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 final entry:

• • • • •

From John Kennedy (2/27/2020):

Wow, that became a whirlwind! We’ve finally wrapped the audition tour and heard nearly 400 candidates. Since my last report, we’ve made a few stops.

First, we visited Boston and the New England Conservatory. NEC’s Jordan Hall is a venerable old building that for generations has hosted some of the world’s great musicians when they were young. The big news here is that the audition room we’ve used for years, room 118, had a makeover—this counts as big news to anyone who knows NEC. New chairs, a media screen, and…new carpet! The years of emptied spit valves from brass players on the old carpet was a true historical legacy, but it’s unlikely anyone was sad to see it go.

After Boston, we went to Chicago for our auditions at the Fine Arts Building. Across from Grant Park and near Symphony Hall on S. Michigan Avenue, the Fine Arts Building is an Art Nouveau landmark. To go up to the rehearsal room of the Chicago Youth Symphony where we held our auditions, the elevators are manually operated by a friendly elevator operator!

This year I also went to Detroit to attend the Sphinx Connect conference, and to be part of the panel for the Sphinx Orchestral Partners Auditions. What an amazing experience to be part of a musician-centric summit, to hear musicians of color speak about equity in classical music, and to hear such fantastic players in the great acoustic of “the Max”, the Detroit Symphony’s beautiful hall. The best part of this stop was seeing and catching up with so many alums of the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra!

“I Love LA.” The Colburn School has, since its move to a wonderful facility downtown in 1998, become a formidable landing spot for today’s student musicians. With the LA Phil’s Disney Hall, the Music Center (LA Opera), and the Broad Museum across the street, there is a forward-looking, contemporary vibe in the air that seems perfect for attuning young musicians to their artistic future. And, the sushi is amazing in nearby Little Tokyo.

Finally, we wrapped it up in Charleston! Our auditions coincided with the Festival’s annual auction, which raises funds to sponsor our orchestra members. I’m so grateful to the Festival’s board, patrons, and staff who make it such a celebrative and successful event. We showcased one of our amazing musicians, cellist Najette Aboulhadi, who will be returning for her second season this year. Najette played an excerpt from the opera we’ll be premiering in May, Omar, and left the audience transfixed.

It was a fitting and gratifying way to finish this annual process. I heard so much talent, aspiration, dedication, and wonderful music-making. Every audition is an act of hope in this world—not only for the musician, but for me as a listener. And now come May in Charleston, we’ll bring together the 2020 edition of the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra to hear how these hopes and dreams combine in what will surely be an unforgettable Festival.

• • • • •

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.

NOTE: The 2020 Festival has been cancelled. For more information, click here.