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John Morris Russell
Cincinnati Pops Conductor

John Morris Russell, Cincinnati Pops Conductor, Louise Dieterle Nippert & Louis Nippert Chair

John Morris Russell’s passionate embrace of America’s unique voice and musical stories has transformed how orchestral performances can deeply connect and engage with audiences worldwide. In his 13th year with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, the wide range and diversity of his work as a conductor, collaborator and educator continues to reinvigorate the musical scene throughout Cincinnati and across the continent. As Music Director of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra in South Carolina, Russell leads the classical series as well as the Hilton Head International Piano Competition; he also serves as Principal Pops Conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, following in the footsteps of Marvin Hamlisch and Doc Severinsen.

This season, Russell debuts with the Florida Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and returns to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. A popular guest conductor, he has worked with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, the Boston Pops and the National Symphony of Washington, D.C. He frequently conducts Canadian orchestras including Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver, and he has led the orchestras of Pittsburgh, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas and Minnesota, as well as the Utah Symphony, Oregon Symphony, Colorado Symphony, New Jersey Symphony and New York City Ballet Orchestra. He has also conducted new works with Cincinnati Opera, including its first production of Hans Krása’s Brundibár, and the world premiere of Blind Injustice, which was released on CD in 2021.

For more than a decade, Russell has regularly led the National Orchestral Institute (NOI) and Festival in College Park, Maryland, one of the nation’s premier training orchestras. In 2024. JMR and the NOI will collaborate with Wolf Trap Opera on a production of Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins. Dedicated to sharing the American musical experience with the newest generation of players, he helped develop and conducted the LinkUP! educational concert series at Carnegie Hall, a continuation of the program launched by Walter Damrosch in 1891 and continued under Leonard Bernstein, and he has piloted educational programs with the symphony orchestras of Cincinnati, Windsor and Hilton Head.

For more than two decades, he has led the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s wildly successful Classical Roots initiative honoring and celebrating Black musical excellence, which has garnered record-breaking in-person and online audiences.

Russell has contributed seven albums to the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra discography, including 2023’s holiday album JOY! In 2018, he created the “American Originals Project,” which has won both critical and popular acclaim in two landmark recordings: American Originals (the music of Stephen Foster) and the Grammy-nominated American Originals 1918 (a tribute to the dawn of the jazz age). The concert King Records and the Cincinnati Sound with legendary pianist Paul Shaffer was immortalized in recordings produced in the Queen City, and his American Soundscapes video series with the Pops and Cincinnati’s CET Public Television has surpassed one million views on YouTube since its launch in 2016.

JMR served as Music Director of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra (WSO) between 2001 and 2012, where he conducted more than 40 world premieres and recorded the Juno-nominated album of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. During his time with the WSO, he was a two-time recipient of Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Arts. In 2011, the University of Windsor awarded him an honorary doctorate, and, the following year, the WSO named him its first Conductor Laureate.

John Morris Russell earned degrees from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles and Williams College in Massachusetts, and he has 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.

Photo Credit: Roger Mastroianni