In recognition of his extraordinary tenure and artistic accomplishments, the North Carolina Symphony (NCS) is pleased to announce that Music Director Grant Llewellyn has been named Music Director Laureate beginning in the 2020/21 season. Llewellyn will conclude his tenure as Music Director at the end of the 2019/20 season, by which point he will have served in the position for 16 seasons. His appointment as Music Director Laureate covers an initial four-year term—through the 2023/24 season—by which point his relationship with NCS will have spanned 20 years.

“I am deeply honoured to have been offered the title of Music Director Laureate. The North Carolina Symphony has played a central role in my career and in my entire family’s life over the past 15 years, and I am delighted to maintain a relationship with this wonderful orchestra,” says Llewellyn. “I am enormously grateful to the musicians, the administration, and our audiences for having made my tenure here such an enjoyable and fruitful experience. It brings me great joy to see the orchestra continue to thrive, and I wish the NCS family all the very best in this next exciting new chapter.”

“Under Grant’s creative vision and direction, the North Carolina Symphony’s artistic excellence has thrived and reached new heights, year after year,” says NCS President & CEO Sandi Macdonald. “Beyond his inspiring leadership on the podium, Grant is exceptional in his ability to connect with audiences, fully embracing our mission to serve and reflect the culture of our entire state. He is a treasured presence in communities throughout North Carolina, and NCS is thrilled that he will continue his relationship with us as Music Director Laureate.”

“Grant has developed the North Carolina Symphony into the outstanding orchestra it is today, while remaining steadfast in his commitment to the values that make NCS unique: statewide service and music education,” says Don Davis, Chair of the North Carolina Symphony Society Board. “We are grateful for his many years of inspired music-making, and look forward to what is to come in his new role with the Symphony.”

Llewellyn will return to North Carolina for a number of annual engagements with NCS, while pursuing guest conducting opportunities worldwide and continuing in his position with Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne in France, where he has served as Music Director since 2015.

Grant Llewellyn’s Accomplishments

Appointed in 2004, Llewellyn’s work with the North Carolina Symphony has been defined by an increasing caliber of musicianship in the orchestra; by the end of his tenure, he will have selected more than 45% of the musicians on the roster, and position openings have consistently yielded an impressive pool of national and international candidates.

“For 15 seasons, the musicians of the North Carolina Symphony have been honored to perform under Maestro Grant Llewellyn,” says NCS Assistant Concertmaster Karen Strittmatter Galvin, Chair of the Orchestra Committee. “He has shaped and transformed the sound of our orchestra, and having attracted some of the best players in the country, we know that his legacy will continue far into the future.”

Llewellyn has enjoyed a unique chemistry with the orchestra and has challenged NCS musicians with monumental repertoire, from Mahler symphonies to Britten’s War Requiem. When NCS presented Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben—one of the most notoriously difficult works in the classical canon—in May 2018, Classical Voice of North Carolina lauded the performance for its “technical prowess while keeping the highest level of emotional sensitivity … with Grant Llewellyn at the helm, this seemed effortless.”

Audience members and critics alike have increasingly recognized the high level of musicianship under Llewellyn’s direction. In May 2017, Classical Voice of North Carolina noted: “The North Carolina Symphony has rarely, if ever, sounded better.” In March 2018, the same publication asserted: “If ever there were a doubt about the North Carolina Symphony’s position as a first-rank orchestra, it was completely erased after Friday’s performance.”

National Reach and Recognition

Llewellyn has recorded four commercial albums with NCS, all receiving critical acclaim; album collaborators have included Branford Marsalis, Yevgeny Subdin, and Zuill Bailey. A fifth CD—the third with Bailey, also featuring violist Roberto Díaz—will be recorded in spring 2019. Llewellyn’s concert collaborators on the NCS stage have included some of the world’s greatest talents: cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinists Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell, soprano Renée Fleming, pianist Lang Lang, singer James Taylor, and bluegrass artist Rhiannon Giddens, among many others.

From the beginning of his tenure in 2004, Llewellyn’s leadership has expanded the Symphony’s reach to national and international audiences. From 2004 through 2015, Llewellyn’s performances with NCS were broadcast over the air and online in partnership with radio stations WUNC and WCPE. In 2017, Llewellyn and NCS took to a national stage when the Symphony was one of four orchestras showcased in the inaugural year of SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Presenting works exclusively with ties to North Carolina and exclusively by 21st-century composers, the program was praised for its innovation in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post.

Innovation and Community Engagement

Innovation has been a hallmark of Llewellyn’s tenure and has contributed in large part to the Symphony’s reputation as one of the most forward-thinking orchestras in the country. The number of U.S. and world premieres presented in NCS history has reached nearly 50; under Llewellyn’s leadership, the Symphony has commissioned or co-commissioned works by composers including Caroline Shaw, Sarah Kirkland Snider, William Brittelle, Gabriele Kahane, Terry Mizesko, and others. Committed to giving voice to new art by some of today’s most talented composers, Llewellyn has established NCS as an orchestra industry leader in presenting work by female composers. Works by women have been prominently featured every year since the 2009/10 season; on the 2017/18 Classical Season, two-thirds of living composers programmed were women.

Llewellyn’s creativity extends beyond the music he programs; it has also helped to shape the way NCS engages with its communities. In recent years, NCS has strengthened or formed new partnerships with arts and educational organizations, and Llewellyn has driven forward and conducted numerous joint productions with the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, PlayMakers Repertory Company, and North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences—collaborations that have created unique arts experiences greater than the sum of their parts. In 2011, a memorial concert remembering the events of September 11, 2001, brought together performers and audience members from across North Carolina, and was broadcast live in partnership with television stations WRAL and UNC-TV.

Statewide Service and Education

Llewellyn’s eagerness to explore a wide variety of music and engage diverse audiences has meant that North Carolinians across generations, communities, and musical genres have had opportunities to experience his talent and perspectives. Throughout his tenure with NCS, Llewellyn has not only delivered inspired performances of classical repertoire at the Symphony’s state headquarters venue, Meymandi Concert Hall, but also appears on Pops Season and Summerfest programs, and travels for concerts in Chapel Hill, Southern Pines, Wilmington, New Bern, Fayetteville, and other communities throughout the state.

Llewellyn paid tribute to North Carolina’s cultural heritage in three programs that toured statewide. Blue Skies and Red Earth in 2007 featured musical traditions of Western North Carolina, from bluegrass to gospel; Blue Skies and Golden Sands in 2009 featured musical traditions of Eastern North Carolina, from fishing work-songs to beach music; and Si Otsedoha (We’re Still Here) in 2018 featured the premiere of a new work created in partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Llewellyn has also brought his own heritage to his adopted home in the U.S., presenting traditional Welsh music for North Carolina audiences.

Passionate about inspiring young people with music, Llewellyn regularly conducts NCS Education Concerts. Carrying his commitment to music education further, he reaches lifelong learners through pre-concert talks and speaking engagements at community venues ranging from bookstores, to retirement homes, to universities.

Llewellyn’s distinctive combination of brilliant artistry, creativity and charisma, and thoughtful community engagement has translated into strong achievement in ticket sales and fundraising. NCS has seen record ticket revenue in each of the past five seasons, and Symphony donors have valued opportunities to connect with Llewellyn at private events.

What’s Next 

NCS will celebrate Grant Llewellyn throughout his final season in 2019/20 with special concerts and events to be announced. The Symphony will form a committee of musicians, trustees, and staff to lead the search for Llewellyn’s successor.

Bravo, Grant!