Cincinnati's Next Cultural Ambassador

By CSO Staff


“Choosing the next Music Director is perhaps the most important decision this Orchestra will make in the next 10 years.” —Jonathan Martin

Jonathan Martin, President & CEO of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Credit: Roger Mastroianni
Jonathan Martin, President & CEO of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Credit: Roger Mastroianni

In June 2021 when the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) announced that Music Director Louis Langrée would not seek to renew his contract beyond the conclusion of the 2023-24 season, President & CEO Jonathan Martin and the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors immediately and secretly began to form a search committee to find the Orchestra’s 14th Music Director.

Finding the next Music Director would be no easy task.

“Choosing the next Music Director is perhaps the most important decision this Orchestra will make in the next 10 years,” remarks Jonathan Martin. “The Music Director will set the course of the CSO for the next decade or longer, and will be the catalyst for new artistic endeavors, developing the personnel of the Orchestra and interfacing with the Cincinnati community.”

The first step in finding the next Music Director was to identify leadership for the Music Director Search Committee. In consultation with the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors, Martin and then-Board Chair Rob McDonald asked Sheila Williams and Peter Landgren to co-chair the Search Committee.

The gravity and importance of finding Cincinnati’s next Music Director was not lost on the new co-chairs.

“In the beginning, it started with sheer terror,” reflects Sheila Wi­lliams, “because the task was just overwhelming. And then I decided, yes, I would do this.”

Williams is a native of Ohio and a celebrated author. Her first published book, Dancing on the Edge of the Roof, was the basis for the 2019 Netflix film, Juanita. And Williams is no stranger to the world of music, having written the libretto to the opera Fierce, which received its world premiere in 2022 at Cincinnati Opera.

“Once I got my head around what I was being asked to do — to find Cincinnati’s next cultural ambassador, someone who will champion the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra — it was really a full circle moment for me,” reflects Peter Landgren.

Full circle?

Peter Landgren, co-chair of the Music Director Search Committee
Peter Landgren, co-chair of the Music Director Search Committee

Landgren has a deep connection to the CSO and to Cincinnati. As an undergraduate studying the French Horn at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), Landgren began performing with the CSO in the middle of his sophomore year. Landgren went on to play in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for 29 years under four different music directors and then set his sights on organizational leadership. He returned to Cincinnati as Dean of CCM, served as the University of Cincinnati’s interim provost, and most recently served as President of the University of Cincinnati Foundation.

“Peter and Sheila were both board members at the time,” recalls Martin. “Peter had a unique skill set, having been an Orchestra member and an administrator, which made him a great choice as a leader in this process. Sheila had served on the search committee that found Louis Langrée, and Sheila possesses the inimitable ability to ensure that all voices are at the table and those voices are heard. With Peter and Sheila, we had the two best people to lead this search.”

With the co-chairs in place, the rest of the search committee was filled by board members and musicians of the CSO. Five musicians to be more precise, which exceeds the stipulations in the Orchestra’s collective bargaining agreement.

“I feel beyond grateful to be part of the Music Director Search Committee,” says Elizabeth Freimuth, Principal Horn. “It is contractual for the Concertmaster, Stefani Matsuo, to sit on the committee, but the rest of the musicians were elected by our colleagues to represent them. That is a unique opportunity. We were not just asked to be on this committee based on our instrument or position in the orchestra, but we were elected to it by our colleagues. We all have just been incredibly humble and grateful throughout this search.”


“We needed to articulate what it was we were looking for.” —Sheila Williams, co-chair of the Music Director Search Committee

The search for the 14th Music Director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra began by not answering the question of who, but by answering the question of what does the Orchestra need and want from its next leader.

Elizabeth Freimuth, Principal Horn
Elizabeth Freimuth, Principal Horn, Mary M. & Charles F. Yeiser Chair. Credit: Roger Mastroianni

“Long gone are the days when a maestro would just go to the front of the stage, conduct from the podium, and that was it,” remarks Elizabeth Freimuth, Principal Horn. “The maestro made amazing music, everyone was impressed and the concert ended, and then you’d see them in another week. Now, it’s much more collaborative and the requirements are much, much more.”

Without question, the Orchestra needs a great conductor and a great artistic partner, but what else? What qualities does the Music Director of Cincinnati’s Orchestra need to possess?

“What a lot of people do not realize is that a music director is two jobs bundled into one,” stated Jonathan Martin, President & CEO of the CSO. “There's the principal conductor part of the job and the music director part. The CSO has to have a great conductor, but we need more. We need a person who understands the power of music to change lives, to enrich the community and who believes in their heart that this Orchestra is for the entire community.”

The Search Committee needed a touchstone to ensure every candidate was weighed against a standard set of criteria.

“We started with the CSO’s vision and mission, literally the center of the solar system,” remarks Landgren. “From there, the Search Committee built out a position profile that underwent countless iterations over many months. We began by articulating the musical and non-musical attributes we sought in the next CSO Music Director to allow the Committee to align to the creative and human qualities we’re looking for in the CSO’s next leader.”

