John Gordon Ross began his leadership of the Western Piedmont Symphony and youth symphony in 1991 and commences his 27th season as music director and conductor. Together with the orchestra, Maestro John has done much to enhance the musical environment of Hickory and the unifour region. Under his leadership, many significant American composers and soloists have visited Hickory for masterworks concerts and the orchestra has been recognized as a leader in the presentation of music by American composers of the present day and the past. In 1999 he was a major force in establishment of the Hickory metro string quartet residency which has been a major contributor to the musical improvement of the Western Piedmont Symphony. Today citizens of Western North Carolina get to attend professional quality concerts of both orchestral and chamber music that do not exist in many other much larger southeastern cities.
Maestro Ross was born in the small farming community of Selma, Indiana in 1951 and attended nearby Ball State University and the Cleveland Institute of Music for undergraduate studies. He and his wife Sarah Rocco Ross graduated together from the master of music program at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He has also studied summers at Tanglewood, the Domaine School, and was a fellow of the Scotia Festival of Music for three summers. His private conducting teachers were Walter Hendl, Thomas Briccetti, and Robert Hargreaves. He was also a participant in the conducting master classes of Pierre Boulez and Victor Yampolsky, and was an active participant in the seminars of Christopher Hogwood and Erich Leinsdorf.
He was music director and conductor of the Kingsport (TN) Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Chorus, and Youth Orchestra from 1981-1991 and served in a variety of conducting capacities with the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra, including music director and conductor from 1977-1979. Guest conducting engagements include the Cleveland Philharmonic, Johnson City (TN) Symphony, Lima and Blue Ash (OH) Symphony Orchestras. He is also a former assistant conductor of the Canton (OH) Symphony Orchestra and conductor of the Canton Youth Symphony.
Since the late 1990’s, John Gordon Ross has served in a variety of roles as an adjunct faculty member at Lenoir-Rhyne University, including portions of two semesters where he served as guest conductor of their choral ensembles as a temporary replacement for Dr. Paul D. Weber. He also teaches the instrumental conducting course every other spring semester.
He is also still an active trombonist and has performed with the Lakeside Symphony Orchestra in Ohio every summer since 1978. In Hickory, he is a regular performer with the LRU concert band and the Hickory Jazz Orchestra. He is also in demand as a clinician having conducted several festival orchestras in Tennessee and North Carolina and adjudicated NCMEA orchestra festivals in both eastern and western districts. He has served as the clinician for the inaugural Cleveland County Honors Orchestra. He was elected to a third term on the board of directors of the Conductors Guild and has served as chair of their nominating committee.
John and his wife Sarah Rocco Ross (Sally) have been married for 35 years and are the proud owners of Gracie, a 14 year old cockapoo. Sally is the director of strings for the Hickory Public Schools and associate principal cellist of the Western Piedmont Symphony and Salisbury Symphony Orchestra. The city of Hickory honored their musical accomplishments with a John and Sally Ross day on November 21, 2010.
Joseph Brunjes is a Wilmington, North Carolina native who currently lives with his wife, daughter, and assorted pets in Walnut Cove. Joseph has been conducting for over twenty years. Prior to leading the Western Piedmont Youth Symphony, he was founder and conductor of the Oleander Chamber Orchestra.
Mr. Brunjes was a fellow at workshops in Connecticut, New York, Ohio, and Bulgaria and has studied with renowned teachers including Harold Farberman, Gustav Meier, Daniel Lewis, Kenneth Keisler, Mark Gibson and Larry Rachleff. Joseph has been active as a guest conductor of various ensembles throughout North Carolina, Connecticut and New York.
Joseph has worked with many youth orchestras such as the Farmington Summer Suzuki String Academy, North Carolina Eastern Regional Middle School All-State Orchestra, Wilmington Symphony Youth Orchestra, New Haven Youth Symphony, Greater Waterbury Youth Symphony, and the Winston-Salem Youth Symphony.
An accomplished violinist, Mr. Brunjes served on the string faculty of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and was violinist of the Atlantean Trio. His teaching has been recognized by the Suzuki Association of the Americas by winning the ASI Shinichi Suzuki Teacher Trainer Grant. From the North Carolina School of the Arts, he earned a BM in violin performance and two Master of Music degrees, one in violin performance and the other in conducting. He also holds a Graduate Professional Diploma in conducting from the Hartt School.
The Western Piedmont Youth Symphony was founded by the second conductor of the Western Piedmont Symphony, Martin Bellar. The Youth Symphony was established for young musicians interested in playing in an orchestra with the full complement of winds, brass, and percussion as well as strings. Under the direction of Maestro John Gordon Ross, the WP Youth Symphony is one of the largest youth symphonies in the state. Membership is by annual competitive auditions and includes students from middle school through college from the Unifour region and beyond. The Western Piedmont Youth Symphony serves as a valuable component of strong musical education which includes school music programs and individual instruction. Registration for the full year is $100/musician. These funds are used to pay music rentals, the conductor’s expertise, rehearsal room rent, etc.
Rehearsals are held weekly on Monday evenings and the Youth Symphony performs two concerts annually. Repertoire includes both original works and educational arrangements of standard orchestral literature.
Battle of the Batons
After 27 years behind the baton of WPS, Maestro John Gordon Ross has announced his retirement.
Four Finalists have been chosen to guest conduct the Masterworks Concerts over the 2018-2019 season - a Battle of the Batons! Only one will be chosen to be the NEW conductor of Western Piedmont Symphony.
Mélisse Brunet is one of the six conductors selected from 161 applicants for the Linda and Mitch Hart Institute for Women Conductors at The Dallas Opera. She was the Assistant Conductor of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic for two seasons and guest conducted with them for five concert series. She also regularly guest conducts five French professional orchestras, and made her guest conducting debuts in January with Symphoria in Syracuse, NY. Mélisse believes that each stage appearance is an opportunity for sharing her passion with the audience during concert talks and by the creative interaction of the musicians and the audience throughout the performance. Her passion for sharing has always been transposed through her teaching and mentoring of younger musicians. In July 2016, she was named the Director of Orchestral Activities at Appalachian State University where she is conducting all the symphonic orchestras, operas, and musicals.
Mélisse is a dynamic advocate of contemporary music and worked closely with composers Steven Stucky, Shulamit Ran, Michael Daugherty, Eugene O'Brien, and Jennifer Higdon. As an opera conductor, she conducted Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, Dead Man Walking by Jake Heggie, and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. She will be conducting the musical Sweeney Todd during the spring of 2018 in Boone, and in 2019, she will premiere a French musical by Reinhardt Wagner, staged by actress Zabou Breitman with the Opéra National Montpellier. Mélisse earned her Doctorate from the University of Michigan and has degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Paris Conservatoire, and the University La Sorbonne.