American conductor Thomas Cunningham is artistic director of Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra. Founded in 2014, this orchestra for the 21st century is malleable in size, genre and venue and collaborates anywhere, anytime, with anyone. Mr. Cunningham made his New York debut conducting Iolanta for Opera Slavica in 2012. He is on the conducting staff of Voices of Ascension Chorus & Orchestra in New York, NY and the Youth Orchestra of Bucks County in Bucks County, PA, and works regularly with The Princeton Festival, Opera Slavica and The CoOPERAtive program.
A conductor of distinctly broad repertory, recent engagements have included the concertos of Bach, Dvorak and Berg, orchestrating Addi & Jacq's award-winning songs, and commissioning numerous young composers. Passionate about the American repertory, Mr. Cunningham believes deeply in the underperformed compositions of African American composers, especially William Grant Still and George Walker. He recently completed a symphonic suite of William Grant Still’s grand opera Troubled Island.
Mr. Cunningham has worked on nearly two dozen opera productions, most recently leading Rutgers Opera Institute in Così Fan Tutte, and Opera Forza in Madama Butterfly. He has assisted on productions ranging from Jenůfa and Eugene Onegin, to Alcina, Così fan tutte, and Der fliegende Holländer. As a Chorus Master, Mr. Cunningham regularly prepares choruses in Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages.
As a composer and arranger, Mr. Cunningham’s output includes Puccini's Madama Butterfly for 8 players, and chamber orchestrations of works by Dvorak and Smetana. He has orchestrated arrangements of songs by the duo Addi & Jacq. Also passionate about restoration and reconstruction, he led the U.S. premiere of Sibelius' complete original version of Pelléas och Mélisande in 2015. 2016 includes the premiere of his reconstruction of Ethel Smyth's Three Moods of the Sea.
Mr. Cunningham's previous engagements include Bard SummerScape, Berkshire Choral Festival, Opera Forza, the String Orchestra of Brooklyn and Westminster Opera Theater. He was a finalist in the 2016 International 4x4 Prizes for composers and conductors, held at the University of Oklahoma.
Mr. Cunningham counts Tito Muñoz, Kynan Johns, Kenneth Kiesler and Dennis Keene amongst his teachers and mentors. He is a graduate of Westminster Choir College.