​Summer Music: Kilkenny at Helm of Festival

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer
As spring begins to pluck at winter’s frets, some in the Sewanee music world are already looking forward to summer.
John Kilkenny, an assistant professor at George Mason University, is one of those warm-weather melody makers. The new interim director for the 2018 Sewanee Summer Music Festival (SSMF), scheduled for June 23–July 22, said he plans to uphold a rich tradition.
“Sewanee is a special place, and I believe our community can expect the same high-level festival we have enjoyed here on the Mountain for the past 63 years,” he said. “The traditions of SSMF will continue, including our July 4 celebration, concerto competition and world class faculty artist series.”
The current festival evolved from the Cumberland Forest Festival in 1950-51, according to the SSMF website, and today boasts a multitude of orchestra and chamber music performances, as well as a plethora of educational opportunities.
“We expect to have more than 200 students from all around the world with us this summer on the Mountain,” Kilkenny said.
Among the guest conductors for the festival will be Sewanee favorites Robert Moody and Gene Moon, along with new guests Jacomo Bairos, director and conductor of the Amarillo Symphony, and Daniel Boothe, director and conductor of the Symphonicity Orchestra in Virginia Beach, Kilkenny said. Sewanee’s own César Leal will lead the Cumberland Orchestra.
The former director of SSMF, Evelyn Loehrlein, resigned in the fall to pursue other opportunities, said Terry Papillon, academic dean at the University of the South. Papillon said he expects to appoint a permanent director this year, but Kilkenny is a great fit for 2018.
“Professor Kilkenny has already brought a huge amount of energy to the festival,” Papillon said. “He is a longtime faculty member of the festival, and so brings a knowledge of the faculty and much of the operations; this will make the interim status work much more smoothly. The faculty have been enthusiastic about his appointment.”
Papillon noted that he is excited that Kilkenny has started a “Friends of the SSMF” group that will bring community members together “to increase awareness and involvement in the festival.”
Kilkenny, 41, will remain at George Mason University, where he is director of percussion and associate director of bands. This year he will also lead the Delaware All-State Band and serve as a clinician for the Music for All National Percussion Festival, he said.
“He has been a tremendous addition to the life of the festival in this new capacity,” said Hilary Ward, assistant director of the SSMF. “I so very much look forward to our upcoming season and am excited to share it with our surrounding community members and hope to see new faces at concerts on the Mountain.”
In his spare time, his interests include swimming, politics and hiking the Domain during SSMF—but he doesn’t expect to have much time for that this summer.
“Sewanee has been a huge part of my professional life—I am still a little amazed to have this opportunity,” he said.