NC Symphony announces longtime director’s final season and new role

Conductor Grant Llewellyn of the N.C. Symphony.
Conductor Grant Llewellyn of the N.C. Symphony. NC Symphony

Grant Llewellyn, the longtime music director of the North Carolina Symphony, is stepping back. The 2019-20 season will be his last as the symphony’s fulltime music director, the Symphony announced Thursday.

Llewellyn, 57, will assume the title of music director laureate for four years beginning in the 2020-21 season. In that capacity, he’ll continue to perform at a number of North Carolina Symphony engagements every year through at least the 2023-24 season.

He plans to continue as music director of Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne in France, where he has been music director since 2015, while also pursuing guest-conducting opportunities elsewhere.

“The North Carolina Symphony has played a central role in my career and in my entire family’s life over the past 15 years, and I am delighted to maintain a relationship with this wonderful orchestra,” Llewellyn said in a statement.

In an interview, he added that he had been considering this move for a while.

“When I agreed to the current contract, it was in my mind that if things went well it might be a good time to move on when it was up,” he said. “I will have been here 16 years, and I thought I might stay eight or 10 years when I came here, so it’s already quite a long tenure.”

A committee of musicians, trustees and staff will lead the search for a replacement for the fulltime post.

Llewellyn, a native of Wales, came to the symphony in 2004, succeeding Gerhardt Zimmerman. He previously worked in Massachusetts at Tanglewood Music Center, Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Handel and Haydn Society.

The symphony has commercially released four albums under Llewellyn’s tenure, including one with saxophonist Branford Marsalis. A fifth, of Richard Strauss’ “Don Quixote” with cellist Zuill Bailey and violist Roberto Diaz, is due to be recorded in 2019.

Other highlights from Llewellyn’s tenure include taking the symphony to 2017 ‘s “SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; nearly 50 U.S. and world premieres; and commissions by a wide range of composers, Greenville-born Pulitzer-winner Caroline Shaw among them.

There will be celebratory concerts and events throughout Llewellyn’s final fulltime season, the symphony announced.

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David Menconi has covered music and the arts for The News & Observer since 1991. He can be reached at 919-829-4759 or dmenconi@newsobserver.com.