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 “John Kennedy led a brisk but fluid performance that brought out the score’s elements with a winning consistency and unflagging energy.”

– The New York Times


Deep opera experience conducting many leading new operas

with composer collaboration, including U.S. Premieres of operas by

Pascal Dusapin, Luca Francesconi, Philip Glass, Toshio Hosokawa,

Helmut Lachenmann, Michael Nyman, Wolfgang Rihm, Huang Ruo,

Kaija Saariaho, others

Wide orchestral repertoire from classics to contemporary,

with special projects in works of Beethoven, Mozart, Stravinsky, others;

U.S. premieres of major works by Andriessen, Tan Dun, Michael Gordon, Hosokawa, Satoh, Vasks, others

Special projects with multiple appearances at the Lincoln Center Festival, Singapore International Festival of Arts, Daejeon Orchestra,

New York City Ballet and many other organizations ranging from

Arena Stage to Santa Fe Desert Chorale and Magik*Magik Orchestra

 “John Kennedy conducts sensitively, makes the difficult sound easy.”

– Financial Times



"One of the most spontaneous performances imaginable...

Kennedy turned out a vibrant interpretation and his brilliantly alive

Spoleto Festival Orchestra blazed with classic elegance.

Kennedy is a Mozart conductor to the manor born."

– Charleston Post and Courier




 “...arguably America's most distinguished new music guru.”

– Charleston City Paper


Collaborations and guest appearances with leading new music organizations worldwide including Talea, Ensemble ACJW, sfSound,

Other Minds, and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company

Conducted over 300 premieres with wide experience in the pedagogy of contemporary orchestral and vocal techniques

Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of New York's

Essential Music, 1987-2001

• Founding Artistic Director, Santa Fe New Music, 2000-2012

 “Mr. Kennedy’s players supplied crack performances…

As in the orchestral concert, Mr. Kennedy and the orchestra were

superb advocates for Mr. Rihm’s imaginative music.”

– The New York Times

“John Kennedy conducts with precision and with regard for

the music’s descriptive power.” – The Financial Times

“Conductor John Kennedy’s reading of the score

was superbly dramatic.”— Toronto Globe and Mail

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Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director, Essential Music (1987-2001)

Essential Music was a flexible-instrumentation ensemble with a strategy of inserting music from the American Experimental Tradition, past and present, into the musical life of New York in an historical and curated manner – so as to bring what was known as “downtown” music more into the “uptown” radar of the musical establishment. It asserted that a huge body of important music and artists were endangered in the musical ecology, and was one of the first, if not the first, ensemble to use the term “post-classical”. Its title was derived from a quote from Jacques Attali’s Noise: “Nothing essential happens in the absence of noise.”


The group, founded together by Oberlin graduates John Kennedy and Charles Wood, enjoyed a close association with John Cage, touring with him in 1991, resurrecting many of his “lost” works and clarifying performance practice (such as his radio play with Kenneth Patchen, The City Wears a Slouch Hat), as well as presenting to NY some of his new work.


Essential Music made frequent appearances across New York, from Lincoln Center to the 92nd Street Y, Merkin Hall, The Kitchen, and Roulette. It presented over 80 World and 50 New York premieres in nearly 100 concerts, commissioned over 20 composers, and presented the first composer portrait concerts in New York of Kyle Gann, Peter Garland, James Tenney, and others. In 1988, Essential Music resurrected the visionary music of Johanna Beyer for her centenary, with two full programs of her work. Other avant-garde classics, presenting work never before heard in NY, featured composers including Robert Ashley, Paul Bowles, Cornelius Cardew (including a complete cycle of The Great Learning), Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, Annea Lockwood, William Russell, Edgard Varèse and others.

After Cage’s death in 1992, Essential Music organized the memorial Cagemusicircus at the behest of Merce Cunningham, featuring leading perfomers of new music including Laurie Anderson, Irvine Arditti, Takehisa Kosugi, Yoko Ono, and others. Kennedy also directed the 112-musician Essential Music Orchestra in Ocean with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and led the ensemble in works of Morton Feldman at the first Lincoln Center Festival in 1996. The group issued numerous CDs, primarily on the Mode Records label, and was featured at several festivals in Japan.


Click here to read the historical essay for Essential Music’s 10th Anniversary festival held at The Kitchen in 1997. It includes the group’s original aesthetic manifesto.

Founder and Artistic Director, Santa Fe New Music (2000-2012)

John Kennedy started Santa Fe New Music when he and his family moved there from New York in 1999. SFNM became a community-pillar arts organization in Santa Fe, collaborating with many other institutions both in and outside of the arts, to deliver new music widely and to unexpected audiences.


SFNM presented nearly 100 concerts which included over 300 new works, often in collaboration with organizations including the Santa Fe Opera (annual living composer portrait concert), Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, SITE Santa Fe, and the Center for Contemporary Arts.


SFNM often presented multi-day events around extra-musical themes, which included the “Music as Environmental Consciousness” Festival, 2012; “Transcendentalism and the American Avant-Garde”, co-produced with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, 2010; “Music and Water” Festival, 2008; “International Festival of New Music”, 2004, with guest artists including Meredith Monk, So Percussion, and musicians from Jemez Pueblo.


Through its CoMission Club, SFNM commissioned many composers including Eve Beglarian, Lisa Coons, Nathan Davis, Christopher Marianetti, Ingram Marshall, Missy Mazzoli, and others. It also directed the New Mexico Young Composers Project and the SFNM Youth Ensemble.

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