John Morris Russell, conductor
The 2018/2019 season marks John Morris Russell’s eighth 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. Mr. Russell also serves as Principal Pops Conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, following in the footsteps of Marvin Hamlisch and Doc Severinsen. John Morris Russell 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.
With his position at the Cincinnati Pops, Mr. Russell leads sold-out performances at Music Hall, the Taft Theater, and Riverbend Music Center; additionally, he conducts the orchestra in concerts throughout the Greater Cincinnati region as well as domestic and international tours—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 conducts the Pops family concert series, the annual USO Tribute Cincinnati Gala, and has led, with CSO Music Director Louis Langree, the wildly successful “Lumenocity” performances over the last four summers. Mr. Russell’s recent collaborations include Aretha Franklin, Amy Grant and Vince Gill, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Michael McDonald, Ann Hampton Callaway, George Takei, Megan Hilty, Steve Martin, Edie Brickell and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Brian Wilson and Jason Alexander. The Cincinnati Pops recorded legacy continues under Mr. Russell’s leadership, including Home for the Holidays (2012), Superheroes! (2013), Carnival of the Animals (2014) and the first live recording of the Pops, American Originals (2015) and in 2018, American Originals II. Beginning in 2016 Mr. Russell conducted The Pops in a new video series “American Soundscapes”, captured live by CET Public Television, taking Pops performances around the globe via YouTube. In December 2014 Mr. Russell led the Cincinnati Pops on their first-ever Florida tour, and in March of 2017 he led the sixth Pops tour to Asia including performances in Shanghai and Taiwan.
At the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, under John Morris Russell’s leadership, the orchestra has enjoyed unprecedented artistic growth; concert attendance has blossomed and the orchestra 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 deep passion for Classical and early Romantic orchestral literature. Under his guidance the HHSO has sparked collaborations with regional ensembles and performers that continue to widen the reach of the orchestra, including Hilton Head Dance Theatre, Charleston Southern University, the Savannah Children’s Choir, and Georgia Southern University. In addition, Mr. Russell has been actively involved in the development of the HHSO “Music Bridges” program, engaging thousands of school children from Bluffton to Hilton Head Island in ensemble visits and full orchestra concerts, while integrating the musical culture of Gullah and Lowcountry traditions into presentations and programming.
John Morris Russell made his debut with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in the fall of 2014, and later that season was named Principal Pops Conductor. The following December, Mr. Russell began his tenure with a series of highly successful Holidays Pops concerts along with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, as well as concerts with jazz diva Dee Daniels and John Denver Tribute artist Jim Curry. Last season, Mr. Russell conducted the BPO in Disney Fantasia Live in Concert, Cirque de la Symphonie, A Night at the Oscars, Buffalo Sings! again featuring the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus as well as Holiday Pops while in the 2018/2019 season he conducts the BPO in Gershwin, Motown, Superheroes, the Hot Sardines, An American Salute, as well as the annual Holiday Pops.
As a guest conductor, Mr. Russell has worked with many of North America’s most distinguished ensembles, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, New York Pops, and the National Symphony of Washington, D.C. He frequently conducts Canadian orchestras including Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Kitchener-Waterloo and Orchestra London and in the US has led the orchestras of Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas, Louisville, Milwaukee, Miami’s New World Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, Oregon Symphony, Colorado Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, and New York City Ballet. 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. He visits China to conduct the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra in two performances in the 2018/2019 season.
While Music Director of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra (2001-2012) Maestro Russell fostered a decade of unprecedented artistic growth and invigorated the musical life of the Windsor-Essex region, including seventeen national broadcasts on CBC Radio 2, and the orchestra’s first nationally televised production for the CBC series Opening Night which later received 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, 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. Later that year, he became the first recipient of the Arts Leadership Award by the Windsor Endowment for the Arts, in recognition of the enormous contribution he 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.