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Simmons spreading musical aloha around world


Orchestral conductor Philip Simmons has called the Big Island home since 2009. Inspired by Hawaii’s cultural diversity and natural beauty he is enjoying a growing international career, sharing “aloha spirit” and what he calls “musical malama” with communities in Hawaii and around the world.

Simmons has performed in 20 countries. His travels are often met with fascination of the Islands and romantic imagery. Last May he led a production of Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” with the State Music Theater of Belarus in collaboration with the US Embassy in Minsk.

Philip Simmons

Philip Simmons

Recently he returned from Chicago, conducting an interfaith concert celebrating Jewish-Muslim friendship. The program was acknowledged by Mayor Rahm Emanuel who proclaimed Sept. 2 “American Music Festivals Day in Chicago.”

Simmons is the artistic director of American Music Festivals, which is currently involved in cultural exchange outreach to orchestras on five continents. American Music Festivals’ projects have included orchestral performances in cultural centers like Saint Petersburg, Prague, and Sarajevo.

They are the direct result of the artistic and personal relationships Simmons has built with other performers, presenters, and organizations.

Promoting cultural diversity is at the heart of Simmons’ artistic values. With collaboration as the model, he is working to promote a new vision of sustainability for classical music that shares resources, good will, and understanding. Each time he leaves home, Simmons brings a little Hawaii with him.

In Chicago concerts with the Lincolnwood Chamber Orchestra he has performed orchestral arrangements of Queen Liliuokalani’s music, presented kokui nut leis to attending dignitaries, and “talked story.”

He believes in open conversation with the community, sharing his feelings about the music and inviting the full participation of the community.

The most important Hawaiian tradition Simmons has learned is malama. With an eye on preservation American Music Festivals founded the Orchestra of the Hawaiian Islands, which was well received in three concerts along the Kohala Coast that included professional musicians from the Big Island, Oahu, and Maui.

Joining the orchestra were popular local performers (the acoustic guitar trio Kohala), a guest conductor from Japan (as part of a podium exchange that sent Simmons to Sendai), and a concert of Hawaiian classical composers with Danny Akaka Jr. chanting with the orchestra and playing ukulele.

Malama took on even greater meaning for Philip and his wife Jennifer when were blessed with their first child, Penelope Jasmine, now 18 months old.

Caring for his daughter has meant a brief intermission in his outreach to the Islands, but his vision of an orchestral program serving all of Hawaii remains strong and focused.

In his contacts in Hawaii and around the world, Simmons shares his commitment to “Musical Malama,” a caring for musical customs of the past. It includes a humble acceptance of our role in its continuity and being open to discovering new ways of maintaining musical traditions.

With a priority on education and diversity, “musical malama” includes nurturing a sensitivity to the relevance and quality of the concert experience, and the possibility for orchestral development.

Now Simmons and American Music Festivals are collaborating with the early music group Chicago Syntagama Musicum for an all Bach program this October in Chicago’s prestigious Harris Theater.

He is also preparing a guitar duo program with Big Islander Lee Eisenstein, a chamber music series in Hawaii later this fall, and two guest conducting tours of Europe.

Whether working with US Embassies abroad, major orchestras, or community groups of all ages, Simmons is at home sharing his love for music, and Hawaii’s “aloha spirit.”

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