John Morris Russell

John Morris RussellMaestro John Morris Russell was named the Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra in March 2012. He began his Season with the Symphony on October 22, 2012.

The 2017/2018 season marks John Morris Russell’s sixth season as Conductor of the Cincinnati Pops, one of Cincinnati’s most treasured assets and one of the world’s most respected pops orchestras.  Consistently winning international praise for his extraordinary music-making and visionary leadership, he is also Music Director of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, in South Carolina, where he leads the classical subscription series as well as the prestigious Hilton Head International Piano Competition. He completed his eleven-year tenure as Music Director of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra in Ontario, Canada in 2012, whereupon he was named that orchestra’s first Conductor Laureate.

At the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, under John Morris Russell’s leadership, the orchestra’s concert attendance has blossomed; within his first three years the organization has doubled the number of concerts they present.  Mr. Russell leads the orchestra in eight masterwork subscription concerts annually, and as with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, he continues to reveal his passion for Classical and early Romantic orchestral literature.  Under his guidance, there has been a renewed educational focus in Hilton Head and surrounding communities, and he has integrated the musical culture of Gullah and Lowcountry traditions into his presentations and programming.

With his position at the Pops, Mr. Russell leads sold-out performances at Cincinnati’s Music Hall and the Riverbend Music Center; additionally he conducts the orchestra in concerts throughout the Greater Cincinnati region as well as on tour—serving as a musical ambassador to cultivate the reputation of the Cincinnati region as one of the world’s leading cultural centers.  Creator of the orchestra’s Classical Roots series, he also leads The Pops family concert series, the annual USO Tribute Cincinnati Gala, and recently shared the podium with CSO Music Director Louis Langree in the wildly successful “Lumenocity” performances in Cincinnati’s Washington Park. Mr. Russell’s recent collaborations include Amy Grant and Vince Gill, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Michael McDonald, Ann Hampton Callaway, George Takei, Megan Hilty, and Steve Martin, Edie Brickell and the Steep Canyon Rangers.  In December 2013 John Morris Russell led the world concert premiere of Macy’s “Yes, Virginia” at Music Hall, an adaptation of the “Yes, Virginia The Musical.” The Cincinnati Pops recorded legacy continues under Mr. Russell’s leadership, including Home for the Holidays and Superheroes!; his third recording with The Pops, Carnival of the Animals will be released in November 2014. In December he will lead the Cincinnati Pops on their first-ever Florida tour.

As a guest conductor, Mr. Russell has worked with many of North America’s most distinguished ensembles, leading Canadian orchestras that include Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Kitchener-Waterloo and Orchestra London.  In the US future and recent-past engagements include the orchestras of Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas, Louisville, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Miami’s New World Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, Oregon Symphony, Colorado Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, New York Pops, New York City Ballet, New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl (where he returned in July, 2014), and the Cleveland Orchestra at the Blossom Music Festival.   Abroad he conducted at the famed Musikverein in Vienna in a concert that featured the Harlem Boychoir, the Vienna Choir Boys and the actor Gregory Peck. The performance continues to be televised throughout Europe, Japan and in the USA on PBS.

2011-2012 marked Mr. Russell’s eleventh and final season as Music Director of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra.  While at Windsor he fostered a decade of unprecedented artistic growth and invigorated the musical life of the Windsor-Essex region, conducting the orchestra in seventeen national broadcasts on CBC Radio 2, led them in their first nationally televised production for the CBC Television series Opening Night, and subsequently won the Gold Worldmedal for “Best Performance Program” at the New York Festivals Awards for Television and New Media, as well as a Gemini Award Nomination. His 2006 recording of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf  with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra won Mr. Russell and the WSO its first Juno nomination for Best Children’s Album in 2008.  A two-time recipient of Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Arts, as well as the Ontario Arts Council’s Vida Peene Award for Artistic Excellence, in 2010 Mr. Russell received the prestigious Herb Gray Harmony Award by the Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County, in recognition of the WSO’s programming and outreach activities,  In 2010 he was honored as the first recipient of the Arts Leadership Award by the Windsor Endowment for the Arts, in recognition of the enormous contribution he has made to the region’s cultural life and in the spring of 2011 the University of Windsor awarded John Morris Russell an Honorary Doctor of Law degree.

