music as one. “
The online tributes posted since his death reflect the esteem in which he was held. The testimony of Mr. Felicia Bishop, member of the orchestra, illustrates the testimony: “Such a generous, caring and talented man who inspired and changed me as a musician and as a person.
“I am so grateful to have had the chance to be in the symphony with him. He changed my daughter’s life through music and just being a powerhouse and a stimulating person that included so many young talents. He was tough and gentle, stern and witty, a musical giant, a tornado in a teacup, and I will miss him desperately.
Ed J. Aunins, a horn player who has been with the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra for almost 25 years, said Kirksey was “really a lot of fun working with him”.
Mr Aunins said that as music director and conductor, Mr Kirksey challenged the orchestra to learn new, more difficult pieces as part of the range of music he included. in the orchestra’s standard repertoire.
The Richmond native has been involved in music his entire life. As a child, he started playing the saxophone and had the ambition to be part of an orchestra.
In a biographical video he posted in 2020, he said he switched to stringed instruments after realizing that few symphonic groups included the saxophone and that he would need to play an instrument. privileged.
He said he chose the cello and took private lessons because John Marshall High School did not have a music teacher who could teach him how to play.
Mr Kirksey said his music teacher quickly got him to play the cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach, which won him a place in the Richmond Youth Symphony Orchestra.
After high school, he was accepted to the Manhattan School of Music. He said it opened the door to musical opportunities, as well as exposure to America’s largest city. At school, he said, he performed under the direction of guest conductors of large orchestras and was also in demand for solo performances.
As a student there, Mr. Kirksey enrolled in a conductor course thinking, “I could become a better orchestral musician if I found out what was happening on the conductor’s podium. ‘orchestra. It was in this class that we discovered that I had a talent for conducting.
The professor hoped that Mr. Kirksey would focus more on being a conductor, but he stuck to the cello in hopes of securing the orchestral position of his dreams.
Although this did not happen, he found work performing with orchestral groups at Radio City Music Hall, the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and Carnegie Hall’s Symphony of the New World. He also teamed up with a touring string quartet and traveled abroad to perform.
Back in Richmond, he says he got a call from Dr F. Nathaniel Gatlin, a professor of music at Virginia State University who founded the Petersburg Symphony Orchestra in 1978. Dr Gatlin invited him to bring his music. cello and to play with the group. He did so in 1980.
Six years later, Mr. Kirksey was appointed Deputy Director and was chosen to become Director following the death of Dr. Gatlin in 1989. Mr. Kirksey held the position until his death.
“I have never felt more comfortable than playing with and conducting the Petersburg Symphony,” Kirksey said in 2020. “It really is family. I’ve never had this feeling of playing with any other band or organization throughout my career. It was a great race. “