Alumnus Robert Franz named music director of the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra

The School of Music at UNCSA has announced that conductor and alumnus Robert Franz will become music director of the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra beginning with the 2023-24 academic year and performance season.

Dean Saxton Rose made the announcement from the stage of the Stevens Center on Saturday, March 25, during the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra concert conducted by Franz, featuring Florence Price’s Concert Overture No. 2, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4, and the world premiere of UNCSA alumnus Robert Chumbley’s “Permutations for Piano and Orchestra” with faculty member Dmitri Shteinberg performing. The concert was Franz’s second time leading the orchestra this season as resident guest conductor.

“I could not be more pleased that Robert Franz will assume the role of music director for our orchestra,” said Dean Rose. “The opportunity for our students to work on a consistent basis with a professional conductor who is particularly adept at educating is invaluable. Robert is not only an alum of the school; he is familiar with our students and orchestra through his role as resident guest conductor this past year. Our students have great admiration for Robert and are incredibly excited about this news. I look forward to seeing all that he does to take our orchestral playing to the next level.”

Robert Franz / Photo: Mike Kovaliv

Robert Franz / Photo: Mike Kovaliv

“I’m thrilled to be returning to my alma mater in this new role,” said Franz, who received his Master of Music in conducting (’92) and his Bachelor of Music in oboe performance (’90) from UNCSA. “UNCSA is a very special place for me and the thousands of music students who have come through the program. I’m honored to be a part of its storied history.”

In his role as music director, Franz will set the artistic vision for the orchestral program at UNCSA, select the programming and guest artists for UNCSA Symphony Orchestra concerts, and work directly with students and faculty on artistic matters. He will conduct three to four concerts with the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra each season, working with the student ensemble for three weeks in advance of each concert. He will guide and mentor students in the orchestra as well as assist in the training of student conductors. (In recent years, the UNCSA orchestra has been conducted by a variety of invited guest conductors and faculty members versus a music director).

More about Robert Franz

Acclaimed conductor Robert Franz is music director of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra (WSO) in Canada, artistic director of the Boise Baroque Orchestra (BBO) in Idaho, and resident guest conductor of the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra. His career has been marked by a commitment to creating alliances and building bridges in the communities he serves, and a dedication to music education.

Familiar from appearances with the Winston-Salem Symphony, Franz has been called “a favorite of local audiences and musicians alike” by CVNC, the classical music website. Of his October performance of the Beethoven Sixth Symphony with the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra, CVNC wrote: “This is one of Franz's strengths – allaying the form to the content, or to state it backwards, the emotional content of the music never overcomes the structure but if anything, it is reinforced by the structural strength.” And the Winston-Salem Journal wrote of a 2019 appearance with the Winston-Salem Symphony that Franz “summoned a big, rich sound from the strings. He inspired an angelic sound from the winds and brass. He exacted precise playing while never neglecting the more lyrical aspects…”

Robert Franz  / Photo: J. Henry Fair

Robert Franz / Photo: J. Henry Fair

Franz has been celebrated as a conductor and educator by critics, composers and audiences of all ages. Composer Bright Sheng praised him for his “extremely musical and passionate approach towards music making.” Franz is in increasing demand as a guest conductor, having collaborated with the Cleveland Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, North Carolina Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and Italy’s Orchestra da Camera Fiorentinas. He has performed with a wide array of artists, including James Galway, Joshua Bell, Rachel Barton Pine, Chris Botti, Idina Menzel and Chris Hadfield, as well as composers such as John Harbison, Jennifer Higdon and Jordan Pal. Franz recently presented a TEDx Talk entitled “Active Listening and Our Perception of Time.” Music director the Windsor Symphony Orchestra since 2013, Franz was recognized by The Windsor Endowment for the Arts with its Arts Leadership Award. Under his leadership the WSO released its first commercial recording in 15 years, “Christmas, eh.” Recent collaborations include the Windsor International Film Festival, Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor Public Library, Canadian Historical Aviation Association, and the University of Windsor.      

Franz serves as artistic director of the Boise Baroque Orchestra where he successfully launched an outdoor summer concert series at the Chateau des Fleurs in Eagle, Idaho. Hallmarks of his time at BBO have been curated digital concert series and partnerships with Opera Idaho and the Boise Philharmonic Master Chorale, as well as with various educational institutions.

Franz recently concluded a 14-year tenure as associate conductor of the Houston Symphony, where he was honored with the Raphael Fliegel Award for Visionary Leadership, celebrating his immense success in advancing the organization’s education and community engagement activities. While in Houston, Franz led the North American premiere of author Dan Brown’s musical children’s book, “Wild Symphony.”

As co-founder and conductor of the Idaho Orchestra Institute, now in its seventh year, Franz takes young musicians on an exploration of major orchestral repertoire that explores the complete musician.

Previously, Franz served as music director of the Boise Philharmonic (2008-2016) and the Mansfield Symphony in Ohio (2003-2010). When not on the podium, he can be found on the slopes, skiing slowly and carefully, stretching in a yoga class, and noncompetitively trying his hardest to win at a game of cards with his family.

About the School of Music

The School of Music at UNCSA combines intensive individual study under artist-faculty with a variety of performance opportunities, presenting more than 200 recitals, concerts and opera productions each year, including collaborations with other UNCSA arts schools and a guest artist series. In addition to its undergraduate and graduate programs, it houses one of the nation’s only four-year residential arts high school programs. The School of Music is also home to the renowned A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute, a tuition-free, graduate-level professional training ground for exceptional young vocalists.

UNCSA School of Music alumni have gone on to perform with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Nero String Quartet, Giannini Brass, Camel City Jazz Orchestra, and Metropolitan and Chicago Lyric operas, among others.

Prominent alumni of the School of Music include: violist Richard O'Neill, who won the 2021 Grammy Award for best classical instrumental solo and is a member of the renowned Takács Quartet; acclaimed tenor René Barbera; Broadway veteran T. Oliver Reid; Broadway music director Mary-Mitchell Campbell; violinist and Beyoncé collaborator Jessica McJunkins; Elizabeth Sobol, president & CEO of Saratoga Performing Arts Center; saxophonist Eddie Barbash, who performed in the house band for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”; and the Dan River Girls (Fiona Burdette, cello; Ellie Burdette, double bass and voice; and Jessie Burdette, viola).

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March 27, 2023