THE HOUSE LIGHTS DIM and guest conductor walks briskly, but gracefully, to his place at the podium as the audience applauds. Without missing a beat, he lifts his baton, and The New York Pops' "A Holiday Celebration" concert is underway. This weekend event marks Willis's debut at world-renowned Carnegie Hall. And given the big grin on his face, there's nothing else this young guy would rather be doing on a Saturday night.
Earlier in the afternoon, I met with Willis at his hotel in New York, where he chatted enthusiastically about his career. Born in Action, Massachusetts, Willis, whose father was once a foreign correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, moved with his family to Russia when he was a child. Then, when Willis was ten, the family moved to England. Shortly after, inspired by Haydn's trumpet concerto at a London concert, he took up the trumpet. Later Willis received his undergraduate degree at the University of Bristol, followed by a Master's degree in orchestral conducting from Rice University, in Texas, and launched his professional career as a conductor.
In 2003, following his three-year post as Associate Conductor for the Seattle Symphony, Willis began traveling the world as a full–time guest conductor.