Richard McKay is a conductor of the symphonic and operatic repertory across the United States, Europe and South America. An established leader in the vibrant Dallas arts community, his recent performances have been hailed by critics as “spellbinding,” “finely paced,” and “perfectly shaped.” He currently serves as artistic director of the Dallas Chamber Symphony, a professional performance ensemble, which he founded in 2011.
McKay has been lauded for his fresh approach to classical programing, and for creating the innovative and entertaining combinations of widely varied repertoire heard at his regular subscription performances, and for which the DCS has become well known. D Magazine describes him as a “conductor [whose] long-term vision is [for the DCS to become] precisely the kind of eclectic and occasionally challenging classic group Dallas really needs.” The Dallas Morning News has praised the orchestra as not only “an ensemble with real potential to enrich the local arts scene,” but also one whose recent performances, led by McKay, were “as eager and expressive as they were accomplished.”
McKay is the creator of the orchestra’s award-winning Silent Film Series, a popular ongoing project for which original scores are commissioned and premiered to concert screenings of classic silent films. He also established Sight of Sound, an international film and music event presented annually at City Performance Hall, for which filmmakers create original movies for pairing with the orchestra’s live performances. Recent program highlights have included highly successful dance collaborations with Texas Ballet Theater and the Bruce Wood Dance Project and the Video Association of Dallas. While the ensemble is committed to experimental programming, concerts remain equally devoted to performances of traditional and often underrepresented chamber orchestral repertory.
Passionate about music education, McKay created TechNotes, an original music and technology curriculum designed for elementary school students. The initiative delivers interactive videoconferences, assembly concerts and individual musician visits to local elementary school classrooms. Activities are paired with a digital supplement for iPads and personal computers — which he co-authored — in order to prepare area youth for field-trip concerts to see the orchestra. For emerging professional pianists, he founded the Dallas International Piano Competition, an annual educational program presented in partnership between the DCS and the Meadows School of the Arts at SMU. The event provides master classes, awards, and orchestral performance opportunities for its participants.
Always an advocate for new music, McKay has performed at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, where he was invited by Marin Alsop to conduct the world premiere of Clint Needham’s Radiant Nation as part of the festival’s In the Works concert program. He has conducted the world premieres of eight original scores, and continues to commission and promote the works of living composers.
McKay has held positions as Cover Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Charlotte Symphony, and has assisted such conductors as Robert Spano, Günther Herbig and Carlos Kalmar, among many others. He has recently led performances at the Aspen Music Festival, where he was a fellowship conductor at the American Academy of Conducting. McKay has also conducted performances with the Fort Worth Symphony, Dallas Opera Orchestra, Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, Mendoza Symphony, Estonian National Youth Symphony, Manhattan School of Music Symphony and CCM Spoleto in Italy.
An entrepreneur who is well versed in the complex and multi-faceted operations of the modern performing arts nonprofit, McKay is frequently in demand as a guest speaker and arts consultant on a broad range of music industry topics. He was recently a speaker at the South By Southwest Music Festival, where he presented on “How new technologies have transformed the modern symphony orchestra”. McKay is also committed to community service, having recently served on the Plano Symphony’s Educational Program Advisory Committee, and as an adjudicator for local youth education events, such as the Collin Country Young Artist Competition.
He holds a doctorate from the Peabody Conservatory, where he trained with Gustav Meier and Markand Thakar, while serving as the assistant conductor of the Peabody Orchestras and Opera. He graduated with a Master of Music degree in orchestral conducting from The University of Texas at Austin, where he served as Music Director of the University Orchestra and conductor at the Butler Opera Center. Also at the University, he earned his Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance.