John Morris Russell

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John Morris Russell is an American conductor.

John Morris Russell
John Morris Russell, Conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra
Background information
Born (1961-06-06)June 6, 1961
Occupation(s) Conductor
Associated acts Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Hilton Head Symphony, Windsor Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra


Early years[edit]

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Maestro Russell is the product of arts programs in the public schools. He attended Ludlow Elementary School in Shaker Heights, outside of Cleveland. Active in theater and music in high school, he performed in band, orchestra, jazz ensemble as well as theatrical productions, and formed a “garage band” that played cover tunes from the great funk horn bands of the late 1970s. He began more seriously studying music while attending King's College in London. In 1982, he graduated with a music degree and highest honors from Williams College in Massachusetts. He continued his study with private conducting lessons at the Cleveland Institute of Music.[1] 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.


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.

Conducting and Performing[edit]

Cincinnati Pops Orchestra[edit]

On December 6, 2010, Russell was named conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, effective September 1, 2011, succeeding the late Erich Kunzel. As the Cincinnati Pops Conductor, Russell is charged with programming and conducting performances at Music Hall and Riverbend Music Center, as well as leading performances in the community and overseeing the Orchestra's Lollipop Family Concerts.

Hilton Head Symphony[edit]

Maestro 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. He has consistently won international praise for his extraordinary music-making and visionary leadership.

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra[edit]

In April of 2015 John Morris Russel was named Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra principal pops conductor.

Windsor Symphony Orchestra[edit]

In May 2011, the University of Windsor announced Russell would receive an honorary degree during its spring convocation ceremony for his contributions to the growth and invigoration in musical life in Windsor, Ontario.


Russell has consistently won international praise for music-making and leadership.[2] As Music Director of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, Russell has fostered a decade of artistic growth and has invigorated the musical life of the Windsor-Essex region.[3]


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, Russell received the 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 support and celebrate the region's diversity, as well as Russell's strategies to encourage a harmonious society. In October 2010 he was honored as the first recipient of the Arts Leadership Award by the Windsor Endowment for the Arts, in recognition of the contribution he has made to the region's cultural life.

Radio and television[edit]

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 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 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 Russell and the WSO its first Juno nomination for Best Children’s Album in 2008.

On December 12, 2011, Russell recorded his first CD with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. "Home for the Holidays" also features the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus, Rodrick Dixon, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and New York Voices. [4]

Guest conductor[edit]

As a guest conductor, Maestro Russell has led many of North America’s most distinguished ensembles, including the orchestras of Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Victoria, Kitchener-Waterloo, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas, Louisville, Orchestra London, 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[5] and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Russell was associate conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for eleven years where he regularly led concerts at Music Hall and the Riverbend Music Center.[6] He 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 1999, Russell replaced Erich Kunzel with an hour’s notice to conduct the Cincinnati 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 returned to conduct the Cincinnati Pops twice in 2010. 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.

Educational concerts[edit]

The "Sound Discoveries" series Russell developed with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is a model for educational concerts. In Windsor, he crafted two new concert series, Peanut Butter n’ Jam and Family Jamboree, specifically for youth and families, and spearheaded the creation of The Windsor-Essex Youth Choir and the Windsor Symphony Youth Orchestra. Russell’s 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 choral, dance and performing ensembles. With the creation of the One Community—One Symphony project in 2008, 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 education concerts have engaged more than 100,000 students and teachers in Essex, Lambton and Kent counties. 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. He 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.”