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” (D Magazine, Dallas Morning News). He is currently the artistic director and conductor of the Dallas Chamber Symphony.
McKay has worked with the Baltimore, Dallas, and Charlotte symphonies, where he assisted such conductors as Günther Herbig, Carlos Kalmar, and Jaap van Zweden, among many others. His recent engagements have included performances with the Fort Worth Symphony, Dallas Opera Orchestra, Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, Irving Symphony, Mendoza Symphony, Estonian National Youth Symphony, Manhattan School of Music Symphony, and at the Aspen Music Festival, where he was a fellow at the American Academy of Conducting. He has also led successful musical collaborations with Texas Ballet Theater, Bruce Wood Dance, and the Video Association of Dallas.
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.” Scott Cantrell of 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 UnSilent Film Series, a popular ongoing project for which original scores are commissioned from top composers, then premiered in concert to screenings of classic silent films. While the DCS is committed to artistic partnerships, composer residencies and experimental music, its season is balanced with performances of traditional, but less often heard, 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 — to prepare area youth for field-trip concerts to see the orchestra. For emerging professional pianists, he founded the Dallas International Piano Competition, which provides master classes, grants, and orchestral performance opportunities for 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 several dozen original scores, and continues to commission and promote the works of living composers.
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 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”. He has also been a guest on KERA’s Think with Krys Boyd, and State of the Arts, presented by the Dallas Museum of Art.
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 has appeared in masterclasses with renowned conductors Kurt Masur, Leonard Slatkin, Neeme Järvi and many others. He graduated with a Master of Music degree in orchestral conducting from The University of Texas at Austin, where he was Music Director of the University Orchestra and led productions at the Butler Opera Center. Also at the University, he earned his Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance with highest honors.