Biography of Kenneth Kiesler
KENNETH KIESLER is one of the most prominent conductors of his generation, and one of the world's most sought-after mentors to conductors. He has been Director of Orchestras and Professor of Conducting at the University of Michigan since 1995. He has conducted many of the world's leading ensembles, led many world premiere performances, and directed several acclaimed recordings. His latest recording with the University Symphony Orchestra, Evan Chambers' orchestral song cycle The Old Burying Ground, was released on the Dorian Sono Luminus label in June. Of his 2008 debut with L'Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, critic Roger Bouchard stated, "There do exist great American conductors, and Kiesler is one of them! Standing on behalf of the music he serves, he conducts from memory with unaffected gestures both precise and passionate. Nothing is unnecessary in his conducting; yet everything is there. Very beautiful work!"
Kiesler has conducted the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, the Chicago Symphony, the orchestras of Utah, Detroit, New Jersey, Florida, Indianapolis, Memphis, San Diego, Albany, Virginia, New Hampshire, Omaha, Fresno, Richmond, Long Beach, Long Island, Portland, Jerusalem, Haifa, Osaka, Puerto Rico, Daejeon and Pusan in Korea, the New Symphony Orchestra in Bulgaria, Hang Zhou in China, and at the festivals of Meadowbrook, Skaneateles, Sewanee, Breckenridge, and Aspen. Of a performance with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Times wrote, "A refreshing vision…allowing innate brilliance to come through."
His many opera performances include Bright Sheng's The Silver River at the Victoria Theatre in Singapore, Britten's Peter Grimes and Rossini's Il Turco in Italia at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and operas of Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, Donizetti, and Menotti, among others. James Wierzbicki, writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, "Spectacularly sung, wittily staged and propelled by a conductor with a knack for rhythm and tempo and balance, Rossini's Turk in Italy provided the audience with a delightful evening of music-theater. Of all the reasons why this 'Turk' sounded so good, foremost among them is the firm and stylish conducting of Kenneth Kiesler." His dance performances include Appalachian Spring with the Martha Graham Dance Company and Cinderella with the Indianapolis Ballet.
Kiesler's upcoming projects include the world premiere performance and recording of the Argentian Piano Concerto by Alberto Ginastera, and the first complete performance and recording of L'Orestie, a stage work for large orchestra, chorus and soloists by Darius Milhaud. Kiesler is the conductor of many acclaimed recordings on the Naxos and Equilibrium labels with the BBC in London, Third Angle New Music Ensemble, and both the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra and Opera Theatre. He has led premieres by Steven Stucky, Gunther Schuller, Leslie Bassett, James P. Johnston, Aharon Harlap, Gabriela Lena Frank, Steve Rush, Evan Chambers and Paul Brantley. At the age of 19, he conducted the first performance of Gershwin's original jazz-band score of Rhapsody in Blue since 1925, and he conducted the U.S. Premiere of Mendelssohn's Third Piano Concerto, the world premiere of James P. Johnson's The Dreamy Kid, and the first performance since 1940 of Johnson's blues opera, De Organizer.
Kiesler is Conductor Laureate of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra where, as Music Director from 1980 to 2000, he founded the Illinois Symphony Chorus and Illinois Chamber Orchestra, led debuts at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, and won several awards. Since the summer of 2006, at the invitation of Music Director Pinchas Zukerman, Kenneth Kiesler has been Director of the Conductors Programme of Canada's National Arts Centre. In early 2007, he was named Director of the Vendome Academy of Orchestral Conducting, in France.
Kiesler's conducting students have won the worlds' major international competitions such as the Maazel/Vilar, Eduardo Mata, and Nicolai Malko Competitions, and hold positions with major orchestras, opera companies, and music schools worldwide. He has led many master classes for the Royal Academy of Music in London, for the Philharmonisches Kammer Orchester Berlin with several German orchestras and the Moscow Symphony, the Deutsches Musikrat, and Oxford University, as well as the American Symphony Orchestra League and Conductors Guild. Kiesler has been a frequent guest conductor of the orchestras at the Manhattan School of Music, and served as Visiting Artist and Advisor from 2006 to 2010. He led the Manhattan Chamber Sinfonia with principal players of the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie's Zankel Hall, and Mahler's Second Symphony with the Manhattan Symphony at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. About a performance with the Manhattan Symphony, Anthony Tommasini, writing in The New York Times commented, "Impressively played…Mr. Kiesler drew an assured, colorful performance, winning a prolonged ovation."
Kiesler is the founder and director of the Conductors Retreat at Medomak (Maine), an intensive summer training program for conductors of at all stages of their careers, the subject of a 2002 article in the Atlantic Monthly: "Conducting: A backwoods Guide." Pianist Lorin Hollander said, "Mr. Kiesler's ability to conjure up the creative energies of the works of music which he explores is nothing short of astonishing and the atmosphere of love and empowerment which envelops the community of musicians and conductors is beyond anything I have ever experienced."
He was an honored participant in the Leonard Bernstein American Conductors Program, and conducted the Ensemble Intercontemporain in sessions with Pierre Boulez at Carnegie Hall. At the 1986 Stokowski Competition, he was awarded the Silver Medal by Maurice Abravanel, and special recognition by Morton Gould. He received the 1988 Helen M. Thompson Award presented by the American Symphony Orchestra League to the nation's outstanding American Music Director under the age of 35.
Kiesler's teachers include Carlo Maria Giulini, Fiora Contino, Julius Herford, Erich Leinsdorf, John Nelson, and James Wimer. He is included in several books including Jeannine Wagar's Conductors in Conversation: Fifteen Contemporary Conductors Discuss Their Lives and Profession, Shostakovich Reconsidered by Allan Ho, and Leonard Bernstein: the Final Years by Steven Sherman.
He began his career as Assistant Conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony, where he led annual concerts on the Masterworks, All-Mozart, and All-Bach Series, choral, ballet, opera and educational concerts and concerts in many Indiana cities. Charles Staff of The Indianapolis News said: "Kiesler is a man with a musical mind at work. He recognizes a piece for what it is, whether it be Bach's 'Third Suite' or Respighi's delicious 'Roman Festivals.' He reads, interprets and conducts idiomatically, in the spirit, in which a given work was written."
Also early in his career, he was Music Director of the South Bend Symphony and Principal Conductor of the Congress of Strings and the Saint Cecilia Orchestra where his "Tribute to Shostakovich" and national broadcasts brought widespread acclaim.
Kenneth Kiesler is a trained wilderness guide and occasionally leads expeditions in the wilderness areas of Maine.