Niel DePonte became the principal percussionist of the Oregon Symphony in 1977, at the age of 24. He has appeared with the Oregon Symphony numerous times as a marimba soloist, playing a varied repertoire including his own composition, Concertino for Marimba and Orchestra. He was a 2003 Grammy Award nominee in the category of Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra for his performance of the Concerto for Marimba by Tomas Svoboda, with James DePreist conducting the Oregon Symphony. He also appears on the complete discography of the Oregon Symphony, playing solo percussion parts with the members of his percussion section.
Niel was born in New York City and holds an M.M. from the Eastman School of Music, where he also earned a Performer’s Certificate. He also has a degree in education from the State University of New York College at Fredonia.
Niel studied with Fred Hinger, formerly principal timpanist of the Metropolitan Opera and Philadelphia Orchestras, as well as Ted Frazeur, John Beck, Bill Cahn, and marimba virtuoso Leigh Howard Stevens. Niel is also an artist/clinician for the Yamaha Corporation and Freer Percussion.
As Music Director for Oregon Ballet Theatre, Niel also maintains an active career as a conductor. He has guest conducted a number of ensembles, both locally and internationally, including ballet performances in St. Petersburg and Kazan, Russia, and for the Boston Ballet Company.
In 1993, Niel founded, and remains Executive Artistic Director of, MetroArts Inc., a non-profit arts education organization that focuses on using the arts to teach cognitive strategies in the classroom. He is also the Artistic Director of the Young Artists at the Schnitz Concerto Competition and the MetroArts Kids Camp, where creative thinking processes are taught via music, theater, dance and visual arts to children at summer camps held at Portland’s Northwest Academy.