Next Retreat:

June 30- July 18, 2021


Kenneth Kiesler

Founder and Director; Score-study and Conducting

Kenneth Kiesler, GRAMMY nominee, 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. Kiesler’s complete recording of the L’Orestie, a stage work for large orchestra, chorus and soloists by Darius Milhaud, a 3 CD set released by Naxos in September of 2014, was nominated for a 2015 GRAMMY Award for Best Opera Recording.   His recording of Evan Chambers’ orchestral song cycle The Old Burying Ground, was released on the Dorian Sono Luminus label in 2010. Donald Rosenberg, in Gramophone Magazine, said, "The performance is a luminous reflection of Chambers' sympathetic vision. Kenneth Kiesler shapes the score with a keen ear for balance, pacing and nuance."  Of his 2008 debut with The Chamber Orchestra of 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’s conducting students have won top prizes in many of the world's major international competitions such as the Maazel/Vilar, Eduardo Mata, Donatella Flick, and Nicolai Malko Competitions, and hold positions with major orchestras, opera companies, and music schools worldwide. From 2006 until 2014, at the invitation of Music Director Pinchas Zukerman, Kenneth Kiesler was the Director of the Conductors Programme of Canada’s National Arts Centre. For eight years, he was also Director of the Vendome Academy of Orchestral Conducting, in France.  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 League of American Orchestras and Conductors Guild.  

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, Queensland (Australia) Daejeon and Pusan in Korea, the New Symphony Orchestra in Bulgaria, Hang Zhou in China, the Jalisco Philharmonic in Mexico the Symphony Orchestra of the USP in São Paulo, Brazil, and at the festivals of Music in the Alps (Austria), 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.”  In 2011, he conducted concerts with the Musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, one of which was streamed live globally.

His many opera performances (Recently: Candide, Porgy and Bess, and La bohème) 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 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. His world premiere recording of the Argentinian Piano Concerto by Alberto Ginastera, with Piano Concertos No. 1 and No. 2, with pianist Barbara Nissman, was released on the Pierian label.  Upcoming releases include music of Kapralova on Naxos, and Music of William Bolcom, Evan Chambers, Kristin Kuster, and Steven Rush on Centaur.

He has led premieres by Steven Stucky, Gunther Schuller, Leslie Bassett, Sven Daigger, James P. Johnston, Aharon Harlap, Gabriela Lena Frank, Stephen 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. 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 Mahler 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, 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.