Conductor Stephen Blackwelder has enjoyed an active and artistically diverse career since age 20, when he was invited to conduct the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra while assisting Eve Queler with a production of Cosi fan tutte. Now in his twelfth season as Music Director of the Waukegan Symphony Orchestra, his 2011/12 schedule includes five subscription concerts with the WSO, three concerts with the DePaul University Community Chorus and annual appearances at the ever-popular “Christmas at DePaul” concerts. Recent appearances include performances of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera and I Lombardi with da Corneto Opera. In his ten seasons as Music Director of the Hinsdale Chamber Orchestra, he attracted and delighted audiences with fresh, innovative programming and an informal and appealing concert style. Highlights of past seasons include performances with celebrated flautist Carol Wincenc, Metropolitan Opera soprano Nancy Gustafson, Ruben Gonzalez and John Sharp of the Chicago Symphony, and the NIU Philharmonic with soloists from the famed Vermeer Quartet. Guest conducting engagements include the Richmond, Bremerton and Sacramento Symphonies, as well as the Chicago String Ensemble, where he was praised for his “warmly expressive conducting” by Robert Marsh of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Also an accomplished opera conductor, Blackwelder has directed over 20 staged productions including Ars Musica Chicago’s North American premiere of La Purpura de la Rosa, the first opera ever composed in the Americas. His debut performances of Madame Butterfly with the Augusta Opera were critically acclaimed as “vigorous and passionate... the demanding score was played with confidence and sensitivity.” A former Chorusmaster and Assistant Conductor of Hinsdale Opera Theater, he went on to conduct staged performances of Opera Illinois and served for three seasons as Assistant Conductor of Chicago Opera Theater. Past engagements include Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame, Vives’ zarzuela Bohemios, Britten’s Albert Herring and Rossini’s La Cambiale di Matrimonio as well as a Rodgers and Hammerstein Gala at the Killington Music Festival in Vermont.
Choral music has always been an active component of Blackwelder's musical life and he has led multiple performances of the Downer’s Grove Oratorio Society, Camerata Singers of Lake Forest, Waukegan Festival Chorus and various university, church and temple ensembles. While he was conductor of the early music ensemble Ars Musica Chicago, he led that group in numerous concerts and recordings over eight concert seasons. As a professional member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus and Aspen Chamber Choir, he performed frequently under such conductors as Robert Shaw, James Levine, Sir Georg Solti, Margaret Hillis and Claudio Abbado.
A native of North Carolina, Blackwelder was the first graduate to receive a Bachelor of Music degree in conducting from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he led performances of Cavalli’s L’Ormindo in a fully staged production. While completing his Masters Degree at Northwestern University, he prepared symphony concerts for Robert Marcellus and Bernard Rubenstein, opera productions for Robert Gay and also conducted his own concerts with the Advanced Chamber Ensemble. Further work in academia includes faculty positions at Northern Illinois University, Lake Forest College, East Carolina University and (currently) DePaul University. Professional study included four seasons with the renowned Aspen Music Festival and master classes with Sir Georg Solti, Max Rudolf and Erich Leinsdorf.