Kenneth Kiesler

Professor of Music and Director of University Orchestras


Director of orchestras and professor of conducting since 1995, Kenneth Kiesler is a GRAMMY nominee (2014), recipient of the American Prize in Conducting (2011), and Conductor Laureate of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, where – as its music director from 1980 to 2000 – he led debuts at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, founded the Illinois Symphony Chorus and Illinois Chamber Orchestra, and won several state and national awards. He was also the orchestra’s music advisor for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.

Kiesler’s performances are heard on a dozen recordings on the Naxos, Dorian Sono Luminus, and Equilibrium labels with the BBC in London, Third Angle, University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, and University Opera Theatre. The landmark three-CD world premiere recording of Milhaud’s L’Orestie d’Eschyle received a GRAMMY nomination for “Best Opera” in 2014.

Of the GRAMMY-nominated Milhaud recording:

Fanfare wrote, “I cannot say enough about the high quality of this music or the committed performance given by conductor Kiesler and the University of Michigan chorus and orchestra. This will surely be one of the outstanding operatic recordings of our time.”

“Conductor Kenneth Kiesler cannot be praised too extravagantly for his expert leadership of the batteries of voices and instruments employed in this performance…Maestro Kiesler presides over this performance as though it were the summation of his life’s work.” – Voix des Arts

“It stands as one of the most memorable recordings of 2014.” –The Examiner

“…this is a great performance of a great work. The recording quality is consistently fine; and over and above that is the power and intensity of all the musicians taking part, clearly under Kiesler’s inspiring direction.” –International Record Review

“The performance of this gigantic work deserves nothing but praise. The chorus and orchestra perform excellently under Kenneth Kiesler.” –American Record Guide

Evan Chambers’ orchestral song cycle, The Old Burying Ground, was released on the Dorian Sono Luminus label in 2010. Gramophone Magazine praised, “The performance is a luminous reflection of Chambers’ sympathetic vision. Kenneth Kiesler shapes the score with a keen ear for balance, pacing, and nuance…”

Kiesler recently led a performance of Wynton Marsalis’ monumental All Rise with Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the University Symphony Orchestra, U-M Choirs, and soloists, on the UMS series at Hill Auditorium. He has conducted the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, the Chicago Symphony, Queensland Symphony in Australia, the Chamber Orchestra of Chile, and the orchestras of Utah, Detroit, New Jersey, Florida, Indianapolis, Memphis, San Diego, Albany, Virginia, Omaha, Fresno, 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, OSUSP in Sao Paulo, The International Orchestra of the Arts  in Mexico City, the Atlantic Music Festival, and the Meadowbrook, Skaneateles, Sewanee, Breckenridge, and Aspen festivals.

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 performed with many leading artists, such as violinists Joshua Bell, Kyoko Takezawa, Cho-Liang Lin, Elmar Olivera, Joseph Silverstein, Jaime Laredo, and Leonidos Kavakos; pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Yefim Bronfman, Lorin, Hollander, Leon Fleisher, Byron Janis, Joseph Kalichstein, and Peter Serkin; Singers Audra MacDonald, Measha Brueggergosman, William Warfield, Christine Brewer, George Shirley, Sylvia McNair, Robert Merrill and Martina Arroyo;  cellists Lynn Harrell, Sharon Robinson, Astrid Schween, and Zuill Bailey; Guitarist Sharon Robinson; Hornist Hermann Baumann, and clarinetists Richard Stoltzman and David Schiffrin.

Kiesler is one of the most sought-after and highly regarded teachers and mentors of conductors worldwide. He is the founder and director of the renowned Conductors Retreat at Medomak, now in its 22nd year. At the invitation of music director Pinchas Zukerman, he was, for 8 years, the director of the Conductors Programme of Canada’s National Arts Centre. For five years beginning in 2006, he was director of the Vendome International Academy of Orchestral Conducting in France. Kiesler is director of Conducting Programs of International Masterclasses Berlin. He has led many masterclasses and courses for the Philharmonisches Kammer Orchester Berlin and Deutsches Musikrat in Germany, and annually at the Waterville Valley Music Center in New Hampshire.

Kiesler’s students have won many of the world’s major international competitions, such as the Donatella Flick-London Symphony Orchestra, Maazel/Vilar, Eduardo Mata, and Nicolai Malko Competitions, and hold positions with major orchestras, opera companies, and music schools. He served as visiting artist and music advisor to the orchestras of the Manhattan School of Music and has been a regular visiting artist at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He has led many master classes for the League of American Orchestras and Conductors’ Guild, at Oxford University, and in Moscow, Berlin, Leipzig, Vilnius, London, Rome, Sao Paulo, New York, and for the Ministry of Culture in Mexico City.

His frequent opera conducting includes Bright Sheng’s The Silver River in Singapore; Britten’s Peter Grimes and Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis; Carmina Burana at Syracuse Opera; and operas of Ravel, Stravinsky, Menotti, Puccini, Verdi, and Mozart. His dance performances include Appalachian Spring with Martha Graham, Carmina Burana with the Contemporary Dance Company of Havana, and Cinderella with the Indianapolis Ballet.

Kiesler has led premieres by Evan Chambers, Steven Stucky, Gunther Schuller, Leslie Bassett, Ben Johnston, Aharon Harlap, Gabriela Lena Frank, Kristin Kuster, Steven Rush, and Paul Brantley. At the age of 19, he conducted the first performance since 1925 of Gershwin’s original jazz-band score of Rhapsody in Blue. At Michigan, 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. He recently gave the world premieres and American premieres of several works by Czech composer Viteslava Kapralova (1915-1940).

Early in his career, Kiesler was assistant conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony, 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. Kiesler was the recipient of the 1988 Helen M. Thompson Award, presented by the American Symphony Orchestra League to the outstanding American music director under the age of 35. He was one of three selected for the Leonard Bernstein American Conductors Program and conducted the Ensemble Intercontemporain in sessions led by Pierre Boulez for the centenary of Carnegie Hall. At the 1986 Stokowski Competition, he was awarded the Silver Medal by Maurice Abravanel, and special recognition for best performance of Appalachian Spring, by Morton Gould.

Kiesler’s teachers include Carlo Maria Giulini, Fiora Contino, Julius Herford, Erich Leinsdorf, John Nelson, and James Wimer. He is included in Steven Sherman’s Leonard Bernstein at Work: The Final Years, Jeannine Wagar’s Conductors in Conversation: Fifteen Contemporary Conductors Discuss Their Lives and Profession, Allan Ho’s Shostakovich Reconsidered, and David Saler’s Serving Genius, the biography of the great Italian conductor, Carlo Maria Giulini.

Kiesler is a trained wilderness guide and occasionally leads expeditions in the wilderness areas of Maine.

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 Roman Festivals. He reads, interprets and conducts idiomatically, in the spirit in which a given work was written.”


BM (cum laude), University of New Hampshire
MM, Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University