VIProfile: Peter Shannon

Peter Shannon

Peter Shannon

Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography courtesy of The Jackson Symphony.

Born in 1969, Peter Shannon began his musical education as a choirboy in Cork Cathedral, Ireland. As a Bachelor of Music student at University College Dublin, and whilst singing baritone in the RTE National Chamber Choir, he began studying conducting under the Irish conductor Colman Pearce.

In Germany he studied at the Franz Liszt Hochschule fur Musik, founded by the great pianist and composer Liszt himself. He later studied at the Karlsruhe Hochschule fur Music, one of only a handful of German universities (including Heidelberg) which hold the official title of an “elite” university. He graduated with the highest possible grade which can be awarded by the German State.

Outside Germany, Peter Shannon has appeared as guest conductor with the Warsaw Radio Symphony Orchestra in Poland and the Pecs Symphony Orchestra in Hungary. In 1998, he made his debut with the Irish Radio Concert Orchestra and in the following year with the Irish National Symphony Orchestra. He has been invited back to work with both orchestras.

Shannon has been a guest conductor at music festivals in Norway, Italy, Germany, and Denmark, and in August 2009, 2010 and July 2011, he returned to Germany, Hungary and Holland as Artistic Director and Conductor of “Voices of Europe,” a week-long festival of concerts by choirs of ethnic minorities from all over Europe.

Shannon currently resides just outside Dublin in the countryside of County Wicklow, and he also has a residence in Jackson, Tennessee.

The Jackson Symphony 59th Season

Opening Night:
Fanya Lin, Piano

September 7
7:30 pm
First Baptist Church

Starlight Symphony
September 28
7:30 pm
First Presbyterian Church
Free Admission

Classical Night Fever
October 19
7:30 pm
Carl Perkins Civic Center

Woodwinds Deconstructed
October 20
3:00 pm
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

An Evening of Mozart
November 23
7:30 pm
First Baptist Church

Mozart Magic
November 24
3:00 pm
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

Holiday Pops
December 7
11:00 am Family Matinee
7:30 pm Evening Concert
Carl Perkins Civic Center

All You Need Is Love
February 15
7:30 pm
Carl Perkins Civic Center

Imagine: The Beatles Solo Years
April 4
7:30 pm
Carl Perkins Civic Center

Music Mixture
April 5
3:00 pm
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

Season Finale
May 9
7:30 pm
First Baptist Church

Eclectic Class
May 10
3:00 pm
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

VIP: In your interview with me in 2014, you discussed your position with the Savannah, GA Philharmonic and re-building the Jackson, Tennessee Symphony Orchestra. Elaborate on these experiences.

Peter Shannon: I took the position in Savannah, GA in 2008 or 2009 and was in Savannah about 5 years. I resigned my position with the Savannah Philharmonic when I realized it was time for me to take on a new challenge. I wanted to get out and do more conducting and other work. Recently I was a guest conductor with the Irish National Symphony Orchestra. Now I am more fulfilled than ever, and I have new challenges. The Jackson Symphony remains a favorite in my work at the moment.

VIP: The season begins with virtuoso pianist, Fanya Lin, at First Baptist Church on September 7. I have not had the pleasure of hearing her perform, but I have heard that she is remarkable!

PS: I first heard Fanya when I was a judge at the International Piano Competition in Louisiana. It’s safe to say that Louisiana isn’t the mecca of piano playing or so I thought. But the standard was absolutely incredible. Fanya was number 25 of 40 pianists. We had already heard world class pianists. But it was Fanya who stopped me in my tracks! She’s just such a powerhouse. She’s incredibly energetic to watch. It’s really like watching the best that anybody can be at anything. I am in absolute awe of this pianist from Taiwan.

VIP: How does the upcoming JSO season differ from past seasons?

PS: There is nothing really new because what we’re trying to do is solidify the reputation that we’ve gained in the last couple of years. We will present a good selection of pop concerts and a great selection of classical concerts. The final concert will be Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which finishes with the huge “Ode to Joy” with a divine chorus comprised of musicians from the University of Tennessee Martin and Union University and many high school students. This will be very special for a lot of people. Imagine the energy and the beauty of this concert. I’m very excited about this concert!