The position profile detailed the ideal candidate’s skills and characteristics, along with the requirements needed in the areas of leadership and inspiration, communication and collaboration, advocacy, personal responsibility and creativity and vision. At the heart of each requirement was the CSO’s mission to seek and share inspiration and its vision to be the most relevant orchestra in America.

The thesis statement of the position profile is the Music Director’s mission “to create the optimum space for music to flourish and inspire within a framework of innovation and relevance.”


Born in Timișoara, Romania in 1980 to a musical family, Cristian Mӑcelaru was the youngest of 10 children. His father was a conductor, and all 10 of the children received instrumental lessons at an early age. Cristian picked up the violin and quickly excelled at the instrument.

But Mӑcelaru’s rocketing conducting career almost didn’t lift off.

Cristian Măcelaru
Cristian Măcelaru

“I never considered conducting at that time because my father was a conductor,” said Mӑcelaru. “I was happy playing the violin, and I loved it.”

When he was 9, Mӑcelaru was witness to the violent revolution of December 1989, which toppled the Romanian Communist government.

“It’s remarkable to think back to that time as a 9-year-old, but perhaps the resiliency of youth shielded me from the darkness,” reflected Mӑcelaru.

Despite the political events that surrounded the beginning of his life, Mӑcelaru remained optimistic. Through one chance meeting, when he was 17, Mӑcelaru had the opportunity to leave Romania for America.

“An American family was visiting Timișoara to adopt a Romanian child, and I was their teenage guide through the city,” remarked Mӑcelaru. “Of course, I invited them to a concert, and there they suggested I go to summer school in America. So, I did.”

Little did that American family know, their suggestion would change the trajectory of Mӑcelaru’s entire life.

“I enrolled at Interlochen, only to later realize that instead of signing up for the camp, I submitted an application to attend the high school,” laughed Mӑcelaru. “When faced with the acceptance letter awarding me a full scholarship, my family and I decided it was an opportunity of a lifetime.”

After Interlochen High School, he attended the University of Miami in Florida. While in Miami, Mӑcelaru became the youngest concertmaster in the Miami Symphony Orchestra’s history, making his Carnegie Hall debut when he was only 19. Mӑcelaru completed his post-graduate studies in violin and conducting at Rice University in Houston, where he studied with Sergiu Luca and Larry Rachleff.

While at Rice University, he met his wife, Cheryl, a bassoon player and teacher specializing in young musicians’ training. Their combined passion for education brought them together, first as instructors in the Houston Youth Symphony program, then while developing a new initiative for outreach using members of the Youth Symphony in chamber music performances throughout Houston’s community centers, retirement homes and hospitals.

In 2019, Mӑcelaru became a naturalized American citizen, and now holds dual citizenship in Romania and the United States.

“I was — I still am — living the American dream. The more I discovered, the more I learned,” said Mӑcelaru. “And I learned that I wanted to conduct.”

In addition to titled positions at orchestras around the globe, Mӑcelaru has also conducted the Concertgebouworkest, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Wiener Symphoniker, Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Staatskapelle Berlin and Budapest Festival Orchestra. In North America, he has led the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He maintains an especially close collaboration with The Philadelphia Orchestra, where he previously held the position of Conductor-in-Residence for three seasons. Since his debut in 2013, he has conducted more than 150 performances with The Philadelphia Orchestra.

Mӑcelaru’s close relationship with Wynton Marsalis led to the Grammy Award-winning recording of Marsalis’ Violin Concerto, with violinist Nicola Benedetti and The Philadelphia Orchestra.

Mӑcelaru first conducted the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for Cincinnati Opera’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore in 2015. He made his CSO debut in January of the following year, conducting the world premiere of Gunther Schuller’s Symphonic Triptych alongside Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Julia Wolfe’s riSE and fLY, featuring percussionist Colin Currie. In April 2018, Mӑcelaru returned to the CSO to lead a subscription program of Leonard Bernstein’s Three Dance Episodes from On the Town, Bernstein’s Divertimento for Orchestra, Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England and George Gershwin’s Concerto in F with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

Cristian Mӑcelaru conducts the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with cellist Kian Soltani
Cristian Mӑcelaru conducts the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with cellist Kian Soltani in Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto, February 2024. Credit: Charlie Balcom

Earlier this season, in February 2024, Mӑcelaru returned to conduct Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto, featuring Kian Soltani, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11 with the CSO.

“Every piece that I program has meaning to me,” reflects Mӑcelaru. “Every piece is connected somehow to who I am and what I wish to share with the world. For art, and music in particular, is a heightened form of communication that enables us to connect with each other in a spiritual way.”


Cristian Mӑcelaru has got it all.” —Patrick Schleker, Principal Timpani

In late February 2024, the Music Director Search Committee of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra brought to the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors their top candidate to become the next Music Director.

On April 24, 2024, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra announced the appointment of Cristian Mӑcelaru as its 14th Music Director, succeeding Louis Langrée. The 44-year-old conductor begins his five-year term as Music Director in September 2024, serving as Music Director Designate in the first year.

