Spoleto Festival USA announces expanded Orchestra showcase for 2023

December 6, 2022
Three concerts highlight the acclaimed Festival ensemble with special guest conductors Mei-Ann Chen and Jonathon Heyward
In a preview to the full season announcement on January 27, Spoleto Festival USA General Director and CEO Mena Mark Hanna announced programming for a three-concert orchestra series on June 5, 7, and 9, as part of the 2023 Festival. The concerts feature the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra under the batons of three renowned conductors: Chicago Sinfonietta Music Director Mei-Ann Chen; Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Designate Jonathon Heyward; and John Kennedy, the Festival’s Resident Conductor and Director of Orchestral Activities. Orchestra series ticket bundles, starting at $99 for a pass to all three concerts, are available beginning December 5 at 12:00pm EST at spoletousa.org.
“During my first season as General Director in 2022, I was awestruck by the dynamism of our Festival Orchestra,” says Mena Mark Hanna. “The ensemble is widely considered one of the most prestigious orchestras of emerging virtuosic musicians in the world, although at Spoleto, they often play supporting roles in operas, dance, and contemporary chamber music. This Festival season, Spoleto will give their talent the spotlight they deserve.”
More than 80 instrumentalists will be chosen for the 2023 season ensemble through a nationwide audition tour. “The Festival is one of the most competitive programs for musicians in the United States, and offers rising talent the opportunity to perform an unusually diverse and exciting range of repertoire. We select these promising musicians not only for their extraordinary technique, but also for their versatility and expressiveness,” says Kennedy, who has led the ensemble since 2011, and is himself a Festival Orchestra alumnus. Other notable Festival Orchestra alumni include conductor Kazem Abdullah; Ab Sengupta, Director of Artistic Planning at Carnegie Hall; Billy Hunter (trumpet) and Milan Milisavljević (viola), principal players in the Met Opera Orchestra; William Hudgins, principal clarinetist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra; and Beth Guterman Chu (viola), Allegra Lilly (harp), and Shannon Wood (timpani), principals of the St. Louis Symphony. In recent years, Festival Orchestra fellows have worked directly with a range of living composers including Helmut Lachenmann, Liza Lim, Huang Ruo, and Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels during last year’s world premiere of Omar.
Many of the approximately 1,500 Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra alumni credit their experiences at Spoleto as formative to their careers. Alumnus Blake-Anthony Johnson, the CEO & President of Chicago Sinfonietta explains that “learning amongst artists of all disciplines is a gift that I always carry with me.” Johnson, who performed five seasons in the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra continues: “I served as principal cellist personnel manager, created the Spoleto Orchestra Cello Choir, swam with dolphins, ate incredible cuisine, and performed countless world premieres. These experiences barely scratch the surface.”
Weston Sprott, a trombonist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the Dean and Director of The Juilliard School’s Preparatory Division counts participating in the Festival Orchestra in 2003 as one of his fondest memories. “I particularly remember a stirring performance of Mahler’s 6th Symphony with Emmanuel Villaume. I still have meaningful friendships with many of the people who performed, even 20 years later.”
Vanessa Rose, Executive Director of the American Composers Forum, recalls first performing Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms at Spoleto Festival USA as a member of the Festival Orchestra: “The entirety of that experience—from the music itself to the other musicians as well as the unique environment cultivated by the festival—cemented my lifelong adoration of this [piece] and so many others. I am eternally grateful.”
For the special 2023 Orchestra showcase at the Charleston Gaillard Center, guest conductors Chen and Heyward join Kennedy in leading the ensemble. Each program features powerful works that offer Festival musicians opportunities to demonstrate their artistic and technical prowess. The Rite of Spring opens the series on June 5 with Kennedy at the podium. On June 7, Chen leads a program featuring Dvorak’s New World Symphony alongside works by Florence Price, George Whitefield Chadwick, and Michael Abels. And on June 9, Heyward, a Charleston native who first began music lessons through the Charleston County Public School District, conducts a program of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, which features pianist Micah McLaurin as soloist. Additional concert details and information about each conductor follow.
Single tickets will be available beginning January 27, 2023. A limited number of passes offering a bundled ticket price to all three concerts are available beginning December 5 at 12:00pm EST. Details can be found at spoletusa.org.
Orchestra series passes must be purchased online at spoletousa.org; they are not available by phone or in person.
Passholders’ seats are selected by the Festival and located in prime locations within the orchestra.
Program and Conductor Details
The Rite of Spring
Conducted by John Kennedy
June 5, 7:30pm
Charleston Gaillard Center
The Rite of Spring, Igor Stravinsky
(Additional pieces to be announced)
New World Symphony
Conducted by Mei-Ann Chen
June 7, 7:30pm
Charleston Gaillard Center
Ethiopia’s Shadow, Florence Price
Delights and Dances, Michael Abels
Jubilee from Symphonic Sketches, George Whitefield Chadwick
Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” Antonin Dvorak
Symphonie Fantastique
Conducted by Jonathon Heyward
June 9, 7:30pm
Charleston Gaillard Center
Piano Concerto in A minor, op. 16, Edvard Grieg
              Featuring Micah McLaurin, piano
Symphonie Fantastique, Hector Berlioz