John Morris Russell is widely considered one of North America’s leaders in orchestral educational programming. From 1997 to 2009 he conducted the “LinkUP!” educational concert series at Carnegie Hall, the oldest and most celebrated series of its kind, created by Walter Damrosch in 1891 and made famous by Leonard Bernstein. The “Sound Discoveries” series Mr. Russell developed with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra remains a leading model for educational concerts. In Windsor, he developed the Peanut Butter n’ Jam series for young children, Family Jamboree and the One Community—One Symphony project that engaged a dozen high school performing ensembles. He also spearheaded the creation of The Windsor-Essex Youth Choir and the Windsor Symphony Youth Orchestra.

John Morris Russell has served as Associate Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony, Associate Conductor of the Savannah Symphony Orchestra, Director of the Orchestral Program at Vanderbilt University, and Music Director with the College Light Opera Company in Falmouth, Massachusetts. He received a Master of Music degree in conducting from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from Williams College in Massachusetts. He has also studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, and the Pierre Monteux School for Conductors in Hancock, Maine.

August 2014


John Morris Russell – Items of Interest

russell2Russell grew up in Cleveland’s Shaker Heights neighborhood. His attorney father was also a clarinet player. His parents made sure all four children played instruments. Russell says the family had a wide range of music playing in their home almost daily. His father would often take the children to Cleveland Orchestra concerts.

Today Russell follows in his father’s footsteps by loading his CD player with disks of a wide range of music which could vary from classical piano to Broadway show tunes to jazz, hip hop, Russian folk tunes (Balulaika) and Chinese lute music (Pipa). The family attends his concerts.

Russell is a product of arts programs in the public schools. Music lessons for Russell began at school in the 4th grade (about age 10). He chose the trumpet to play and says that until he went off to college to study music his ambition was to be a jazz trumpeter. He was active in theatre and music in high school, where he performed in band, orchestra, jazz ensembles as well as theatrical productions, and formed a “garage band” that played cover tunes from the great funk horn bands of the late 1970’s. His first work as a conductor included teaching in the public schools as well as leading the Northern Ohio Youth Orchestras in Oberlin, Ohio, and the Akron Youth Symphony.

Russell’s experience in public schools with music made him a passionate advocate of music education, and it led him to create the “Sound Discovery” series which has been recognized as one of the foremost educational music programs in North America.

Russell is also known for his creativity in community programs. In Cincinnati, he was co-creator of the Christmas show, “Home for the Holidays,” and he brought the music of African-American composers to area churches with his series, “Classical Roots; Spiritual Heights.” It is a unique program initiated by Russell which combines the concepts of the classics with the heritage of historical African-American music.

Much of Russell’s work in each of the cities where he has worked has been about developing family and children’s concerts. “There was always a lot of cross-pollination in terms of ideas and repertoire, figuring out ways to engage audiences, and to speak not only to kids, but to engage the teachers and parents in the symphonic experience,” he says.


Reactions to Russell

russell3From Jane Sine – Search Committee Chairman: “What impressed me most about John Morris Russell was his engaging mind and how he thinks in terms of addressing issues in a larger way. His breadth of experience in music is enormous from Bach to Jazz. But he also appeared to have a thorough understanding of our community, the challenges we face, and how to move our orchestra to the next level. I am very excited about what he represents for our future.”

From Terry Moore – Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra Concert Master and Artistic Director: “I worked with John back in the mid 1990s when he was Associate Conductor with the Savannah Symphony. He was very popular then for his work with the symphony’s Classical and Pops concerts. When he came back for a guest appearance in Savannah a couple years ago I was overwhelmed with his conducting and his spirit. I believe our musicians will be extremely pleased to work with him because of his encouraging and energetic style of leadership. He is a pleasure to work under.”

From Mary Briggs – President and CEO, Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra: “This is an exciting day in the life of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra. John Morris Russell has not only an impressive resume, but an energized podium style that is captivating. He also has a demonstrated record of community involvement. I believe his presence here will serve to expand public enthusiasm for music and the arts throughout the surrounding area, and he will be an additional stimulant for tourists to our area