Every winter, the Festival’s Resident Conductor and Director of Orchestral Activities John Kennedy embarks on a very important mission: to select musicians for the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra. This audition process takes him to seven cities across the country where he listens to every single musician who is hoping to earn a spot in the renowned Orchestra. This year, John is bringing us along by sharing journal entries and photos of his travels. Below is his second entry:

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From John Kennedy (1/31/2020):

My next stop for our orchestra auditions is at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston. When I was a young musician, Shepherd wasn’t among the names of the legendary schools of music. But in the past 25 years, it has grown to be an elite music school, particularly for graduate students. With an excellent facility (and a new addition opening later this year), as well as a legendary faculty that has been built over time, Shepherd is a destination graduate school for musicians who have often done their undergraduate training at prominent conservatories (such as Cleveland Institute of Music, Eastman, Juilliard, New England Conservatory, Oberlin, etc). When people sometimes ask me why we don’t go to all of these conservatories for our auditions, I explain that we hear their students as grad students or post-grad fellows in other places—like Shepherd.

So it’s always a long and fruitful day in Houston, because of the wealth of experienced talent. My favorite Houston story was two years ago, when back-to-back, I heard children of two harpists I attended Oberlin with. And they didn’t know the connection!

I’m a big admirer of the artist James Turrell, and I’ve visited several of his Skyspaces in various cities. So it’s always a pleasure to take a break literally just outside the doors of the music school, and visit his Twilight Epiphany Skyscape (2012) there at Rice. It always provides windows on the longer view, something important to all of us in music.

Twilight Epiphany Skyscape at Rice University, Houston, TX; photos by John Kennedy

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The Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra will feature in the following 2020 productions:

Tickets are available online at spoletousa.org and by phone at 843.579.3100.