IRIS ORCHESTRA IRIS Orchestra, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, has established itself as one of the most successful musical groups in the United States. A community of musicians whose members come together from around the country and around the globe, IRIS’s unique structure makes it a new model for the 21st- century American orchestra. Since its inaugural concert in September 2000 with soloist Yo-Yo Ma, IRIS has set a new musical standard: a commitment to excellence; innovative programming, presenting beloved treasures of the classical cannon alongside the best of the new American repertoire, including new works commissioned by IRIS; and service to the community. IRIS performances and recordings have received unanimous public and critical acclaim, and have been embraced by its audience and the community.

IRIS was founded in September of 2000 by conductor Michael Stern at the invitation of Albert Pertalion, former executive director of the Germantown Performing Arts Centre (GPAC) in Tennessee. Its inception was a bold initiative by the Mayor and the Board of Aldermen of the City of Germantown, the only such municipally funded musical group in the country. Still the resident orchestra at GPAC, IRIS now enters its second decade with Michael Stern at the helm as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor. In 2007, IRIS Foundation was launched to support the orchestra’s transition to an independent non-profit entity.

Along with the excellence of its music making, IRIS’s impact extends far beyond the concert hall. IRIS rehearsals are broadcast live over local public radio, WKNO allowing listeners the opportunity to eavesdrop on the preparation for the upcoming performance. Through intensive outreach programs in schools across Shelby County, a range of pre-concert adult-education offerings for audience members, and its host-family program, IRIS has put down strong roots in the Germantown/Memphis community.

At IRIS, outstanding up-and-coming young musicians play alongside respected and seasoned professionals. Both the invited soloists and IRIS musicians have carried the orchestra’s reputation far beyond its home base, and IRIS alumni have assumed leadership positions in some of the foremost orchestras worldwide. Some of those orchestras include the Boston Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Amsterdam), and the San Francisco Symphony, to name a few.

Over the past ten years IRIS has partnered with a remarkable array of soloists including violinists Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham, and Midori; pianists Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman and Garrick Ohlsson; soprano Dawn Upshaw; and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The list of commissioned composers is equally distinguished, including Stephen Hartke, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, William Bolcom and Ned Rorem, as well as younger talents such as Jonathan Leshnoff, Huang Ruo and Adam Schoenberg. IRIS has also earned critical praise for its six recordings: the first disc ever recorded by the orchestra, the music of Stephen Hartke, earned a place on the “Year’s Ten Best” in 2002 by The New York Times; IRIS’s recording of Ned Rorem’s “After Reading Shakespeare,” was named to the “Ten Best of 2007” list of the Chicago Tribune. IRIS has recorded for Naxos International, as part of that label’s American Classics Series, as well as for the Arabesque label.


“Every single musician in IRIS is there out of love for the music, for our audience, and for one another. Any of us would, without a moment’s hesitation, sacrifice whatever is necessary in order to help our comrades, with the common goal of making great music. Each of us are singular in this purpose, without preconditions and without a moment’s thought to our own ego. At IRIS, preparation, responsibility, and passion are not optional when it comes to music making. If every performing arts organization were like IRIS, we would surely be living in The Golden Age of musical art.”

Member of IRIS


MICHAEL STERNMichael Stern founded IRIS Orchestra in 2000, and holds the title of founding Artistic Director and Principal Conductor. Under Stern’s direction, IRIS has been unanimously heralded for the brilliance of its playing, its varied programming with special emphasis on American contemporary music, and for its acclaimed recordings on the Naxos and Arabesque labels. IRIS has embraced as a central part of its mission a deep commitment to furthering American composers and has commissioned works by Stephen Hartke, Richard Danielpour, Edgar Meyer, Adam Schoenberg, Jonathan Leshnoff, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, among others.

The 2009-10 season also marks Stern’s fifth as Music Director of the Kansas City Symphony. Their performances in the inaugural year were greeted universally with public and critical acclaim, and since then the orchestra has been hailed for its remarkable artistic and institutional growth and development. The Symphony and Stern have already made three recordings together; their latest disc, titled “Britten’s Orchestra” was released in November of 2009 under the Reference Recordings label, and has glowing rave reviews.

In 2000 Stern concluded his tenure as chief conductor of Germany’s Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra. The first American chief conductor in the orchestra’s history, he was offered the post almost immediately after making his debut with them in March 1996. In addition to their work in concert, for broadcast and tour Stern and the orchestra made several recordings of American repertoire, notably a disc of Henry Cowell’s works, as well as a series devoted to the music of Charles Ives, including a live recorded performance of the “Universe” Symphony and their first recording of the “Emerson” piano concerto.

