John Morris Russell
Maestro John Morris Russell was named the Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra in March 2012. He will begin his Season with the Symphony on October 22, 2012. He has consistently won international praise for his extraordinary music-making and visionary leadership. On December 6, 2010 he was named Conductor Designate of The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, one of the most celebrated musical ensembles of our times. In September of 2011, he begins his full-time tenure with the POPS leading performances at Cincinnati’s Music Hall and the Riverbend Music Center.
He just completed his tenth and final year as Music Director of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, in Ontario, Canada, and was named Honorary Conductor for fostering a decade of unprecedented artistic growth of the musical life of the Windsor-Essex region. 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, Maestro Russell and the WSO have also won coveted nominations for both the Gemini Awards (2004) and Juno Awards (2008). In 2010 Mr. Russell received the prestigious The Herb Gray Harmony Award by the Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County, in recognition of the WSO's programming and outreach activities that consistently support and celebrate the region's diversity, as well as Mr. Russell's innovative strategies to encourage a harmonious society. In October of 2010 he became 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. Maestro Russell was awarded a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa by the University of Windsor in June of 2011.
The Windsor Symphony Orchestra has made seventeen national broadcasts on CBC Radio 2 with Maestro Russell, including concerts from the Masterworks and Intimate Classics series, and the annual Windsor Canadian Music Festival. The most recent CBC broadcast recording of Aurora Borealis by Jordon Nobles, was selected to represent Canada in the 57th annual International Rostrum of Composers in Lisbon, Portugal in June of 2010. The WSO’s first nationally televised production was created with
Mr. Russell for the CBC Television series Opening Night, which 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. In 2006 the Windsor Symphony Orchestra released Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf narrated by the internationally acclaimed actor, Colm Feore, and Last Minute Lulu, composed by WSO Composer-in-Residence, Brent Lee, with text by the Newbery Medal winning author, Christopher Paul Curtis. The recording won Mr. Russell and the WSO its first Juno nomination for Best Children’s Album in 2008.
As a guest conductor, Maestro Russell has led many of North America’s most distinguished ensembles, including the orchestras of Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Kitchener-Waterloo, Orchestra London, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas, Louisville, Miami’s New World Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Oregon Symphony, Colorado Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, New York Pops, New York City Ballet, as well as The Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and Los Angeles Philharmonic. In February of 2011, Maestro Russell was named Principal Guest Conductor of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Maestro Russell is widely considered North America's leader in orchestral educational programming. From 1997 to 2009 Mr. Russell 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 crafted two new concert series, Peanut Butter n’ Jam and Family Jamboree, specifically for youngsters and families, and spearheaded the creation of The Windsor-Essex Youth Choir and the Windsor Symphony Youth Orchestra. Mr. Russell’s passionate support of music in the schools has forged performance partnerships with the University of Windsor School of Music, the Windsor Centre for the Creative Arts and dozens of choral, dance and performing ensembles throughout the community. With the creation of the One Community—One Symphony project in 2008, Maestro Russell has worked with over a thousand teenagers in 15 school band and choral programs, representing French, Catholic and Public School Boards, in rehearsals and performances with the WSO. In the last decade, the WSO's enormously successful education concerts have engaged over 100,000 students and teachers in Essex, Lambton and Kent counties.
As one of the nation’s strongest advocates for new music, Maestro Russell has helped nurture many new voices in Canadian music, conducting numerous Windsor premiers of important Canadian works and over 45 world premiers of commissioned compositions. Mr. Russell created the WSO’s first multi-year composer-in-residence position, and is deeply involved in the production of the annual Windsor Canadian Music Festival, described by CBC producer David Jaeger as, “one of the most exciting and innovative developments to appear lately in the Canadian musical scene.”
Mr. Russell served as associate conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for eleven years where he regularly led concerts at Music Hall and the Riverbend Music Center. Recognized for his innovative programming and commitment to attracting new and diverse audiences to orchestral music, Maestro Russell created the Classical Roots: Spiritual Heights series, which brought the music of African-American composers and performers to thousands of listeners in area churches, and was also the co-creator of the Christmas spectacular, Home for the Holidays. In September of 1999, Mr. Russell replaced Erich Kunzel with an hour’s notice to conduct the Pops’ opening weekend concerts. The following week he substituted for Maestro Kunzel in concerts on the stage of the famed Musikverein in Vienna, featuring the Harlem Boychoir, the Vienna Choir Boys and actor Gregory Peck. The performance continues to be televised throughout Europe, Japan and in the USA on PBS.
Maestro Russell has also served as 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.
John Morris Russell - Items of Interest
Russell 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
From 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 – Executive Director, 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