Naima Burrs
Photo: Selena Deng

Meet UR’s dynamic symphony conductor Naima Burrs

May 15, 2023


Naima Burrs brought a wide-ranging world of music to campus during her first year conducting the University of Richmond Symphony Orchestra.

Students wowed with a repertoire that included Antonín Dvořák’s colorful Symphony No. 8, a novel Alexander Glazunov saxophone concerto, the rousing Carmen Suites, and a chamber performance with contemporary Indonesian composer and singer Peni Candra Rini.

Burrs is passionate about presenting composers from a diverse background. The ensemble also peformed pieces such as Adoration, by Florence Price, and the second movement of Samuel Coleridge Taylor's "Petite suite de concert."

“Every semester has been something different and new,” Burrs said. “There's eagerness and excitement to play.

Photo: Joey Wharton

She brings vibrant experience to the University. In addition to her UR conductor role, she’s a full-time instructor at Virginia State University, VSU’s director of orchestral activities, the Petersburg Symphony Orchestra’s music director, a doctor of musical arts candidate at the Catholic University of America, and a professional violinist.

Despite the packed schedule, Burrs found the UR position fit as perfectly as a puzzle piece.

“I’m ecstatic,” she said. “The facilities are amazing. The faculty are amazing. The students are amazing.”

Burrs grew up surrounded by music, attending performances and countless opera, orchestral, and chamber rehearsals. She was greatly influenced by her mother, a classical singer who worked as professor at Virginia State University for nearly 20 years, currently teaches voice at Longwood University, and worked at UR for a time. During car rides, she said, her mother would help identify the instruments of the orchestra, like a fun quiz, while listening to tapes or the radio and listening to songs.

“In elementary school, the Richmond Symphony came to our school and brought the string quartet,” Burrs remembered. She immediately identified with the violin, telling her mom, “I have to play this!”

As a violinist, she met inspirational conductors throughout middle school and high school. Then, in college, she met VCU’s head of orchestras Daniel Myssyk. “I took an elementary conducting class with him and really enjoyed it,” she said. “I think he could tell that maybe I was taking it more seriously than the other students, and that I was starting to find a real interest in the art of conducting.” 

Serendipity brought her to UR. One day in January 2022, after attending a Richmond Symphony concert, choral activities director Jeff Riehl recognized Burrs on the street. Riehl, a longtime friend of her mother’s, connected Burrs with Music Department chair Andy McGraw to audition for the conducting position.

UR community members welcomed Burrs with enthusiasm and support, she said. “It’s been a good team effort.”

Like the conductors who bring out Burrs’ best on the violin, she strives to make rehearsals positive experiences while keeping expectations high. 

"I find it important to offer the players a chance to grow in the ensemble by selecting repertoire that challenges them and introduces them to a diverse background of composers and styles," she said.

And with Burrs leading the way, the players blend study and performance harmoniously.