“It is truly an honor and privilege to serve as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s 14th Music Director and embark on this new and exciting journey with the musicians, staff and leadership of the CSO,” said Cristian Mӑcelaru.

This is a new chapter for Mӑcelaru and the culmination of decades of music-making with orchestras and festivals around the world — including the Orchestre national de France, WDR Sinfonieorchester in Germany, George Enescu Festival and Competition in Romania, and the Interlochen Center for the Arts World Youth Symphony Orchestra and Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in the United States.

Patrick Schleker, Principal Timpani
Patrick Schleker, Principal Timpani, Matthew & Peg Woodside Chair

“Cristian Mӑcelaru has got it all. He has experience conducting the core repertoire with the Orchestre national de France and WDR Sinfonieorchester, and he has new music experience, which is critical for our Orchestra’s survival, with the Cabrillo Festival,” remarks Patrick Schleker, Principal Timpani. “Also, Mӑcelaru values and understands the importance of music education and musical advocacy, which are the keys to any orchestra’s future. He’s really got everything we need.”

At concerts, audiences witness a fraction of the time a conductor spends with the Orchestra, but those miraculous concert experiences are made during the rehearsals, and a music director spends a considerable amount of time in rehearsal with their Orchestra.

“It's a really powerful piece,” notes Elizabeth Freimuth, Principal Horn, about Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11, the cornerstone of Mӑcelaru’s February 2024 concert. “So, there is naturally a lot of excitement in the Orchestra. Everything Mӑcelaru had to say in rehearsal was spot on. He is very intelligent and has, as we musicians say, ‘big ears,’ because he hears everything, which was really evident in rehearsals.”

When asked to reflect on Mӑcelaru’s entire week with the CSO, Freimuth provided this pivotal reflection, “He just spoke in a way that I knew I was listening to a true leader.”

Stefani Matsuo, Concertmaster of the CSO, would usually be onstage for a candidate’s audition week, but, due to an injury, Matsuo watched the rehearsals from the seats of Springer Auditorium.

Stefani Matsuo, Concertmaster
Stefani Matsuo, Concertmaster, Anna Sinton Taft Chair Credit: Roger Mastroianni

“Cristi [the nickname that Mӑcelaru prefers] led the orchestra with so much professionalism and so much mutual respect,” comments Matsuo. “The music-making was a true collaboration between my colleagues and Cristi. The rehearsals were all about the music — there were no gimmicks, there was no put-on show. He is a genuine person. The person we all got to meet behind the scenes is what he presented on stage. And I think a lot of people in the Orchestra really latched on to that.”

Mӑcelaru’s genuine personality and his ability to listen, on stage and off, were common themes among the reasons why his name kept coming to the top.

“An important element of Cristi’s personality is how he listens to you,” says Freimuth. “And the way he responds to what you say. It sounds very simple, but it's actually a rare quality. And this quality is baked into Cristi’s personality.”

Search Committee co-chair Sheila Williams reflects on a conversation she had with Mӑcelaru at a cocktail party.

“There were a few people in the room, food on tables, clinking glasses, but when Cristi and I were talking, he was completely focused on our conversation. He wasn’t looking over my shoulder to see who's next. Or what's next. Or what's going on at the drinks table. He was focused on me. He was present in that conversation.” Williams pauses, thinking for a moment before continuing. “That intensity of focus, whether it's on a personal level, or if it's when he's speaking with the principal viola, is important, because you know he's talking to you and he's focused on you.”

Sheila Williams, co-chair of the Music Director Search Committee
Sheila Williams, co-chair of the Music Director Search Committee Credit: Tasha Pinelo

Mӑcelaru’s intense focus on the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra began long before he arrived at Music Hall.

“Cristi was obviously interested in the CSO because he had done his homework. He knew the history of the CSO and our legacy, but he also knew about how our Orchestra had developed over the last few years and the various aspects of the entire organization,” comments Matsuo. “He was incredibly knowledgeable about the CSO, and I feel like, in some areas, he knew more than some of us on the Search Committee. From my perspective, this demonstrated that Cristi was equally as interested in becoming a partner with this organization as we were in him.”

The committee had found its candidate, one with a genuine and thoughtful personality, a collaborative spirit, and a dynamic and highly honed artistic mind. So, what does the next chapter have in store?

“This Orchestra is, in my opinion, more talented than it has ever been. This is my 18th season with the Orchestra, and we have so much raw talent, which is largely thanks to Louis Langrée and his hiring of a lot of excellent musicians. We are ready for the next chapter,” states Schleker. “Cristian Mӑcelaru is the right choice to be on the podium, to introduce us and, perhaps, reintroduce us to the world as a great American Orchestra.”

As CSO Music Director Designate, Mӑcelaru will return on February 8 & 9, 2025 to conduct the Orchestra in Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, From the New World; Florence Price’s Violin Concerto No. 2 and Ernest Chausson’s Poème, both with Randall Goosby; and Wynton Marsalis’ “Southwestern Shakedown” from Blues Symphony.

Jonathan Martin, President & CEO of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Jonathan Martin, President & CEO of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Jonathan Martin, President & CEO of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra