The powerful, energetic, brilliant and charismatic musical director and conductor of our Hilton Head Symphony OrchestraJohn Morris Russell, was returning home to Cincinnati after a long weekend on Hilton Head Island when it happened.
After two dazzling performances with the orchestra and the piano soloist Eric Zuberas well as rehearsals for a series of upcoming performances on the island, he had carefully planned the details of his return trip, down to the midge’s eyelash.
Standing at the rental car return counter at the airport, Russell was distracted, even annoyed, by the ringing and ringing of his cell phone. Finally, his travel documents in place and his identity papers put away, he was ready to go home. Sitting down, he turned to the crowded voicemail.
He couldn’t imagine what he would hear as he began to listen.
“Again and again, the words came out loud and clear,” Russell said. “The long journey home was filled with calls and messages from friends, family and enthusiastic colleagues, also congratulating me on being nominated for a Grammy Award for 2020. On the field, the calls and social media continued as others responded. on the news… I thought my phone was going to explode!
Later, just to be sure, he checked the official list of nominees which was announced in late November by Alicia Keys, a global superstar who has won 15 Grammys.
“Still upset, I wanted to share what just happened with everyone in the office after knowing for sure that I was in fact a Grammy nominee,” he laughed. “I circulated throughout the day handing out lollipops to everyone as we shared the amazing news.”
Russell’s nomination in the “Best Classical Compendium” category is for the recording “American Originals: 1918”, with the famous Cincinnati Pops. It was released under the Pops Fanfare Cincinnati label owned by the Cincinnati Symphony.
You’ll notice familiar tunes on the recording when you hear it.
Russell explained his thoughts on planning the work and preparing for the recording. Particularly noteworthy was his familiarity with the history of that era, in general, and with musical history in particular.
Just over 100 years ago, on November 11, 1918, the “war to end all wars” ended. This date also marked the beginning of America’s cultural awakening – and in the decade following World War I there came a time when attitudes and ideas about musical styles…jazz, country , blues, rockabilly, ragtime and soul… made them popular all over the country.
New and different composers and performers, especially African Americans, who presented new and unfamiliar musical genres were introduced, and they began to reflect the diversity of the nation.
According to Franck Mercurio of the Cincinnati Pops, the result was truly the launch of American popular music. This kind of musical new beginning continued for the rest of the century and truly defined our shared musical philosophy.
John Morris Russell
Some may not know that Russell – known here as an influential music director, bandleader, speaker and advocate for popular music – is also bandleader of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, as well as principal pop bandleader. of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
“John handles these leadership positions at both orchestras, as well as his position within our orchestra, with intelligence and great energy,” said Mary Briggs, President and CEO of HHSO. “He also appears as a guest conductor with many well-known orchestras across the country.
“The necessary balance between conducting symphony orchestras and conducting pop orchestras is a huge benefit for everyone. He is constantly exposed to new ideas…offering many of his own and modifying others in order to meet our very particular Lowcountry interests, preferences and expectations.
This is Russell’s eighth season here, and Briggs said the subscription streak has doubled, ticket purchases have increased, and he’s expanded the orchestra’s visibility in the community and beyond.
Staples Center in Los Angeles
“I vividly remember the moment I decided to make music the center of my life,” Russell said.
“My parents took me to a Cleveland Orchestra concert. The soloist was performing Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 that evening. I was transported at that time. I wanted to play the trumpet and I wanted to be surrounded by music. At university, for a series of good reasons, I centered this musical orientation on becoming a conductor.
And now it’s led to the red carpet.
The Grammy Awards ceremony will take place on January 26 in Los Angeles.
“Everything about this award has been kind of a series of miracles,” Russell said.
“The first miracle was that I was nominated for this award. The second is that I’m free this weekend…probably the only weekend of the year that I’m not conducting somewhere.
I can’t wait to get to Staples Center and see most of the biggest names in music walk that red carpet.
Editor’s note: This story was edited on December 11 to correct a quote by Russell about a performance by the Cleveland Orchestra that included Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8.
This story was originally published December 10, 2019 10:55 a.m.