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Brett Mitchell (born July 2, 1979) is an American conductor who currently serves Associate Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra and Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra. He previously served as Assistant Conductor of the Orchestre National de France from 2006 to 2009, Assistant Conductor of the Houston Symphony from 2007 to 2011, Music Director of the Moores Opera Center in Houston from 2012 to 2013, and Music Director of the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra from 2010 to 2015.
Born in Seattle, Washington, Mitchell began piano studies at age 6, and studied piano, percussion, and saxophone throughout elementary, middle, and high school. He gave his first public performances as a conductor while at Lynnwood High School in 1995 at the age of 16, leading both orchestra and wind ensemble concerts, and served as music director for his first musical in the spring of 1996 while still a high-school junior.
Mitchell began undergraduate work on a degree in music composition at Western Washington University in the fall of 1997. During his four years there, he studied composition and conducting with Roger Briggs and piano with Margaret Brink and Jeffrey Gilliam. As a conductor, he organized many student performances, conducted the school's orchestra, collaborated with faculty in concerto performances, and served as music director for multiple summer stock and other music theater productions. As a composer, Mitchell wrote both concert works and scores for local television and student films. He won numerous piano scholarships, and was named Presser Scholar and Outstanding Graduating Senior in 2000 and 2001, respectively.
Upon completion of his Bachelor of Music in June 2001, he moved to Austin, Texas, to study orchestral conducting with Kevin Noe at the University of Texas at Austin. For the next four years, he would serve as Music Director of the University Orchestra and sometime cover conductor for the Austin Symphony. Mitchell graduated from the University of Texas with a Master of Music in 2003 and a Doctor of Musical Arts in 2005. His work with Noe led to his employment with the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble from 2002 to 2006 as their Associate Conductor, where his responsibilities included leading subscription programs, many world and U.S. premieres, numerous multi-media productions, and several recording projects.
In addition to his graduate work, Mitchell also studied with conductors outside the university, most notably Kurt Masur, with whom he began studies in 2004. In early 2008, Masur chose Mitchell to receive the inaugural Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy Scholarship, entailing intensive, one-on-one study with Masur, and assisting him with concerts in Europe and America. Mitchell was also invited to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra and to study with Leonard Slatkin as part of the 2005 National Conducting Institute, and was invited by Slatkin to work with the NSO again in 2006. He has also studied with Lorin Maazel, David Robertson, Gerard Schwarz, Gunther Schuller, Marin Alsop, Jorma Panula, and Larry Rachleff. Mitchell was the youngest of ten semifinalists from a pool of over 500 applicants in the Third International Conductors' Competition Sir Georg Solti in 2006, and was selected as a finalist for the Conductors Guild's 2007 Thelma A. Robinson Award.
After completing his training, Mitchell accepted a position as Director of Orchestras and Music Director of the opera program at Northern Illinois University from 2005 to 2007. He led the Philharmonic in six concerts each year, and led his first two opera productions during his tenure: Igor Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress and Mark Adamo's Little Women. The Philharmonic was also invited to perform at the Illinois Music Educators Association's All-State Conference for the first time in over a decade in January 2007. His tenure there also saw the Philharmonic's first performance of a Gustav Mahler symphony in a dozen years (Symphony No. 1 in April 2006) and their return to the recording studio, recording Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in May 2007. Mitchell ended his time at NIU with a week-long festival devoted to the music of Kevin Puts.
While teaching at NIU, Mitchell was invited by his mentor Kurt Masur to audition to become Assistant Conductor of the Orchestre National de France. In February 2006, Mitchell successfully auditioned and was named to the post. During his tenure, he conducted the orchestra and assisted Masur and guest conductors such as Seiji Ozawa and Daniele Gatti at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and on tour. He left the orchestra in May 2009 after three and a half years in the position.
In February 2007, Mitchell was appointed American Conducting Fellow of the Houston Symphony by Hans Graf. In that role, he led the orchestra in several dozen concerts--including on all subscription series--in Jones Hall and throughout the greater Houston area each season. His title was augmented to Assistant Conductor/American Conducting Fellow in June 2008; prior to his final season with the orchestra (2010-11), his title was modified again to Assistant Conductor, reflecting the end of his fellowship with the League of American Orchestras. During his four-year tenure with the Houston Symphony (which ended in May 2011), he led the orchestra in over one hundred performances, several of which were broadcast nationwide on SymphonyCast and Performance Today. Mitchell will return to the Houston Symphony as a guest conductor for five performances during the 2011-12 season (October 2011, December 2011, and April 2012).
In May 2010, after a two-year search including more than 150 candidates from around the world, Mitchell was appointed the ninth Music Director of Michigan's Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra. He took the helm of the orchestra at the outset of its 75th-anniversary season in September 2010, and led the orchestra in its complete series of classical, pops, and education concerts throughout his initial three-year contract and the extension that followed. Mitchell ultimately served as Music Director of the SBSO for five seasons, resigning at the end of 2014-15 season due to increased obligations with the Cleveland Orchestra and various guest conducting responsibilities. During his tenure in Saginaw, he briefly accepted a post as Music Director of the Moores Opera Center at the Moores School of Music of the University of Houston for the 2012-13 season.
In January 2013, Mitchell was invited by Franz Welser-Möst to become Assistant Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, a position he assumed at the beginning of the 2013-14 season. At the conclusion of his initial two-year term, he was promoted to Associate Conductor--a title held by only four previous conductors in the Orchestra's 98-year history and not since Jahja Ling in the 1984-85 season--and his contract was extended for an additional two years through the 2016-17 season. Throughout his tenure with the Cleveland Orchestra, he has concurrently served as Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, increasing the group's commitment to contemporary repertoire and leading them on a four-city tour of China in June 2015.
In recent seasons, Mitchell has also led the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oregon Symphony, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, three productions at the Moores Opera Center, members of the Dallas Symphony and Boston Modern Orchestra Project at New York's Skaneateles Festival, and the Northwest Mahler Festival Orchestra in Mahler's Fifth Symphony. He served as musical assistant at the New York Philharmonic during the 2007-08 season and as cover conductor for several programs with the Cleveland Orchestra in 2009, and has led performances with Musiqa and SOLI, the principal new music ensembles of Houston and San Antonio, respectively. He made his European debut in 2004 in a series of three concerts with Romania's Brasov Philharmonic (to which he returned in February 2009), and made his Latin American debut in 2005 with the Orquesta Filarmónica de la UNAM in Mexico City.