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Anthony McGill

Classical musician Anthony McGill was born on July 17, 1979 in Chicago, Illinois to Ira Carol and Demarre McGill. He attended Whitney M. Young Magnet High School and took clarinet lessons at Chicago’s Merit School of Music. McGill also attended the prestigious Interlochen Arts Camp in Interlochen, Michigan, and was a member of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. McGill went on to earn his B.M. degree in the clarinet from Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2000.

Before graduating from Curtis Institute, McGill was appointed as associate principal clarinetist in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was also a recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2000. After four years with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, McGill was appointed principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. In 2009, McGill played alongside cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, and pianist Gabriela Montera at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, performing John Williams’ Air and Simple Gifts. The following year, McGill released his first album Anthony McGill. In 2011, he joined the faculty at The Juilliard School in New York City. He was an inaugural recipient of the Sphinx Medal of Excellence, awarded annually to classically-trained artists of color by the Sphinx Organization. In 2014, McGill recorded Mozart & Brahams: Clarinet Quintets with The Pacifica Quartet. The album was his first to be commercially released as a soloist. Following a decade with the Metropolitan Opera, McGill was appointed principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic in 2014, making McGill the first African American principal in the organization’s entire history. In 2015, McGill became an artist-in-residence for WQXR, the nation’s most-listened-to classical music station.

McGill appeared as a soloist with numerous quartets and orchestras, including the Baltimore Symphony, the New Jersey Symphony, the Curtis Orchestra, and the Chicago Sinfonietta. He also participated in classical and chamber music festivals nationwide, such as the Marlboro Music Festival, the Sarasota Music Festival, and the Tanglewood Music Festival. With his twin brother, classical flutist Demarre L. McGill, he performed on NBC Nightly News, the Steve Harvey Show, Today, and on MSNBC with Melissa Harris-Perry. McGill served on the faculty at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, Bard College Conservatory of Music and Manhattan School of Music.

Anthony McGill was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 2, 2016.

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Interview Date


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St. Thomas The Apostle School

Whitney M. Young Magnet High School

Interlochen Arts Academy

Curtis Institute of Music

Edgar Allan Poe Classical School

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Favorite Vacation Destination

Costa Rica

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Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date


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Speakers Bureau Region City

New York



Short Description

Classical musician Anthony McGill (1979 - ) became principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic after his decade-long appointment as principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera. He performed at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration alongside Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Gabriela Montera.


Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Metropolitan Opera

The Juilliard School

New York Philharmonic


Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Anthony McGill's interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Anthony McGill lists his favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Anthony McGill describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Anthony McGill describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Anthony McGill talks about his father's experiences in Memphis, Tennessee</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Anthony McGill talks about his parents' careers</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Anthony McGill talks about his brother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Anthony McGill describes his earliest childhood memories</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Anthony McGill describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Anthony McGill talks about the prevalence of gangs on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Anthony McGill remembers his early education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Anthony McGill reflects upon his experiences at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Anthony McGill remembers learning to the play the clarinet</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Anthony McGill talks about his musical mentors</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Anthony McGill talks about his lessons at the Merit School of Music in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Anthony McGill recalls his early challenges as a classical musician</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Anthony McGill recalls his contemporary musical influences</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Anthony McGill remembers performing with the Chicago Teen Ensemble</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Anthony McGill recalls joining the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Anthony McGill remembers making a mistake during a solo competition</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Anthony McGill remembers the racial demographics of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Anthony McGill remembers attending music camp at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, Michigan</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Anthony McGill describes his practice schedule</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Anthony McGill reflects upon his experiences at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, Michigan</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Anthony McGill remembers his high school education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Anthony McGill remembers the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Anthony McGill remembers joining the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Anthony McGill remembers joining the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, pt. 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Anthony McGill describes his challenges at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Anthony McGill recalls his audition for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Anthony McGill recalls receiving the Avery Fisher Grant</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Anthony McGill recalls his appointment as principal clarinetist at Metropolitan Opera Orchestra</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Anthony McGill describes the audition process for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Anthony McGill talks about judging a professional orchestra audition</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Anthony McGill talks about dealing with nervousness during an audition</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Anthony McGill describes the environment of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Anthony McGill remembers the rehearsals of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Anthony McGill talks about maintaining his health during an opera season</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Anthony McGill reflects upon his work ethic</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Anthony McGill talks about his music manager</a>







