As the Festival’s Resident Conductor and Director of Orchestral Activities, John Kennedy has a hand in nearly every musical offering presented each season. Not only does he conduct operas and some of the more out-of-the-box orchestral concerts—like You Are Mine Own—as well as curate and host the Music in Time series, Kennedy frequently presents several of his own compositions during the Festival. Additionally, Kennedy is responsible for auditioning and selecting the members of the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra—an ensemble of roughly 80-plus musicians who play during the entire 17-day Festival. It’s a job he’s uniquely qualified for: Back in 1983, Kennedy was a SFUSA Orchestra member himself.

We recently asked John Kennedy three questions to help you get better acquainted with this Spoleto insider. Read his answers below.

Do you remember your experience as a Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra percussionist in the 1980s?
I think about my experience a lot—it was incredible! As a young musician, you come to this wonderful city that most people fall in love with. And you’re working in an atmosphere that’s fully focused on the Festival’s productions, right from the start. It’s intoxicating. Orchestral musicians don’t always get to play operas on a professional level, so that’s a great experience, too.

Since you’ve taken the reigns, have auditions changed? And what’s the first thing you look for at auditions?
In recent years, I think the auditions have become more competitive—musicians are focused on advancing their careers and landing amazing jobs at even younger ages than ever before. The Festival is one of the most competitive programs for musicians in the US—and this has, in turn, enhanced our ability to attract the finest musicians.

Personality is the first thing I look for in musicians. I want people who show that they possess a musical intelligence and a passion for what they’re doing. It’s obvious if someone is playing in a literal and accurate way compared to someone who’s truly connecting to the music and feeling and expressing it. It’s not that I’m less interested in someone’s technical ability, but I want a musician who can be deeply expressive and take some risks.

You’ve started a Facebook group through the Festival’s page to reconnect all former Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra members.
The idea is that over the last 41 years, there have probably been roughly 1,500 to 2,000 Orchestra members from all over the world. I’d guess that there’s at least one Orchestra alum in most orchestra companies in the United States, if not more. I’m hopeful that members from each year—including the inaugural season in 1977—will join so we can meet musicians of all generations who’ve had shared experiences. I want to bring people together and fully realize this program’s reach.


Tickets to You Are Mine Own or other 2018 Festival productions can be purchased HERE or by calling the Festival box office at 843.579.3100. Tickets are also available at the box office at the Charleston Gaillard Center (95 Calhoun Street).