Photo credit: Liz Garza Williams

The Minnesota Orchestra is diversifying its conducting ranks: The orchestra announced this week that Akiko Fujimoto will become an assistant conductor -- the second woman ever to join its conducting team – and that its new associate conductor, Roderick Cox, has signed a one-year contract extension.

Fujimoto, who starts in September, is the associate conductor of the San Antonio Symphony. And, yes, she’s already heard warnings about the weather here.

“I’m very afraid,” Fujimoto said by phone Wednesday. She travelled to Minnesota for the first time in early April, for her audition. “By Minnesota standards, it was very spring-like,” she said, “but I brought my warmest down coat.”

But she was drawn to the job because the Minnesota Orchestra is “highly reputable, award-winning.” And she owns one of its recordings: Music director Osmo Vänskä conducting Sibelius Symphonies No. 2 and 5. In Texas, Fujimoto has conducted a variety of concerts, including a baroque series set in a cathedral and a few ballets, including “Romeo and Juliet” and “Swan Lake.” She also hosts the symphony's "Classical Conversations," pre-concert lectures. But her primary focus was “educational,” she said, “and creating connections with the community.”

At the Minnesota Orchestra, assistant conductors typically lead family programs, outdoor concerts and shows for young people. They also assist with Live at Orchestra Hall — a series that includes popular music and movie scores — and more traditional classical performances.

The orchestra is hoping that Cox, who was elevated to associate conductor last September, will help reach new, more diverse audiences. He will lead a week of classical subscription concerts this year, the orchestra also announced. This week, he’s in Greater Minnesota, conducting the orchestra in Grand Rapids on Friday as part of its three-city tour. Read our profile of Cox here.

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