Faculty Spotlight: Christopher Russell

by Sarah Reinhart '10

Director of APU’s Symphony Orchestra since spring 2008, Christopher Russell is an asset to the School of Music in a variety of ways. His extensive performing and conducting history makes him a valuable resource for students hoping to enter the music industry.

Russell also holds numerous awards—he’s received the Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music, given by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers’ (ASCAP), five times since 2001 for his work at Orange County High School for the Arts (OCHSA). He is deeply involved at OCHSA; he conducts the Symphony Orchestra, oversees other music ensembles, and teaches. Under his direction, their Symphony Orchestra performed at Carnegie Hall and most recently at the Sydney Opera House. “It was amazing to perform [at Carnegie Hall] where people like Tchaikovsky and Teddy Roosevelt, plus every major classical group or artist in the last century or so, has appeared on stage,” said Russell.

Additionally, the Los Angeles Philharmonic regularly books Russell as both a preconcert and postconcert speaker. “Occasionally, I give talks that involve a question-and-answer time with the audience. I’ve had the pleasure to host talks with current Music Director Gustavo Dudamel and with former Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen,” he said.

Russell’s innovative conducting style, professional demeanor, and personable attitude are some of the reasons students enjoy working with him. “When I think of Chris Russell, I think of professionalism,” said Jeff Habell ’10, a recent Symphony Orchestra alumnus. “He puts together fantastic repertoires that challenge us to learn about styles of music we may not be familiar with. He’s not afraid to try new things, which is inspiring. And for him, it’s not just about the music; it’s about performing for God.”

The respect is mutual. “I love interacting with the students. Not only are they talented, but they are all great people, which makes it a pleasure to work with them on a regular basis. Plus, we are here to honor God through our playing, and that sets us apart from other orchestras,” Russell said. “Also, I get to conduct pieces I’ve always dreamed of doing, and work with an outstanding group of supportive colleagues.”

Under his direction last year, the APU Symphony Orchestra performed three pieces never done before in the United States, including In Excelsis (2008) by French composer Eric Tanguy and Symphony No. 5 (1928) by Danish composer Rued Langgaard. They also received a rave review from the Los Angeles Times for their 2008 performance of Stockholm Diary by Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Watch for the Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming performances this semester: Thursday, March 31, at 7:30 p.m. at Pomona First Baptist Church. See the School of Music's concert itineraries for more details. Also, find Symphony Orchestra on Facebook and listen to clips of past performances.