The world premiere of Kriss Russman's completion of Butterworth's Orchestral Fantasia was given by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Martyn Brabbins, on 19th November 2015 at Glasgow's City Halls. The work was recorded by BIS Records with Kriss Russman conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales on the first disc of Butterworth’s entire orchestral music, with song cycles sung by James Rutherford, and released in July 2016. The Orchestral Fantasia premiere and CD recording received the following reviews:
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE 5 stars *****
[Russman] brings out the poignant lyricism with exceptional freshness and strength…to the AE Housman settings James Rutherford brings characteristic mellow-toned vigour and expressive delivery…congratulations are due to Russman and BIS…on such powerful advocacy for one of British music’s most grievous losses.
THE TIMES 4 stars **** [The Orchestral Fantasia] has been skilfully developed into an eight-minute piece by Kriss Russman...[He] adds some reminiscences of Butterworth's 'Banks of Green Willow' and 'Shropshire Lad' orchestral rhapsodies and works the piece to a lush cinematic climax. I found it convincing and touching.
THE SUNDAY TIMES This is a beautiful look at the all too exiguous oeuvre of a composer killed at the Somme aged 31...Russman’s completion of the 1914 Orchestral Fantasia fragment is impressive.
GRAMOPHONE It’s impossible not to sympathise with Russman’s motives, and his accounts of Butterworth’s four completed orchestral works are fresh and passionate, with a wide dynamic range captured in crystal-clear BIS sound. And Rutherford gives an ardent reading of [Love Blows as the Wind Blows]. Butterworth’s admirers will want to hear this disc
DAILY MAIL 5 stars ***** ‘Album of the Week’ What is memorable is Russman’s completion of the Orchestral Fantasia…It’s a delight from first bar to last…A truly exceptional [CD] issue, not to be missed by any devotee of British music.
THE TELEGRAPH It was composer-conductor Kriss Russman who finished off the concert's opener, the Orchestral Fantasia by George Butterworth (getting its first ever performance), a mere 92 bars of which had survived after Butterworth's death at the Somme in 1916. Russman retains all of the original, and spun its limited content out into a convincingly Butterworthian nine-minute rhapsody: folksy tunes nestling up against gentle pastoral evocations...it was a considerable achievement, dispatched with exquisite care by conductor Martyn Brabbins.
HERALD SCOTLAND Butterworth's Orchestral Fantasia was beautifully finished by Kriss Russman, who kept the rich poignancy of the original writing apparent until the last, atmospheric bass pizzicato.
THE SCOTSMAN The Orchestral Fantasia has only existed in part, and this was our first opportunity to hear it expanded and sensitively realised by composer Kriss Russman.
Kriss Russman completed George Butterworth's Orchestral Fantasia in 2014. Butterworth left the work unfinished before he was killed in the First World War, at the age of just 31. The original manuscript is in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University and it was brought to the attention of Kriss Russman by Butterworth's biographer Anthony Murphy. Butterworth's score is for full orchestra and consists of a 92-bar fragment (three-and-a-half minutes in length). There are no surviving sketches for the Orchestral Fantasia and Kriss Russman has extended the work to 9 minutes through a study of Butterworth's harmonic language and orchestration. Butterworth's fragment, in its original orchestration, has not been altered. A piano version of the completion was given its world premiere by Kriss Russman at a tribute organised by the Butterworth family in Hampstead, London on 9th November 2014.
BIS Records recorded Kriss Russman's completion in 2015, with him conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, for the first CD of Butterworth's entire orchestral music. This includes Butterworth's virtually unknown Suite for String Quartette arranged for full string orchestra by Kriss Russman. The recording also features Butterworth's famous Six Songs from 'A Shropshire Lad', orchestrated by Kriss Russman, with baritone James Rutherford. The CD was released on 1st July 2016, to be available for the centenary of Butterworth's death at the Battle of the Somme on 5th August 1916.
DIE WELT "A celebrated world premiere."
DAS OPERNGLAS "A tragic story that makes great opera."
OPERNWELT "There is undeniable quality here."
In 2012, Kriss Russman and librettist Sallyann Kleibel were commissioned by the Rostock Volkstheater in Germany to create Happy Birthday, Mr President, an opera about the actress Marilyn Monroe's relationship with President Kennedy. The work received its world premiere in January 2013 at the Rostock Volktheater. It was stage directed by Albert Sherman, from New York City Opera, and conducted by Peter Leonard, the General Director of the Volkstheater.
Happy Birthday, Mr President is a fictional account of the last months of Marilyn Monroe's life. On 19th May 1962, 40 million TV viewers watched Monroe sing 'Happy Birthday' to President Kennedy at New York's Madison Square Garden. Her sensuous and provocative rendition ignited rumours of a love affair between the world's most powerful leader and the legendary screen goddess. Such an affair, if exposed, could have brought down the Presidency at the height of the Cold War. Monroe's Mafia connections would also have fuelled FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's ambition to topple the Kennedy government. Less than three months later, Marilyn Monroe was dead. The circumstances of how she died remain a mystery to this day. This is a story with all the classic ingredients of opera: love, political intrigue, betrayal and death.
Please contact Kriss Russman for a film of the complete opera.
Musica Dolorosa was commissioned and premiered by the Pori Sinfonietta in Finland in January 2005. It is dedicated to the British charity worker Margaret Hassan who spent most of her life working in Iraq. She was one of many who were taken hostage by militants in the summer and autumn of 2004 following the invasion of Iraq. Horrifically, some of these victims were filmed having their heads decapitated and Margaret Hassan's death by shooting was also filmed. She was a veteran humanitarian worker, well known in the Middle East for her concern for the people of Iraq, particularly during the years of sanctions when she vocally denounced their effects on Iraqi children. Despite public pleas to the militants from her Iraqi husband, Tahseen Ali, her body has never been found.
In Memoriam Andris Slapiņš was commissioned by the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra and premiered in November 2002. Andris Slapiņš was a distinguished cameraman and film documentary maker. He was a friend of Kriss Russman and he was shot and killed whilst they were both working in a war zone in Riga, Latvia, in January 1991. This was on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the time, the world was drawn to the First Gulf War and there was little media coverage of the brutal Soviet intimidation of the Baltic Republics (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) as well as the military invasion of the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. The tragic shootings of the two Latvian cameramen Andris Slapiņš and Guido Zvaigzne by Soviet troops turned the West's attention toward the plight of the Baltic States. Within six months, these countries were the first to break away from the Soviet Union and become independent.