At home, conducting orchestras and flying planes, James. M. Orent dies at 67

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A frequent guest conductor of the Boston popsMr. Orent died on August 25 of apparent sudden heart failure while relaxing on the ground after a parachute jump, one of his favorite pastimes. He was 67 years old and lived in Nashua, NH

Mr. Orent has been “an invaluable resource for the Pops for over a quarter of a century,” Pops conductor Keith Lockhart wrote in a tribute. “He was visible to the public throughout his many years in the violin section and as Pops’ favorite guest conductor. “

Calling Mr. Orent “an unofficial assistant conductor of the Pops,” Lockhart wrote that “his friend’s most formidable service, however, was behind the scenes,” where he had to be ready to take over at all times. .

This talent came to the fore in 2003, when Lockhart had to rush to Boston for the premature birth of his first child and Mr. Orent, who described himself as the musical equivalent of a “utility fielder.” , was called to lead.

“Jim must have conducted a concert at the famous Ravinia Festival in Chicago in front of 8,000 people who weren’t in the mood to be replaced! As always, Jim performed beautifully and the audience was won over quickly, ”Lockhart recalls.

Mr. Orent has practiced a lot to dazzle audiences across the country and around the world.

In addition to directing the Pops as a guest, he has compiled a long Musical CV which included conducting the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and Phillips Academy Andover Symphony and Chamber Orchestras. He had also been musical director of the Brockton Symphony Orchestra, the Newton Symphony Orchestra and a host of other ensembles and orchestras.

Former Boston Pops composer and conductor John Williams said in a statement that “the news of Jim Orent’s passing is shocking, sad and terribly painful at the same time. He was a man of many brilliant accomplishments, and he possessed a particularly generous, loving and kind soul and spirit. It is a very great loss and he will be missed forever.

Mr. Orent’s musical journeys had taken him to places such as New York; Washington DC ,; Savannah, Georgia; Canada; the Czech Republic; and Hungary.

Such a route lent itself to aviation, his other main passion. Mr. Orent has occasionally flown his own aircraft for out-of-town missions across the country.

“He loved aviation in all its forms and performed over 500 parachute jumps,” said his wife, Marianne, who is also a pilot and parachutist. “He and I did a lot of parachute jumps together. Probably 300 of them were dives in the sky that we did together.

At the controls of a plane, “he was a very accomplished pilot. For a number of years he was a sky writer, a banner tower – very dangerous things, you know, and he was good at those things, ”she added. “Anyone who’s spent time on the beaches of New England and even as far as Maryland would likely see him writing across the sky and towing banners.”

The two passions for conducting and piloting, Mr. Orent said, called on similar talents.

“You have to plan where you’re going and analyze what’s going on right now,” he told The Globe in 2007. “And if something’s wrong, stay focused on what you’re doing while you fix it. . “

James Michael Orent was born in Boston on March 19, 1954 and raised in Newton.

He was the midpoint of three brothers whose parents were Herbert Orent and Daisy Rubin Orent.

Herbert was a shoe company executive until the industry declined, then helped run a medical and dental practice with Mr. Orent’s brother Thomas, who lives in Sherborn. In addition to raising the boys, Dorothy volunteered and played the piano.

Marianne said during a celebration of Mr. Orent’s life her brother Tom told the story of their young age and James “wanting an electric guitar and his mother said you can’t have a guitar electric until you learn classical music “.

During his violin studies, he was so enamored with classical music that he largely abandoned popular music, with a few exceptions.

“If he really had the purity and beauty of music that he could usually only find in classical music or opera, he fell in love with it,” Marianne said.

Mr. Orent is a graduate of Newton High School and Amherst College, where he received the Sundquist Prize for Excellence in Musical Composition and Performance.

He also earned a master’s degree from Yale University and played a 1790 Helmer violin that once belonged to Emanuel Fiedler, the father of late Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler.

Music, Mr. Orent believed, also has healing properties, something he explored with a 2010 Newton concert called “The Healing Power of Music”.

“I know so many people who have been helped by serious illnesses and psychological problems, emotional problems and family losses because of their attachment to music,” he then told The Globe, “so the idea of ​​doing this has been going on for some time. “

He knew this from personal experience, having recovered from a sports-related injury in 1996.

“Doctors told me that I would never be able to regain the flexibility to create the compound twists needed to play the violin or possibly achieve the controls of an airplane,” he said, “ and my response was, ‘Yes, I will.’ “

In addition to his wife Marianne and brother Thomas, Mr. Orent leaves his brother Clifford of Cathedral City, California.

In the celebration of life, Marianne said, Lockhart conducted a small string orchestra, which performed works by two of his favorite composers, Dvorak and Williams, whom Mr. Orent considered a mentor and friend.

Williams’ piece was “With Malice Toward None,” a composition from the film “Lincoln” which was “perfectly titled for Jim,” who was known for his kindness and attention, Marianne said.

Even though he and Clifford lived on opposite coasts, they corresponded so constantly by email that “it was like we lived in the same town,” Clifford said.

Mr. Orent and Marianne met through a friend that everyone knew from skydiving. When this friend fell ill and died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Mr. Orent was among those who helped him through the stages of ALS, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, although Mr. Orent held several jobs in music and piloting.

“It is a testament to Jim’s generosity of spirit,” she said. “We wouldn’t have met if he hadn’t been so generous.”

She is a retired executive with a healthcare communications company. They got married in 2010.

“We got married at age 11,” Marianne said. “I know people don’t believe me when I say this, but we never had an argument because Jim was so easy to be with. You didn’t feel like you were making an effort to be with him.


Bryan Marquard can be reached at [email protected]


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