The mission of Iris Orchestra is to provide outstanding experiences in the concert hall, the classroom and throughout the Mid-South community through musical, educational, and mentoring endeavors.
Founded as a bold experiment in September 2000, Iris Orchestra is proudly still bold and still experimenting. Named after the state flower of Tennessee, Iris was founded by conductor Michael Stern as an ensemble for the 21st century—flexible, non-hierarchical, and passionate about the highest standards of performance. The mission was to serve the community with exceptional music. The vision was a resident ensemble with international reach. Since its inception, the orchestra has earned a reputation as a champion of new American music and a nuanced interpreter of the classical canon, blossoming as a centerpiece in the cultural life of the Mid-South.
Iris boasts a stellar roster of talented musicians who assemble for each concert from some of the country’s best orchestras, universities, and chamber groups as the resident orchestra of Germantown Performance Arts Center. Championing music and those who create it is a fundamental part of Iris Orchestra’s values. Commissions and premiers of new works and composers, community engagement, working with children in Shelby County Schools, and mentoring the next generation of classical musicians are all part of the Iris portfolio.
On the GPAC stage, and more recently, in chamber concerts at the Brooks Museum, a clear confirmation of the caliber of IRIS Orchestra is the list of musical luminaries who join Iris as guest artists. These range from cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who calls Iris “always brilliant”; to pianists Yefim Bronfman, Garrick Ohlsson and Emanuel Ax, who says, “I have loved being a part of their amazing energy, ability, and wonderful attitude to music”; and violinists Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, and Pinchas Zukerman.
Musicians feel an extraordinary loyalty to Iris. More than fifty members of the orchestra have returned for at least fifteen seasons, even as Iris members have assumed leadership positions in some of the world’s foremost orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony, and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam.
Fundamental to the Iris philosophy is the idea that the orchestra’s members do not simply alight several times a year and leave, but instead put down strong roots in the community. The Host Family program creates lasting bonds between musicians and their local hosts that extend far beyond the concert weeks each year. Host families contribute a meaningful and essential gift by providing a home base with warmth, charm and the stocked refrigerator that typify Southern hospitality, welcoming their musicians home between busy schedules of rehearsals, school and hospital visits, and performances. This unusual opportunity to participate in a personal way creates a unique connection between the audience and the music.
Iris Orchestra plans to continue bringing incredible music and guest artists to the community it calls home. After all, why travel to New York or Boston to hear artists like Yo-Yo Ma and Pinchas Zukerman when Iris Orchestra brings the greats to your own backyard?