There’s a new face at the Minnesota Orchestra and he stands out for quite a few reasons.
Roderick Cox is the new assistant conductor of the orchestra – a role he took over in June. At just 27 years old, Cox is one of the youngest assistant conductors in the world of a major orchestra. Cox is also one of the few African-American assistant conductors of a major symphony orchestra. The Minnesota Orchestra is considered a Top 10 tier orchestra.
For Cox, being selected as assistant conductor for the Minnesota Orchestra is a grand coup, but he said he put in the work to merit his selection.
“Partly, my success at such a young age is because I sacrificed much of myself in terms of personal time,” said Cox, who graduated from Columbus State University’s (Ga.) Schwob School of Music and has a master of music from Northwestern University. “A lot of my 20s were spent practicing. Conducting is a physical and mental action. It takes a lot of sacrifice. It’s sitting in an orchestra room by yourself for hours. There’s lots of physical and emotional fatigue.”
But don’t think Cox is complaining – quite the opposite. He said now that he’s landed in the Twin Cities things have become quite enjoyable.
“I’m meeting a lot of people who are not in the music industry and that’s providing a lot of balance for me. I feel like I’m in a place of comfort in my life.”
While mellow and placid away from the orchestra, Cox transforms into an animated and commanding character when conducting. He said his job as conductor is to bring music to life through the playing of some 80 to 100 musicians – all performing as one.
“It’s our job (as conductors) to be the mediator between the composer and the musician,” said Cox. “It’s my job to interpret the composer’s vision and convey it to the musicians through my hands, arms and body; so it matters greatly who stands in front of an orchestra.”
According to Cox, classical music is one of the most powerful forms of music.
“African-Americans are drawn to gospel because of its power and inspiration. I think classical music can be just as powerful,” said Cox. “These composers are just like you and me … they had struggles and obstacles and they wrote music about their struggles. So you may ask how can an African-American from a small community of Georgia relate to (composers) Tchaikovsky or Brahms. These men were human and they spoke through their music. Classical music is a human art form for all of us to embrace.”
Unlike many conductors who come with generations of musical background, Cox did not receive his first musical lesson until he was nine years old, but he said he was instantly drawn to classical music.
“My level of exposure was quite progressive. When I started in band at nine years old I loved the fact that a number of individuals can come together from so many different backgrounds and make one unified sound,” said Cox, who started as a French horn player, but now can play almost any instrument.
Highly accomplished, Cox’s selection was not just picking a name out of a hat. Cox was the winner of the 2013 Robert J. Harth Conducting Prize from the Aspen Music Festival.
“Many talented conductors applied for this position,” said Osmo Vänskä, music director of the Minnesota Orchestra. “Roderick emerged as a very musical conductor and demonstrated a great ability to connect from the podium with musicians and audiences.”
Cox, a native of Macon, Ga., comes to the Minnesota Orchestra following a conducting fellowship with the Chicago Sinfonietta. Prior to that, for two years Cox served as the assistant conductor of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.