James Villani has served the community as music director of the MSO since 2002. As a long-time advocate for continuing adult music education and volunteerism in the arts, Mr. Villani has been involved in community musical organizations since coming to Northern Virginia in 1986. He was associate conductor and clarinetist for the Reston Chamber Orchestra for 10 years and has been involved with countless other area performances. He is an active judge and clinician for local music festivals and competitions. Mr. Villani was recognized by the Virginia Senate in 2018 for his leadership in the MSO’s 25th Season, was a semi-finalist for The American Prize for Community Orchestra Conductors in 2010, and a finalist for The American Prize in Orchestral Programming / Vytautas Marijosius Memorial Award — Community Division, 2019-20.
A native of New Castle, Pennsylvania, Mr. Villani began playing clarinet in school at the age of 8. He honed his skills, as many in town did, in the back room of Al Colella’s Shoe Store, where Mr. Colella taught a steady stream of clarinetists for decades while servicing the occasional shoe customer. Later, while in high school, Mr. Villani studied with Carl Marks, a noted faculty member at Duquesne University and Youngstown State University’s Dana School of Music. Mr. Marks was himself a student of the legendary Daniel Bonade.
Mr. Villani received Bachelor’s Degrees in Clarinet Performance and Music Education from Penn State University, where he studied with Smith Toulson and was a member of every major ensemble, from the marching Blue Band to the Symphony Orchestra. Among his PSU highlights were four major bowl games, playing tenor saxophone in Disney’s All-American College Marching Band at the grand opening of the EPCOT theme park (alongside legendary performer Danny Kaye), and performing with the Pittsburgh Symphony under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas.
He received a Master of Music in Conducting from Northwestern University, where Mr. Villani studied conducting and arranging with John P. Paynter and was a graduate assistant for the university wind ensembles. He had a rather unique opportunity for a conducting major — playing bass clarinet in the top wind ensemble alongside classmates who are now members of top symphony orchestras. Mr. Villani was also a student of Clark Brody (another Bonade student), principal clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner, and renowned contemporary composer Alan Stout.