Obituary: Akira Endo / Music director for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Nov. 16, 1938 - April 3, 2014


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Music is more than what accompanies a dance. It can elevate a performance if conducted with that special touch.

Akira Endo had that talent, which he shared with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre as music director from October 1991 through PBT's 2001-02 season. He considered himself "a champion of ballet music," he said in a 1993 interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and often was viewed as eccentric for his eye-catching wardrobe, which included brocade and lame jackets in addition to the traditional tuxedo.

To keep dancers -- and the musicians -- on their toes, he'd occasionally stray from the predictable, such as the time he conducted "The Nutcracker" party scene with a French baguette or wore a tiara to lead the second act. He also served as interim director of the Duquesne Symphony Orchestra in the early 2000s.

After decades of spreading the joy of dance and music, Mr. Endo died April 3. He was 75.

Born in Shido, Japan, on Nov. 16, 1938, to Hikataro and Reiko Endo, he spent his career traveling, playing and conducting music. He attended the University of Southern California, where he earned a bachelor of music and a master of music-violin performance degrees.

A highlight of his career was a 10-year tenure at American Ballet Theatre in New York City. He conducted most of the company's leading dancers of the era, including Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev.

He also appeared as guest conductor for numerous orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and, in addition to his work at PBT, held music director positions with the Miami City Ballet and the Colorado Ballet. A handful of other symphonies in America and Canada tapped him as principal conductor.

"Not very many people have that much knowledge of dance," said Patricia Wilde, who served as PBT's artistic director in 1982-97. She also knew Mr. Endo from her career at ABT. "He knew the choreography as well, and he had a good feeling for each dancer, where they needed a little bit of a lift or a little give and take or adjustment, without destroying the music and the integrity of the performance."

He passed some of that knowledge on to the next generation of musicians as a visiting professor and through teaching positions at the University of Miami, Duquesne University and the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he retired in 2008.

He is survived by his wife, Keiko; three children, Stephanie, Gregory and Julie; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held in Austin, Texas. For information, visit www.facebook.com/endosfinale.


Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com.


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