Praised for his “winning consistency and unflagging energy” by The New York Times, conductor John Kennedy has led acclaimed performances and over 300 premieres worldwide. His international career has included appearances spanning opera, orchestral and new music in New York, London, Zurich, Salzburg, Tokyo, Singapore, Daejeon, San Francisco, and Santa Fe. Acclaimed for his imaginative programming linking music of all eras, Kennedy is a devoted agent of music as a living cultural force.
As Resident Conductor of Spoleto Festival USA since 2010, Kennedy leads the Festival’s opera and orchestra programs in “highly regarded presentations of music” (the Wall Street Journal). During his tenure he has distinguished the festival as an outpost at the forefront of new opera, leading the Festival’s recent commissioned world premiere of Paradise Interrupted by Huang Ruo, as well as the American premieres of Kepler by Philip Glass, Matsukaze by Toshio Hosokawa, Emilie by Kaija Saariaho, Proserpina by Wolfgang Rihm, and Faustus, the Last Night by Pascal Dusapin. Of the Saariaho, Opera News wrote, “Kennedy’s work and that of his musicians was superb.” Recent engagements include the American premieres of Helmut Lachenmann’s The Little Match Girl and Luca Francesconi’s Quartett at the Spoleto Festival.
Under his leadership, the Spoleto Festival Orchestra has become the most competitive summer orchestral program in the U.S., described by Opera News as a “remarkably accomplished young orchestra”. In orchestral performance, the Charleston Post and Courier has described Kennedy as “a Mozart conductor to the manor born”, and said that his Beethoven 7 “had it all: carefully controlled dynamics, subtle interpretive nuance, a perfect sense for musical line, and a sure knack for unleashing the raw energy and power of his marvelous players where called for”. He has introduced to American audiences important orchestral works by composers including Michel van der Aa, Louis Andriessen, John Cage, Tansy Davies, Brett Dean, Giya Kancheli, Wolfgang Rihm, Somei Satoh, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Peteris Vasks, and many others. In 2016, he led the Daejeon Philharmonic in the Korean premiere of the complete ballet Pulcinella of Stravinsky, with orchestra, singers, and dance onstage. In 2018 he will conduct an orchestral event staging the combined Lyric Symphonies of Zemlinsky and Berg, developed with the noted film director Atom Egoyan.
Other upcoming productions include the U.S. and Asian premieres of Liza Lim’s opera Tree of Codes and the US West Coast Premiere of Francesconi’s Quartett with West Edge Opera.
Maestro Kennedy has also served as Guest Conductor in Residence at Oberlin Conservatory, and is presently a member of the music department of Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley. As a composer, he has composed over 80 works including opera, orchestral, chamber, and experimental works which have been performed throughout the world; commissions have included operas for the Sarasota Opera and Santa Fe Opera. He served as artist President of the American Music Center from 2002-2005.