John Kennedy has forged a diverse musical life with a mission of presenting music of all eras as a strategy for environmental and social consciousness. Kennedy presently serves as the Resident Conductor and Director of Orchestral Activities for Spoleto Festival USA, where he plans and leads the Festival’s “highly regarded presentations of music” (The Wall Street Journal). In his role at Spoleto since 2011, he has distinguished the festival’s opera programming with a succession of critically acclaimed American Premiere productions of new operas, including Faustus, the Last Night (Pascal Dusapin), Kepler (Philip Glass), Matsukaze (Toshio Hosokawa), Facing Goya (Michael Nyman), Proserpina (Wolfgang Rihm), Emilie (Kaija Saariaho), and The Little Match Girl (Helmut Lachenmann). In 2015, he led the World Premiere production of Huang Ruo’s opera, Paradise Interrupted. During his tenure at Spoleto, the Festival Orchestra has developed into the most competitive summer orchestra program in the U.S.
Kennedy has conducted a wide range of ensembles across genres, serving as a guest with numerous organizations from the Lincoln Center Festival and New York City Ballet, to the Singapore Symphony and Talea Ensemble. John has collaborated with many of the leading composers of our time in presenting their work, and has conducted American orchestral premieres by many composers including Michel van der Aa, Louis Andriessen, John Cage, Tansy Davies, Brett Dean, Toshio Hosokawa, Giya Kancheli, Steve Martland, Michael Nyman, Wolfgang Rihm, Somei Satoh, Peteris Vasks, Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky, and Julia Wolfe.
Kennedy’s musical life has included chapters in New York, Santa Fe, and now the Bay Area. He founded two leading new music ensembles, Essential Music (New York), and Santa Fe New Music – organizations with which he premiered over 300 works – and has conducted some of today’s leading contemporary ensembles including Talea, Ensemble ACJW, sfSound, and Other Minds.
As a composer, Kennedy’s wide-ranging work has been performed worldwide, from the Paris Festival d’Automne, to London’s Wigmore Hall, the Kanagawa Arts Festival, the Grand Teton Festival, the Other Minds Festival, ISCM World New Music Days, Sarasota Opera, and Santa Fe Opera. Numerous choreographers have worked with Mr. Kennedy’s music, including Albert Evans in a solo ballet for Peter Boal, and Mr. Boal in a work for Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Kennedy has served as a Guest Conductor in Residence at the Oberlin Conservatory, and is presently a member of the music department at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley. Born and raised in Minnesota and originally a percussionist, he holds degrees from the Oberlin Conservatory and Northwestern University. His diverse range of activity led to his service as artist President of the American Music Center from 2002-2005.