In September 1991, he was appointed permanent guest conductor of the Orchestre National de Lyon in France, a position which he held for four years. He has also appeared with the national orchestras of Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse. Last year, he bena a three year stint as the Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestre National de Lille. Elsewhere, Stern has led such orchestras as the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, the Oslo Philharmonic, the Bergen Symphony, the Beethovenhalle Orchestra in Bonn, the Deutsche Symphoniker (DSO) in Berlin, the Budapest Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic, the Moscow Philharmonic, the Helsinki Philharmonic, the Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Rome, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich, and the Chamber Orchestra of Lausanne. He has also been a frequent guest conductor of the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich and has recorded both with that orchestra and with the London Philharmonic for Denton Records. In the United Kingdom, he has conducted the London Symphony, the London Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony (London), and the English Chamber Orchestra. Stern has appeared in the Far East with such orchestras as the National Symphony of Taiwan, the Singapore Symphony and Tokyo’s NHK Symphony, and he has toured China with the Vienna Radio Symphony.

In North America, Michael Stern has conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pittsburg Symphony, New York Philharmonic, the Saint Louis Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony, the Houston Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, the Toronto Symphony, the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony, and the National Symphony in Washington, D.C., among many others. He also appears regularly at the Aspen Music Festival and has taught at American Academy of Conducting at Aspen. From 1986 to 1991, Stern was the assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra. In September 1986, he made his New York Philharmonic debut as one of three young conductors invited by Leonard Bernstein to participate in a conducting workshop that culminated in two concerts at Avery Fisher Hall.

Stern received his degree from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where his major teacher was the noted conductor and scholar Max Rudolf (whose famous textbook, “The Grammar of Conducting,” Stern co-edited for its third edition). He also edited a new volume of Rudolf ’s collected writings and correspondence, published by Pendragon Press. His studies have included two summers at the Pierre Monteux Memorial School in Hancock, Main, under the tutelage of Charles Bruck. Born in 1959, Michael Stern is a graduate of Harvard University, where he earned a degree in American History in 1981. He makes his home in Kansas City and in New York with his wife, Shelly Cryer, and their two daughters Hannon and Nora.


“I am thrilled to make music with IRIS and Michael Stern. What makes this orchestra so special -- and makes me so enthusiastic about playing with IRIS -- is the freshness of the whole experience: the music making, the sound, the feeling of togetherness. With the orchestra’s unique structure and Michael at its helm, there is a very special feeling of close friends coming together for a few intense days of hard work that will bring out rare discoveries and tremendous rewards. We are on the edge, and nothing is guaranteed. It is risky and dangerous. Isn’t that part of the essence of making music?”

IRIS Guest Artist


From the beginning, IRIS has set out to demonstrate that classical music is not a fixed canon, but a vital art form that is constantly acquiring new works and new energy. IRIS contributes to that vitality by commissioning new works from both established and emerging composers. Artistic Director Michael Stern considers the commissioning process to be an obligation to the future of music. “Many treasured masterpieces that we now consider staples of the repertoire would not exist if not for the nurturing encouragement and support of individual patrons, performers, and musical organizations. From Haydn and Beethoven to Stravinsky and Bartok, an investment in the inspired creativity of great composers has enriched our artistic legacy beyond measure.”

“IRIS musicians approach both the old standbys and the newer music with zest. I love the fact that we are exposed to a range of music, hearing lesser-known works of famous composers and different variations of the old favorites.”

IRIS Subscriber

Bolcom, William: Cabaret Songs
world premiere - IRIS commission
Date: 04/07/05
Danielpour, Richard: In the Arms of the Beloved, double concerto for violin, cello and orchestra
world premiere - IRIS commission
Date: 04/20/02
Fine, Marshall: The Infinite Garden
world premiere - IRIS commission
Date: 03/05/05
Hartke, Stephen: Clarinet concerto, Landscapes with Blues
world premiere - IRIS commission
Date: 04/28/01
Leshnoff, Jonathan: Double Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra
world premiere - IRIS commission
Date: 03/29/08
Leshnoff, Jonathan: Rush
world premiere - IRIS commission
Date: 01/31/09
Leshnoff, Jonathan: Forgotten Chants and Refrains (Symphony No. 1)
world premiere - IRIS commission
Date: 12/04/04-12/05/04
Meyer, Edgar: Concerto No. 2 for Doublebass and Orchestra
world premiere - IRIS commission
Date: 04/12/03
Patterson, Robert: Oasis
world premiere - IRIS commission
Date: 03/05/05
Rorem, Ned: Songs Old and New
world premiere - IRIS commission
Date: 11/08/08
Ruo, Huang: Path of Echoes - Chamber Symphony No. 1
world premiere - IRIS commission
Date: 03/24/06
Schoenberg, Adam: Finding Rothko
world premiere - IRIS commission
Date: 01/13/07
Zwilich, Ellen Taaffe: Rituals, for percussion group and chamber orchestra
world premiere - IRIS commission
Date: 03/06/04

