Conductor Finds the Silly Side of Serious Work
Liberace and having kids lead a conductor to embrace the silly side of serious work
At age two, Todd Ellison pretended to conduct an orchestra in front of his parents’ video camera. By six he’d begun piano lessons—and he never stopped playing. “I don’t need headphones, I don’t need to walk around listening to music,” Ellison (’82) says. “Music’s in my head all the time, just flowing around.”
Ellison’s single-minded focus has helped him navigate the music industry to become one of America’s most sought-after conductors, hailed as one of Broadway’s most electric conductors by the New York Times. He’s opened 17 Broadway shows, including 2015’s An American in Paris, which won four Tony Awards, and directed the famed Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. In spring 2019, he’ll take the helm as music director and principal conductor of the Philly Pops.
In the midst of his success, an offstage decision led Ellison to view his career differently: he and his partner started a family. The joy with which his sons embrace life inspires him “every day to get out of bed and try to create something to make their world brighter and a little more fun,” Ellison says.
“These kids are all about having fun and being silly. I want to explore that side of me. At times, I didn’t have that as a kid because I was playing a piano all the time.” A photo of his kids beaming from the boat hangs on his office wall next to another reminder that artistry doesn’t always have to be a serious business.
At 13, Ellison and a friend had snuck backstage at a Liberace concert after being dazzled by the famously flamboyant pianist’s performance. “I could see there was this payoff to all this practicing,” he says. “You get to wear lots of rings and hot pants from the ’70s!”
Today, Ellison is recognized for his spirit as much as for his skill. In summer 2018, he visited a local radio station to discuss the Philly Pops and to play a few tunes on the piano. The host said, “You add a little bounce to everything.”