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JOHN MORRIS RUSSELL has consistently won international praise for his extraordinary music-making and visionary leadership. Since his appointment as Music Director of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra in 2001, Russell has ushered in a new era of unprecedented artistic growth for the WSO and has invigorated 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, Russell and the WSO have also won coveted nominations for both the Gemini Awards (2004) and Juno Awards (2008). Now in his ninth season, Russell conducts 16 weeks with the WSO, including Masterworks and Pops subscription programs, concerts on the new Intimate Classics series, and the prestigious Windsor Canadian Music Festival.
As a guest conductor, Russell has led many of North America’s most distinguished ensembles, including the orchestras of Toronto, Edmonton, Victoria, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas, Minnesota, and Louisville; Miami’s New World Symphony; the Oregon Symphony; the Colorado Symphony; the New York City Ballet; the New York Philharmonic, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. 2009 marked Russell’s twelfth and final season conducting Carnegie Hall’s “LinkUP!” educational concert series, the oldest and most celebrated series of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, created by Walter Damrosch in 1891 and made famous by Leonard Bernstein. Highlights of the 2009/10 season included his debut with the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, the New Jersey Symphony, and Orchestra London Canada, as well as return engagements with the Detroit Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.
Under Russell’s leadership, The Windsor Symphony Orchestra has made seventeen national broadcasts on CBC Radio 2, including “The Music of Freedom” on Sunday Afternoon in Concert with Bill Richardson in May 2008. The WSO’s first nationally televised production was created with Russell for the CBC series Opening Night, which subsequently won the Gold World medal 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 Russell and the WSO its first Juno nomination for Best Children’s Album in 2008.
Russell has also taken an active role in creating and revitalizing musical programs and programming to develop young listeners and musicians in the region. 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. 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, Russell now works with over 500 teenagers in 10 school band program, representing French, Catholic, and public school boards, in rehearsals and performances with the WSO. His enormously successful Education Concerts engage over 10,000 students and teachers annually in Essex, Lambton, and Kent counties.
As one of the nation’s strongest advocates for new music, 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. 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.”
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. Widely recognized for his innovative programming and commitment to attracting new and diverse audiences to orchestral music, 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, Russell replaced Erich Kunzel with an hour’s notice to conduct the Pops’ opening weekend concerts. The following week he substituted for Kunzel in concerts on the stage of the famed Musikverein in Vienna, featuring the Boys Choir of Harlem, the Vienna Choir Boys, and actor Gregory Peck. The performance continues to be televised throughout Europe, Japan, and in the U.S. on PBS.
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 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.