The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra announced a two-year contract extension with conductor John Morris Russell, effective through the end of the 2024-2025 season.
The extension is the fourth for Russell, currently in his 11th season with the Cincinnati Pops.
“John is an ambassador for American music, which has become synonymous with the Cincinnati Pops brand,” said Jonathan Martin, president and CEO of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Pops. “His work as a conductor, educator, and collaborator continues to invigorate the Cincinnati music community, and his impact is evident through the audiences we welcome in Music Hall and his relationships with the musicians, teachers, and community partners throughout the region. We are grateful for John and his ongoing leadership of the Pops.”
Since taking the helm as Pops conductor in 2011, Russell’s tenure has been marked by diverse programming, community collaborations and building a new recording legacy, including:
- The American Originals Project, which garnered both critical and popular acclaim in two landmark recordings: American Originals (the music of Stephen Foster) as well as American Originals: 1918 (a tribute to the dawn of the jazz age) which received a Grammy® nomination for “Best Classical Compendium”. In 2020, the American Originals Project continued with King Records and the Cincinnati Sound with Late Night with David Letterman musical director, Paul Shaffer, celebrating the beginnings of bluegrass, country, rockabilly, soul and funk immortalized in recordings produced in the Queen City.
- To date, six albums have been added to the recorded legacy of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra during John Morris Russell’s time, including Home for the Holidays (2012), the first recording on the Orchestra’s own Fanfare Cincinnati label; Superheroes! (2013); Carnival of the Animals (2014); American Originals (2015); American Originals: 1918 (2018); and Voyage (2019).
- Critically acclaimed domestic and international tours, including Florida for holiday season performances in December 2014 and China and Taiwan in March 2017, contributing to the Pops storied touring history.
- The American Soundscapes video series with CET Public Television which featured some of the greatest works in the Great American Songbook. The series has surpassed one million views on YouTube since its inception in 2016.
- The World Choir Games, the largest global choral festival and competition for amateur choirs from around the world. The Games in 2012, the first held in America, involved 15,000 active participants from 64 countries in peaceful singing competitions. Russell conducted the Orchestra in opening and closing ceremonies of the Games.
- Lumenocity, which illuminated the façade of Music Hall and activated Washington Park in one of the most unique live concert experiences ever created with orchestra. Russell conducted the Pops in performance with Music Hall resident companies from 2013-2016.
- Classical Roots, a beloved annual Cincinnati tradition celebrating the African American musical experience. Russell was instrumental in the development of Classical Roots and nurtured long-lasting connections with community members from across the Cincinnati region. Classical Roots recently celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 2021.
- Neighborhood concerts in communities across the region, including Bond Hill, Forest Park, Mason, Green Township, and Hamilton County Parks.
- The Educators Conducting Workshops with the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Concert Orchestra to engage with and provide professional development for area band and orchestra directors. Russell also conducted the annual Side-by-Side concert with the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra a total of seven times during his tenure.
In addition to the Cincinnati Pops, Russell concurrently serves as the music director of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra in South Carolina, leading the classical subscription series and the prestigious Hilton Head International Piano Competition, and the Principal Pops Conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, following in the footsteps of Marvin Hamlisch and Doc Severinsen. As a guest conductor, Russell has worked with many of the most distinguished orchestras in North America, including The Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Boston Pops, and the orchestras of Dallas, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver.
“I am grateful to continue this beautiful partnership with the Cincinnati Pops, especially our shared devotion to the panoply of the American musical experience,” said Russell. “Our orchestra has among the most committed and passionate musicians on the planet, and the palpable sense of joy we share can be heard in every virtuosic performance. Our ardent music lovers throughout Cincinnati and Pops fans around the world continue to be a source of inspiration, and I am deeply honored to continue this
remarkable journey together.”
For 45 years, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra has entertained audiences in Cincinnati and around the globe with its trademark “Cincinnati Sound,” presenting a diverse array of musical genres that has garnered national and international acclaim for the ensemble. The alter ego of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Pops was founded in 1977 by the late Erich Kunzel. Committed to sharing music with the world, the Cincinnati Pops has a long legacy of domestic and international tours and was the first Pops orchestra from the United States to perform in China. Recent tours have included Shanghai and Taiwan in March 2017 and Florida in December 2014. Previously, the Pops traveled to Beijing as part of the Opening Festivities of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, and in 2005, the Pops completed a historic tour to China and Singapore, performing in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The Cincinnati Pops has also appeared before audiences in New York’s Carnegie Hall, Washington D.C., and Japan.
Digital performances and recordings have long been hallmarks of the Cincinnati Pops. National telecasts of the Cincinnati Pops on PBS have been viewed by an estimated 30 million people, and American Soundscapes, an online video series produced in partnership with CET Public Television, has surpassed one million views on YouTube since its inception in 2016. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Cincinnati Pops performances were livestreamed for free to viewers from around the world; select performances continue to be livestreamed each season for accessibility.