Since its first year, IRIS has included American music from the 20th and 21st centuries in its programs, pieces whose range reflects the diversity that continues to animate and fuel the American spirit. Says Artistic Director Michael Stern, “I think it is necessary to be connected to the music of our time, no matter how good we might be as caretakers of the music of the past. It makes us better musicians, and better interpreters of the classics. One of our cherished and sacred obligations as musicians is to continue to probe the works of the great masters of the past, and keep the genius of their creative achievement alive and present. But the voices of contemporary composers should be no less relevant to us, and continue to shape our understanding of the world.”

“With Michael Stern’s approach to shaping the music and letting it live rather than trying to control it, with his ease and understanding of the delicate relationship between a music director and an orchestra, and with the expertise and good nature of the musicians, the technical challenges seem to disappear.”

IRIS Musician

Antheil, George: A Jazz Symphony

Date: 10/11/03
Barber, Samuel: Adagio for Strings
Date: 02/02/02
Barber, Samuel: Capricorn Concerto

Date: 12/06/02
Barber, Samuel: Concerto for Violin
Date: 02/02/02
Barber, Samuel: Dover Beach
Date: 03/24/062
Barber, Samuel: Knoxville, Summer 1915
Date: 12/02/02
Barber, Samuel: Medea, Op. 23, Suite
Date: 02/21/02
Barber, Samuel: Souvenirs, op. 28
Date: 03/03/03
Beaser, Robert: Folk Songs for String Orchestra, Harp and Timpani
Date: 12/04/10
Bernstein, Leonard: Serenade after Plato’s Symposium
Date: 03/20/10
Bernstein, Leonard: Three Dance Episodes from On the Town
Date: 09/19/00
Brubeck, Chris: Travels in Time for Three
Date: 01/21/11
Copland, Aaron: Concerto for Clarinet
Date: 03/05/06
Copland, Aaron: Fanfare for the Common Man
Date: 09/09/00
Copland, Aaron: Music for the Theater
Date: 05/08/04
Copland, Aaron: Quiet City
Date: 01/19/02
Copland, Aaron: Suite from Appalachian Spring
Date: 10/21/00-02/26/11
Corigliano, John: Symphony No. 2
Date: 02/27/10
Danielpour, Richard: First Light
Date: 10/05/02
Diamond, David: Romeo and Juliet Suite
Date: 01/26/08
Fine, Marshall: Tango in Time of War
Date: 01/25/03
Foss, Lukas: Capriccio for cello and orchestra
Date: 09/19/00
Gandolphi, Michael: Themes form a Midsummer Night
Date: 02/26/11
Gershwin, George: Excerpts from the Songbook
Date: 10/08/05
Gershwin, George: Rhapsody in Blue, arr. Dokschutzer, for Trumpet and Orchestra
Date: 01/24/04
Glass, Philip: A Jazz Concerto-Fantasy for two timpani and orchestra
Date: 03/02/02
Harrison, Lou: Concerto for Pipa and Strings
Date: 12/14/02
Hartke, Stephen: Brandenburg Autumn