VIP: What is the appeal of the popular annual Starlight Symphony concert, which will take place on September 28 on the grounds of First Presbyterian Church? Does this concert create new subscribers of the Jackson Symphony Orchestra?

PS: Not particularly. We wish that we could get 5000 people to come to all of our concerts. The attraction is that it is outside, and it’s a community event. If you enjoy the Jackson Symphony Orchestra and Starlight Symphony, then you are also going to enjoy the season concerts. You can have a wonderful evening out with the Jackson Symphony every month in Jackson….What works well tends to stay. The symphony is expensive and a worthwhile thing. It would be wonderful to see 5000 people clamoring to hear Fanya Lin. When our orchestra is not on the stage, we go to the schools. We have the Jackson Symphony Youth Orchestra.

VIP: Discuss the chamber music concerts held in the Parish Hall of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

PS: This tradition started when I came to Jackson in my first year. It’s an opportunity for musicians to play music among themselves and to jell within the organization and to seek like-minded musicians within the group. It means a lot of work and organization as well as practice. It is a way to engage people to come to the Jackson Symphony more than just once a month. Chamber music has become very popular. These concerts are a real asset and something to treasure.

VIP: Update our readers on the JSO performances at the Kirkland Cancer Center.

PS: Music in every aspect is related to healing. Going into the Cancer Center in Jackson as we do is a way for us to be a part of the healing process. Music can be a very important part of the healing process. I have studied and researched this, and it has been a part of my life for the last 12-15 years. I’m absolutely delighted that the JSO board and the hospital have been so supportive in addressing my concerns about the healing environment.

VIP: The JSO has a new Executive Director in Sherry Freeman. Do the two of you have a good working relationship, even from afar at times?

PS: Absolutely! Sherry has hit the ground running and already in her short tenure has proven to be a huge asset to the organization. We speak regularly and when I’m in town we coordinate the business and artistic sides. We’re very, very lucky to have her. She has such strong ties to the community, and her husband has a business in the community. People listen to her, and they like to hear her talk. She has a huge backing in the community, and that is a huge asset.

VIP: What are your top priorities this year with the JSO?

PS: At the moment my priority is to stabilize the organization and the musicians. This is my sixth year now, and so it’s important to be sure we’re moving in the right direction. Also, I want to be there for Sherry and to help her transition to the music world. It’s a different beat! There is nothing we can’t do together. Really, the focus is on the musicians and to make sure they are happy with how we are treating them. This is extremely important to the health of the orchestra.

VIP: Are you still importing some of the talent in the orchestra?

PS: Oh, yes. We are a fully professional orchestra, not an amateur orchestra. People are paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars for a subscription, and they expect a wonderful experience. We’re lucky to have an orchestra in Jackson, and we are delighted that we have so many wonderful musicians in Jackson. This is a professional symphony orchestra held to the highest standards. It is a treasure of West Tennessee! Most of the musicians in the orchestra are from this area. It’s a huge commitment that the musicians make. If they travel, they see themselves as a Jackson orchestra, not as hired help. They are very committed. We want to make sure that Jackson has the best quality music that they can have. My job is to make sure that I have the best musicians on stage.

VIP: Update our readers on your family—your wife, Quynh and Liam and David, now 8 and 9 years old. Are your sons interested in music?

PS: My sons are interested because they have to be. My wife, a concert pianist from Hanoi in Viet Nam, has performed in Jackson. She teaches music and is still giving concerts.

VIP: What are your hobbies?

PS: I do quite a bit of running, and I bike regularly. I used to be in triathlons. I need space to breathe when I’m working. Running and cycling are almost meditative. I need to recharge to go back to work. Running is a cathartic way to allow myself to rejuvenate myself to get to work again.

VIP: What would you like to see happen with the JSO in the next five years?

PS: We have strategic plans with the JSO board. My job is to make sure that the Jackson Symphony is an integral part of the community and is recognized by the community. I would love to see us gain in financial stability and see that continue. The pop concerts tend to be better attended. My goal for the JSO is to have all of our concerts sold out!

What to Know

The Jackson Symphony Office
207 East Lafayette Street
Jackson, TN 38301
(731) 427-6440