Kriss Russman's first opera Happy Birthday, Mr President was commissioned and performed by the Rostock Volkstheater in 2013, receiving praise in the German press. His completion of George Butterworth's Orchestral Fantasia was premiered by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Glasgow in November 2015 and released on a CD of Butterworth's orchestral music in July 2016 with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for BIS Records with soloist James Rutherford and Kriss Russman conducting. The Butterworth CD received a 5-star review in the BBC Music Magazine and reached No. 1 in the official British Classical Music Charts, remaining in the top ten for over four months.
Kriss Russman received his formative musical training from the Hungarian teacher Béla de Csilléry, a pupil of Bartók and Kodály. He is a graduate of the Royal College of Music in London, where he won the Theodore Stier Prize for conducting, and Cambridge University, where he received a doctorate in music. His conducting teachers have included Jorma Panula and Norman Del Mar and he studied composition at the Royal College with Alan Ridout. He began his musical career at the age of 22, while still a student at the RCM, as the principal french horn player of the BBC Concert Orchestra in London and he free-lanced with all the major London orchestras performing for Solti, Muti, Dorati, Ashkenazy, Dutoit, Giulini, Barenboim, Tennstedt and Rattle.
After six years, Kriss Russman trained to become a BBC TV producer and went on to receive worldwide recognition for his music programmes including an EMMY nomination and awards from Britain's Royal Television Society (RTS) and Royal Philharmonic Society.
Whilst still working at the BBC, he made his operatic conducting debut performing La Traviata and I Pagliacci at the Latvian National Opera in Riga. This led to his making a best-selling CD of the orchestral music of the Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks with the Riga Philharmonic for the Sony/RCA Red Seal label. Conducting engagements soon followed with Tosca at Hungarian State Opera and Krakòw Opera as well as Cosi fan tutte and Madama Butterfly at Prague State Opera. The latter created a sensation in the Czech capital. The international publication Opera enthused:
‘I could not believe I was hearing the same orchestra. Under the baton of Kriss Russman the musicians of the Prague State Opera played with deep concentration and achieved a wonderful sound. The combination of conductor and the Czech soprano Zora Jehlicková (Cio-Cio-San) made for a remarkable performance.’
Kriss Russman has since conducted the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra and Augsburg Philharmonic Orchestra in Germany, Nordic Chamber Orchestra in Sweden, Danish Philharmonic Orchestra, Athens Symphony Orchestra, Carlsbad Symphony Orchestra in the Czech Republic, Biel Symphony Orchestra in Switzerland, Pori Sinfonietta in Finland, Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra in Norway and the St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra. His debuts with the major symphony orchestras of South Africa, in Cape Town and Durban, received full
house standing ovations and exceptional reviews. The Cape Times, under the heading ‘Outstanding performances led by a remarkable conductor’, enthused:
‘Russman’s gestures communicate musical intention to the players in seemingly effortless fashion...The performance of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings was simply outstanding and indeed I cannot recall hearing a better account of this work.’
After a successful German debut in Augsburg, the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung reported:
‘The young conductor Kriss Russman gave wings to the [Augsburg] Philharmonic...All his musical antennae were fully alert and [in Sibelius’ 5th Symphony] he led the musicians to the highest of all heights.’
In the 2008/09 season, Kriss Russman made his debut with the London Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre Colonne in Paris conducting the music of the renowned Polish film composer Zbigniew Preisner. He was also the first British conductor to perform with Ulan Bator State Opera in a production of La Bohème. In the 2009/2010 season he made his debut with Kiev National Opera conducting Rigoletto. His debut in China followed in 2012 conducting the Xiamen Philharmonic Orchestra. In January 2015, he conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in recordings of George Butterworth's music to commemorate the centenary of the composer's death. In the 2015/16 season, he made his debut with the Belgrade National Theatre conducting Rigoletto. The 2016/17 season included debuts with the Sarajevo National Theatre, the Bolshoi National Theatre of Minsk, Istanbul State Opera, the Macedonian National Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra and Armenia's Yerevan Opera Theatre. The 2017/18 season includes debuts with the Muscat Royal Philharmonic and Tîrgu Mureș State Philharmonic orchestras.
Kriss Russman‘s compositions include In Memoriam Andris Slapins (2002, commissioned by the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra); Musica Dolorosa (2005, commissioned by the Pori Sinfonietta in Finland). In 2012, the Rostock Volkstheater in Germany commissioned Kriss Russman's first opera, Happy Birthday, Mr President. The German national newspaper Die Welt hailed the first performance as ‘a celebrated world premiere.’ Opernwelt enthused, ‘There is undeniable quality here’ and Das Opernglas described the work as ‘a tragic story that makes great opera’. In 2014, Kriss Russman completed George Butterworth’s Orchestral Fantasia which was left unfinished before the composer was killed in the First World War. He recorded the work for BIS Records in 2015 on the first CD of Butterworth's entire orchestral music. Paul Driver, in London's Sunday Times, described the completion as 'impressive' and Andrew Clements, in The Guardian, referred to the work as 'haunting'. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, under Martyn Brabbins gave the public world premiere of the Orchestral Fantasia at Glasgow City Halls on 19th November 2015. London's The Telegraph hailed the completion as 'convincingly Butterworthian' and 'a considerable achievement.'