Date: 11/10/07
Hartke, Stephen: Pacific Rim
Date: 03/02/02
Hedges, John: American Suite
Date: 12/16/06
Hedges, John: Foxdown
Date: 12/16/06
Ives, Charles: Ragtime Dances
Date: 10/11/03
Ives, Charles: Symphony No. 3, Camp Meeting
Date: 10/13/01
Ives, Charles: The Unanswered Question
Date: 11/13/04
Ives, Charles: Three Places in New England
Date: 10/03/04
Ives, Charles: Variations on “America” orch. Wm. Schuman
Date: 05/02/09
Kernis, Aaron Jay: Musica Celestis
Date: 02/12/05
Leshnoff, Jonathan: Double Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra
world premiere
Date: 03/29/08
Lieberson, Peter: “Neruda Songs” (excerpts)
Date: 05/02/09
Meyer, Edgar: Concerto for Bass and Orchestra
Date: 03/31/01
Riley, Terry: Half-Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight
Date: 12/14/02
Rorem, Ned: Double Concerto and Violin and Cello
Date: 04/03/04
Scheer, Gene: Voices from World War II (orch. by Julie Gunn and Lee Musiker)
Date: 03/24/06
Schober, David: Split Horizons, Concerto for sextet and orchestra
Date: 02/05/05
Udow, Michael: “Shake” and “Strike” from Four Movements for Percussion Quartet
Date: 03/05/05
Williams, John: Escapades for Saxophone and Orchestra
Date: 03/02/09

Each season, IRIS offers its audiences the chance to hear the best soloists in the world, from stars with international reputations to the most talented rising newcomers. Many young soloists who appear with IRIS at the beginning of their careers go on to win international acclaim, confirming what IRIS audiences already know: these are the best of the best.

  • Emanuel Ax
  • Jonathan Biss
  • Yefim Bronfman
  • Uri Caine
  • Wendy Chen
  • Jeremy Denk
  • Alon Goldstein
  • Stanislav Ioudennitch
  • Yoko Nozaki
  • Garrick Ohlsson
  • Jon Kimura Parker
  • Jean-Yves Thibaudet
  • Yuja Wang
  • Korbinian Altenberger
  • Adele Anthony
  • Boris Belkin
  • Joshua Bell
  • Zachary DePue
  • Augustin Hadelich
  • Carolyn Huebl
  • Barnab·s Kelemen
  • Nicolas Kendall
  • Jennifer Koh
  • Jaime Laredo
  • Cho-Liang Lin
  • Stephen Miahky
  • Midori
  • Itzhak Perlman
  • Gil Shaham
  • Kyoko Takezawa
  • Charles Wetherbee
  • Roberto Diáz
  • Lynn Harrell
  • Yo-Yo Ma
  • Sharon Robinson
  • Jian Wang
  • Felix Wang
  • BASS
  • Edgar Meyer
  • Ranaan Meyer
  • Karen Busler
  • OBOE
  • Winnie Lai
  • Heather Taylor (English horn)
  • Jerome Simas
  • Richard Stoltzman
  • Branford Marsalis
  • HORN
  • Eric Ruske
  • Ryan Anthony
  • Alison Balsom
  • Lou Hanzlik
  • Jeff Kaye
  • Bob Becker
  • Bill Cahn
  • Robin Engelman
  • Ken Every
  • Evelyn Glennie
  • Jonathan Haas
  • Russel Hartenberger
  • Michael Karcz
  • Tom Sherwood
  • John Wyre
  • Nathan Berg, baritone
  • Measha Brueggergosman, soprano
  • Janice Chandler, soprano
  • Jason Collins, tenor
  • Alexandra Deshorties, soprano
  • Michelle deYoung, mezzo-soprano
  • Karen Esperian, soprano
  • Nathan Gunn, baritone
  • Nancy Maultsby, mezzo-soprano
  • Susanne Mentzer, mezzo-soprano
  • Jennifer Root, mezzo
  • Dawn Upshaw, soprano
  • Mary Wilson, soprano
  • Jason Vieaux
  • PIPA
  • Wu Man
  • Emanuel Ax, Jaime Laredo & Yo-Yo Ma
  • Eighth Blackbird
  • Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson
  • Adele Anthony and Gil Shaham
  • NEXUS, percussion ensemble
  • Time for Three (Nicolas Kendall; Zachary DePue;
    and Ranaan Meyer)
  • Tennessee Shakespeare Company

“IRIS is a family of musicians. We genuinely care about the music we make together and give it our all, every time. We have respect for each other on and off stage.”

Member of IRIS

  • J. Martin Regan, Jr. / Chairman
  • Mary Lee Copp
  • Barbara Dan
  • Joseph Dunlap
  • Margaret Everett
  • Bradley M. Fogelman
  • Nick Goetze
  • Lee Piovarcy
  • Lynda Shea
  • Gabor Tigyi

“IRIS brings world-class performers to Memphis that we would formerly have to travel to New York City to see. Unbelievable!”

IRIS Subscriber

  • David DePeters / Executive Director
  • Bettye Speake / Donor Relations Manager
  • Darin Kelly / Orchestra Manager
  • Carina Nyberg Washington / Community Relations