John Morris Russell has been named the new conductor of the Cincinnati Pops, succeeding the orchestra’s founder and long-time conductor Erich Kunzel, who passed away in September 2009. Russell will officially begin his tenure on Sept. 1, 2011, but he’s a familiar face around Music Hall because he served as associate conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1995 to 2006. In a midday news conference at Music Hall, Russell indicated that he will make his home in Cincinnati. He presently lives in Windsor, Ontario, where he is music director of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, a post he's held for 10 years and intends to keep.—-
During his years in Cincinnati, Russell was very involved in creating concerts that appealed to children and families. He was involved in the creation of the Home for the Holidays annual show that was presented at the Taft Theatre for several seasons; he also presented music by African-American composers through a series called "Classical Roots, Spiritual Heights," presented at Cincinnati-area churches.
Morris, 50, is a native of Cleveland; he was educated at Williams College and the University of Southern California. As a teenaged trumpeter, he was part of a band that played music by Chicago in addition to Funk/Soul tunes by The Commodores and Parliament Funkadelic (which included Cincinnati music legend Bootsy Collins).
Approximately three dozen candidates were considered, but Russell was the unanimous choice of the 13-member search committee and his hiring was unanimously endorsed by the board of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Pops parent organization.
He is in Cincinnati this week to conduct the Pops in holiday concerts on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon. The featured performer is Pop singer Debby Boone, and the program is a tribute in part to singer Rosemary Clooney (who happens to be Boone’s mother-in-law). The program will also include orchestra music by Handel and Tchaikovsky.
(Photo by Kevin Kavanaugh)