Anthony McGill describes his challenges at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Anthony McGill recalls his appointment as principal clarinetist at Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
You'd grown accustomed to the discipline of regular practice, rehearsals. What was challenging moving into a professional orchestra?$$Oh, gosh. I think the pressure to perform is more than people can, more than you can imagine. There are three performances a week in that orchestra, and four in most, a lot of other big orchestras and you, it's not like you make mistakes a lot in a professional orchestra. You kind of can't, it's not like baseball where you can kind of go up and miss a couple balls and then get another shot. You have to, like, hit every ball (laughter) and then you maybe can miss one ball every ten games (laughter) or something like that. It's kind of like the percentages are like ridiculous as far as like what people expect of you in that ensemble, so the pressure of that is probably the most, the most difficult thing. But you obviously don't think about that. I never think about that. I never think about that. You think about the music, you think about expressing yourself and expressing your love of the art form so you can communicate the piece to the audience. But, (laughter) when you're young, I think when you're younger, it may be easier, because you're not thinking so much about all of that. You know, you're just going in and you're just performing like you've been doing since you were eleven or ten, so like ten years later, you're performing in front of, you know, thousands of people so that hall [Music Hall] was like four thousand people in Cincinnati [Ohio], so you just practice. You just practice and you focus on the right things. You don't focus on the quote, unquote, stability of your job, or what you're making or anything like that. You focus on the music making and it's the basic form of learning to do a thing and then doing it, which is that you have to zone out and put out everything in your head and zone in. Now, I, in Cincinnati, I was the second black member of that orchestra and Norm Johns [Norman E. Johns] was still there in the Cincinnati Symphony [Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra] in the cello section, he joined that orchestra in the '70s [1970s], early '70s [1970s], maybe late '60s [1960s], and his experience was very tough. It was not acceptable to be black in many fields in this country at that time. It just didn't happen. It wasn't accepted, it wasn't commonplace and you, but especially in orchestras, which are really homogenous, and so he, he went through it and when I got there, you know, lots of people were very happy for me. The principal clarinetist, who I knew from a different music festival I go to, he was very supportive, you know. He was friendly with me and everybody was generally very happy I was there.$$And was Johns a mentor to you?$$Yeah, he was a mentor to me. I mean, he didn't even have to do anything to be a mentor to me.$$He was present.$$He was just, he was present. That's what you have to be to be a mentor in classical music. You have to be there and say a couple words of support to the young player coming up; you know, say, "I know you're here," and that's proud, he's proud of me. That's enough. I get to play music with him as a professional musician. I mean, it's just, it's, it's amazing when I think about it.$So, you, you received this grant [Avery Fisher Career Grant]. This is, this was, you said this was right before you started at Cincinnati [Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra].$$(Nods head) Right.$$And you also mentioned that had you gone to Cincinnati and that had been your lifetime career, that could be a beautiful and successful experience.$$It was a great job.$$But that's not what happened. In 2004, you moved to Metropolitan Opera [Metropolitan Opera Orchestra]--$$Um-hm.$$--as principal clarinetist.$$Yes.$$And this is still, you're twenty-four years old.$$(Laughter).$$How did this come about (laughter)?$$Well, you know, when you get an orchestra job of any sort and you're ambitious, you, depending on the size of that orchestra, what you feel about living there or moving on to different things and kind of moving up in your career, there are only a certain few things you can do. You can go to an orchestra that's of like the same kind of tier orchestra or same city level, or you can audition at what they call like the big five or big six orchestras, just which happen to be in New York [New York], or Philly [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania] or whatever; anyway, the Metropolitan Orchestra isn't a symphony orchestra. It plays at the opera, but it's big time. It's like one of the biggest orchestras in the biggest cities--$$In the world.$$--in the world and is one of the greater, famous for being one of the greatest orchestras in the world, so, anyway, I was in Cincinnati as associate principal. I always wanted a principal job, so the union paper [International Musician] comes out with auditions and musicians will be looking at this thing and say oh, you know, they're auditioning for people, so you send in your stuff and get invited to an audition and--$$And what are you sending in? Tapes?$$You send in, if you already have a job, you usually don't have to send in the tape, so you just send in your resume biography and most people are just, you're just allowed to audition no matter really at what level. They can't reject resumes for some orchestras too, but, so, anyway, I sent in my resume for an audition. The first time, I auditioned for a one year position, which is just for one year. That's it. And then you have to re-audition, and I didn't--I auditioned. I didn't get the job. They picked somebody else for that, but that one year opportunity and so I was still in Cincinnati [Ohio], but I knew the repertoire from the list. They sent out a list of excerpts, like two minute excerpts, maybe fifteen of those, twenty from big orchestras, you have to play twenty-five, thirty, and you may play for six, seven, eight minutes. You have to fly wherever it is, go to the city, show up, play behind the screen, play your excerpts, and you're a number, and they don't know your name either, and they call your number. So, the first time I auditioned there, I made it to the finals and for that one year position I didn't get that, but I was still in Cincinnati, but I still had a great job. It didn't matter, and--$$And, is the protocol that Cincinnati has to know that you're auditioning? Or is this--$$No. They don't, they don't have to know, you know. You--people probably find out, your colleagues find out, but you don't have to ask your employer for permission to audition somewhere else. But then, the next year auditioned again, and my number was the number they called; and I was able to join that orchestra the following fall (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) And, and what--