Born of French and Austrian descent in New York City, GRAMMY® nominated conductor Kenneth Kiesler leads a highly successful international career. Recent concert engagements include his Australia debut with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, conducting the Mahler Fifth Symphony and Mozart D Minor Piano Concerto with pianist Jan Lisiecki, his four-concert debut with the Chamber Orchestra of Chile, and a return appearance with Orquesta Sinfônica da USP in São Paolo.
As the award-winning Music Director of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra from 1980 to 2000, he conducted concerts in Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and founded the Illinois Chamber Orchestra and Illinois Symphony Chorus. The Illinois Symphony Orchestra named him Conductor Laureate for life, and from 2009 to 2011 he served as its Music Advisor. He was also Music Director of the South Bend and New Hampshire Symphony Orchestras and Principal Conductor of the Saint Cecilia Orchestra.
He has conducted orchestras on five continents, including the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, Chicago Symphony at Orchestra Hall, Queensland Symphony (Australia,)
Detroit Symphony, Utah Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Chamber Orchestra of Paris, Chamber Orchestra of Chile, Jerusalem Symphony and Haifa Symphony (Israel), Osaka Philharmonic, (Japan) and the orchestras of New Jersey, Florida, São Paulo, Sofia, Puerto Rico, Daejeon and Pusan (Korea), Jalisco Philharmonic (Mexico), Hang Zhou (China), Memphis, San Diego, Albany, Virginia, Omaha, Fresno, Long Beach, Long Island, Portland, and the Aspen, Atlantic, Meadowbrook, Skaneateles, Sewanee and Breckenridge festivals. He has conducted a wide array of operas including Britten’s Peter Grimes and Rossini’s The Turk in Italy at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Bright Sheng’s The Silver River in Singapore, and operas of Puccini, Verdi, Mozart, Ravel, Menotti, and Donizetti.
An advocate for new music and living composers, he has led premieres by Evan Chambers, Steven Stucky, Gunther Schuller, Leslie Bassett, Ben Johnston, Aharon Harlap, Gabriela Lena Frank, Kristin Kuster, Steven Rush, Sven Daigger, and Paul Brantley. He also has performed several long lost pieces including the first performance of Gershwin’s original jazz-band score of Rhapsody in Blue since 1925. Other landmark performances include the U.S. Premiere of Mendelssohn’s Third Piano Concerto, the world premiere of James P. Johnson’s The Dreamy Kid, the first performance since 1940 of Johnson’s blues opera, De Organizer, and the non-European premiere and world premiere recording of Milhaud’s L’Orestie d’Eschyle (The Oresteia of Aeschylus).
His recordings with the BBC, Third Angle and University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra are heard on the Naxos, Dorian, Pierian, and Equilibrium labels. Recent recordings include Ginastera’s three piano concerti with pianist Barbara Nissman, and The Old Burying Ground, an orchestral song cycle by Evan Chambers. His 3 CD set of Milhaud’s monumental work for expanded orchestra, chorus and soloists, L’Orestie, was released by Naxos in September of 2014, and was nominated for a GRAMMY® for Best Opera Recording.
Three completed recordings are soon to be released: Two One-Act Operas by James P. Johnson De Organizer and The Dreamy Kid; Orchestral Music of Kapralova; and music by U-M composers William Bolcom, Evan Chambers, Kristin Kuster, and Stephen Rush.
Winner of the 2011 American prize in conducting, he was also the Silver Medal winner at Avery Fisher Hall’s 1986 Stokowski Competition, and the 1988 recipient of the Helen M. Thompson Award, presented by the League of American Orchestras to the outstanding American music director under the age of 35. His teachers and mentors include Carlo Maria Giulini, Fiora Contino, Julius Herford, Erich Leinsdorf, John Nelson, and James Wimer.
He is one of the world’s most sought after and highly regarded teachers and mentors of conductors. His conducting students hold positions with major orchestras, opera companies and music schools worldwide, and have won major international conducting competitions including the Donatella Flick, Eduardo Mata, Nicolai Malko, and Lorin Maazel competitions.
He has led conducting masterclasses in New York, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Paris, Moscow, Vilnius, Leipzig, Berlin, Mexico City, London and São Paulo, as well as at the Waterville Valley Music Center (New Hampshire) and the Conductors Retreat at Medomak (Maine), now in its 21st year.
He currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan where he is Director of Orchestras and leads the renowned orchestral conducting program at the University of Michigan.