(South Bend, IN) May 8, 2017 – Alastair Willis, Grammy-nominated conductor, has been named as the new Music Director of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra (SBSO). The announcement was made by the South Bend Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors, led by president Kyle Everett, the Search Committee, led by Co-Chairs Bruce Bancroft and Joyce Stifel, and Executive Director Agnieszka Rakhmatullaev. His 4-year contract begins immediately, with Mr. Willis assuming the title of Music Director for the upcoming 2017-18 Season.

Willis was the first of five conductors to appear with the South Bend Symphony Orchestra, as part of the Music Director Search process, during the 2016-17 “Season of Discovery”. Leading a program featuring Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with Chicago Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster, Robert Chen, Willis made an immediate impression on musicians and audiences, as noted by South Bend Tribune correspondent Jack Walton:

“The first 10 minutes of a symphony concert do not ordinarily feature many of the evening’s defining moments… but Saturday’s opening number by the SBSO was far more significant that it usually is. Guest conductor Alastair Willis’ choice of Carter Pann’s “Slalom” allowed the audience to get to know several things about the maestro.”

The SBSO’s Principal Oboe Jennet Ingle, said that she “loved the energy that Alastair Willis brought to our very first rehearsal. With his choice of a fast, technical, exciting new work to start the season, his enthusiastic but respectful insistence on balance and phrasing in the New World Symphony, and his friendly accessibility on and off the podium, he made an immediate difference in the attitude and vibe of our orchestra”.

Mr. Willis succeeds Tsung Yeh, who led the South Bend Symphony Orchestra for 28 years. Maestro Yeh has been awarded the title of Conductor Laureate for his remarkable accomplishments both with the Symphony and in the City of South Bend over the past three decades. After the retirement of Tsung Yeh, the SBSO launched a multi-year search, generously underwritten in part by The Georgina Joshi Foundation.

Co-Chair Bruce Bancroft explained the process: “The search took 18 months to complete and included narrowing down nearly 170 applications received world-wide to five Candidates. Each of them spent a week here in South Bend conducting the orchestra, meeting with community leaders, and participating in a variety of education and community engagement activities”. The Search Committee solicited feedback from the orchestra, Board, staff, community leaders, as well as the audience. “The fifteen members were comprised of one third musicians, elected by their peers, one third Board members, many of whom were former Presidents, and one third community members with strong music backgrounds”, said Co-Chair Joyce Stifel. “We are grateful for the dedication and hard work of the Committee, and thank those who attended the concerts and all of the activities led by the Candidates, and those who provided invaluable feedback”.

Ultimately, Alastair Willis rose to the top and impressed everyone by his extraordinary skills, both on and off the podium. Board President Kyle Everett, expressed his excitement about this new chapter and the continued growth of the arts in our community, “Alastair has a contagious enthusiasm and style that make his passion evident. His leadership as Music Director will be energetic, engaging, and help expand audiences to experience all that the SBSO has to offer”.

Alastair Willis

The Grammy-nominated conductor Alastair Willis has guest conducted orchestras around the world. Most recently, he completed a successful tenure as Music Director of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, which serves the communities of Springfield and Bloomington/Normal. Willis has been a staff conductor for the Seattle Symphony, the Florida Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestras; and led acclaimed ensembles including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic as a guest conductor, as well as Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble”. (visit alastairwillis.com for a full biography)
Born in Acton, Massachusetts, Alastair Willis spent his formative years in the United Kingdom. He received his Bachelor’s Degree with Honors from England’s Bristol University and an Education Degree from Kingston University. He then moved to the United States and earned a Master’s Degree in Music from Rice University. He currently resides in Seattle with his family, and is looking forward to making South Bend his second home.

Alastair Willis expressed his enthusiasm and excitement about this new chapter: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be the next Music Director of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra! I’d like to thank the search committee, board, staff, audience, and especially the musicians for choosing me. From the moment I arrived in South Bend, and from the very first notes of my first rehearsal, I knew this was a very special place. I felt an immediate connection with the remarkable musicians and the enthusiastic and warm response from the audience was wonderful. I can’t wait for the season to start, to collaborate and grow together with the orchestra, and begin meeting everyone in the community!”

Mr. Willis will conduct the following subscription concerts during the 2017-18 Season:

  • Mahler’s “Titan” – September 23, 2017
  • Charlie Chaplin’s “The Rink” – October 15, 2017
  • An American Celebration – November 11, 2017
  • Beethoven’s “Emperor” – February 17, 2018
  • An Afternoon in Italy – March 4, 2018
  • Verdi Requiem – April 14, 2018
  • Tony DeSare: Music of the Piano Men – April 28, 2017
  • Tchaikovsky’s Fifth – May 12, 2018

Additionally, he will lead the orchestra during the Shein Family Young People’s Discovery Concerts, Home for the Holidays performances, the MLK Day Celebration Concert, and the new Family concert.

“Alastair set the bar very high, from the minute he stepped onto that podium”, said the SBSO’s Executive Director Agnieszka Rakhmatullaev. “As our new artistic leader, he will take the SBSO to new heights, by bringing a fresh perspective to programming, concert presentation, and through his work with the orchestra. Alastair’s deep passion for music and desire to be involved in education and community engagement programs, will allow the SBSO to continue to build long-standing partnerships and serve our community during this exciting new chapter”.

The South Bend Symphony Orchestra

Currently celebrating its 84th Season, the SBSO is Michiana’s only professional orchestra. The Symphony’s highly qualified musician pool is drawn from a large multi-state area. The SBSO presents more than 70 performances annually at the Morris Performing Arts Center, DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, and various community venues. The organization has long-standing partnerships with the area’s leading educational and cultural institutions including the University of Notre Dame, IU South Bend, Saint Mary’s College, and the South Bend Heritage Foundation.

The SBSO presents high-caliber performances as part of the Jack M. Champaigne Masterworks, KeyBank Pops, and June H. Edwards Mosaic Series, as well as Holiday, MLK, and Shein Family Young People’s Discovery, and Family concerts. Additionally, SBSO ensembles present over 50 free performances throughout the community, in venues including schools, libraries, and retirement centers. Through these activities, the Symphony serves over 30,000 adults and school children in the Michiana region annually.

The 2017-18 Season will include 20 orchestral concerts, including:

  • Three main Series – Jack M. Champaigne Masterworks, KeyBank Pops, June H. Edwards Mosaic
  • Two Home for the Holidays concerts (December 16 & 17, 2017)
  • NEW – Family Concert at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (March 3, 2018)
  • The annual MLK Day Celebration Concert (January 15, 2018)
  • Four Shein Family Young People’s Discovery Concerts
  • Free outdoor summer concert in August presented as part of the Community Foundation’s Performing Arts Series
  • In addition, the SBSO’s small ensembles conduct over 50 free performances in the community at schools, libraries, community centers, and retirement facilities

For more information, interviews, and images contact Audrey Carter, SBSO Marketing/Office Coordinator at (574) 232-6343 or acarter@southbendsymphony.org

For more details of the upcoming 2017-18 Season visit southbendsymphony.org