The Winston-Salem Symphony has appointed its first female conductor to serve as Music Director — Michelle Merrill. 

At Gas Hill Drinking Room, on the northern edge of downtown Winston-Salem, dozens of people gather for the big reveal following a monthslong conductor search to replace outgoing Music Director Timothy Redmond who resigned nearly two years ago.

The Dallas, Texas, native studied conducting at Southern Methodist University before landing her first big job as assistant and later associate conductor of the Detroit Symphony. She’s currently the music director of the Coastal Symphony of Georgia.

Here in the Triad, Merrill’s clarity on the podium and supreme musicianship impressed the search committee members, musicians, and audiences immediately. Winston-Salem Symphony President Merritt Vale says she checks every box.

"She’s got the most lovely, welcoming way with people, and I think she’s going to help us create an atmosphere that encourages people who aren’t currently attending symphony events to come," says Vale. "She’s a huge supporter of music education, and a trained music educator in her own right. So, I just think overall she’s an amazing asset not only to our symphony but really to our whole community."

Merrill says her experiences in Detroit both on and off the podium, collaborating with some of the world’s great soloists, and the mentorship she received from Director Laureate Leonard Slatkin and others gave her an understanding of what it takes to lead an arts organization well.

After receiving her invitation to apply for the Winston-Salem Symphony position roughly 18 months ago, Merrill says she immediately began her research.

"I always say auditions for a music director are a little bit like going on a date," says Merrill. "Because you have to make sure both parties kind of meld together in a nice way and can work together and just really from the moment I started meeting people and working with the staff and the musicians, it felt like a really kindred relationship, and one that would work really well, and I’m very pleased to continue that going forward."

Merrill will celebrate her first concerts as music director of the Winston-Salem Symphony in September.


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