Celebrating 50 Years of the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra: Inside the Programming with Music Director Laura Jackson

By Max Stone

As the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra heads into its 50-year anniversary season this March, Laura Jackson, music director of the Reno Philharmonic, gave an insiders perspective into the orchestra through a recent talk at the Nevada Historical Society. The programming for the Reno Phil’s 50th season includes numerous guest artists, classic pieces and audience favorites, as well as some contemporary pieces—all culminating with a piece commissioned by Grammy-nominated composer Zhou Tian.

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Reno Phil CEO Tim Young and Laura Jackson began planning for this year’s 50th anniversary season four years ago, as they knew it would be a monumental undertaking. The keystone element of the celebration is the new piece commissioned Chinese-American composer Zhou Tian. Transcend, the new work by Zhou, will premiere at the Reno Phil Classix on April 27, 2019. Zhou’s piece, Transcend, will honor the Reno Phil’s anniversary, as well as the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, which also marks the birth of Reno. The piece will pay tribute to the strength, perseverance, and strife of the people who built the railroad—most of whom were Chinese and Irish immigrants. After the premier in Reno, Transcend will be performed by 13 other orchestras across the country as a continuing celebration of the railroad. This project has personal meaning to Zhou personally; Transcend gave him a chance to compose a piece tailored for a specific community and orchestra, while celebrating his own cultural heritage.

Coincidentally, Jackson is celebrating a milestone of her own as she embarks on her 10th season as music director for the Reno Phil. Her approach as music director has changed over the course of her tenure. When she first started, the Reno Phil was coming off of two big seasons, the last year of a music director, and then a search for its new music director, meaning Jackson had to work hard to establish her style and set herself apart from past directors.  

As part of her role as music director, Jackson considers suggestions and feedback from the Reno community when planning a Reno Phil season. “We are connecting an art form to a community. It has to be effective to the listener in the hall,” Jackson says. She believes that she has established a trust relationship with the listeners that has enabled her to intermingle Avant Garde contemporary pieces with classics. She strives for recognition of the Reno Phil. Recognition for its variety, innovation, and inclusiveness to the people on stage, the people they represent, and the people for whom they play. The Reno Phil ranks very high in terms of diversity in players and composers. “You just bring them in,” says Jackson of her inclusive recruitment of people from diverse backgrounds.

You can attend a Classix Series concert as part of the Reno Phil’s 50th Anniversary season or take in The Biggest Little Orchestra in the World: 50 Years of the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra exhibition on display at the Nevada Historical Society in Reno through April 6, 2019.


Max Stone is an intern with Nevada Humanities. He is a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno, majoring in English Writing with a minor in Book Arts and Publication.

Images/Reno Philharmonic Orchestra and Max Stone.

Cheyanne TreadwayThomas