SOPRANO MICHELE KENNEDY is a versatile specialist in early classical and new music. Praised by The Washington Post as “a fine young soprano with a lovely voice," and by The San Francisco Chronicle as "a wonder to hear," Michele has appeared in concert recently at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Davies Symphony Hall, Bard Summerscape, Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Boston Early Music Festival. Her repertoire ranges from Renaissance and Baroque music - particularly oratorio - to new art song and chamber opera.
Michele's recent solo engagements include Bach B Minor Mass, Charpentier Te Deum, Faure Requiem, Handel Messiah, Mozart Coronation Mass and Requiem, Schütz Musikalische Exequien, Vivaldi Gloria and appearances with American Bach Soloists (Cupid in Purcell's King Arthur), Folger Consort (featuring works by Francesca Caccini), and American Classical Orchestra (Bach Cantatas). Among Michele’s new music projects are performances with Contemporaneous, Experiments in Opera, Art Song Preservation Society, Harlem Stage Opera, and a song cycle premiere with Tribeca New Music Festival. Her winter highlights include Handel's Messiah with the Fort Street Chorale & Orchestra of Detroit, her solo debut at Davies Symphony Hall with the San Francisco Girls Chorus, and Monteverdi Vespers with NYC's Voices of Ascension. She is delighted to join the San Francisco Symphony Chorus this fall and will be a soloist in their Bach Magnificat next spring.
A native of Oakland, CA, Michele is a voice student of Tami Petty and Marguerite Krull, studied music at Yale University and School of Music, and is an associate member of the voice faculty at Rutgers University. She lives in Astoria, Queens with her husband, Benjamin Thorpe.
When and how did you find your voice?
When I was practicing piano as a child, I started singing along with the vocal lines to Shenendoah, Red River Valley, and the other tunes you learn early in your study. After a while I became much more interested in the singing than the playing! My parents took note and helped me to join the San Francisco Girls Chorus when I was 8 years old.
Describe your voice/sound in five words.
This is challenging. Let’s go with clear, warm, lyrical, expressive, and memorable – at least, those are the qualities that I aspire to!
What was the first choral piece you ever performed?
It was an arrangement of We Three Kings for treble voices, and a nice one, at that.
What was your most memorable performance with VoA?
I love singing a cappella Renaissance music with Voices of Ascension, especially around the holidays. The church has such a wonderful acoustic for that repertoire. Likewise for Bach – I vividly recall singing the Saint Matthew Passion with Dennis several years ago, a performance that has stayed with me for a long time.
How has being in New York City influenced your work? How has performing with VoA under the direction of Dr. Keene influenced your work?
NYC has such a high concentration of superb music-making. Working here as a freelance musician – particularly in chamber music – has helped to hone my musicianship skills more every year. This is due both to the rigor and breadth of NYC’s music scene, and to the world-class musicians with whom I work on a regular basis. I count myself very lucky!
Who are some of your favorite composers and musicians from the past and present?
I have always loved Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi. Among my other favorites are Hildegard von Bingen, William Byrd, and Claudio Monteverdi, alongside Vaughan Williams, Harry Burleigh, Hugo Distler, and Margaret Bonds. I enjoy collaborations with living composers – this past year, I had the honor of singing recent (ensemble & solo) works by Tania León, Martha Sullivan, Mason Bates, Alexander Liebermann, Emily Koh, Aaron Siegel, and William Vollinger. Working on new music is a nice complement to early music study, and I especially enjoy the chance to incorporate a diverse range of voices into my work, and to call attention to important causes through projects based on issues of social, economic, and environmental justice.
What influences your voice and what inspires you to continue?
Being a singer calls us to know our bodies well, and to honor our physical and emotional truth every day. In turn, this work calls us to recognize and make peace who and how we are in the world: a profound calling. I find myself continually inspired and challenged by the somatic work of singing – deepening and honing the breath, relaxing and training our muscles, learning how to channel our instincts and remain open-hearted in moments of great vulnerability, and knowing when to let go and trust our physical practice to carry us through. My daily practice in this work leads me to deeper storytelling in music all of the time, and at its most rewarding moments, to a place where I feel able to be a better listener and a more mindful citizen of the world.
Is there a particular choral work, text, or musical passage that never fails to move you emotionally?
Countless. Brahms’ “Wie Lieblich Sind Deine Wohnungen” is a doozy.
What is on the horizon for your work in the next year?
I have been taking more risks as a soloist in the past year or two, and I’m happy to say that has led me to some exciting new projects. This December I’ll be a soloist in Handel’s Messiah with the Fort Street Chorale and Orchestra of Detroit, Michigan, in Britten’s Ceremony of Carols at Saint John the Divine, and I will make my solo debut at Davies Symphony Hall with none other than my first musical family, the San Francisco Girls Chorus. I’ll also be singing Messiah at NYC’s Harvard Club, and in the Bay Area with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus this holiday season.
Early in 2018, my female trio – Trio Eos – will be singing a program inspired by Hildegard von Bingen with the Folger Consort at Washington National Cathedral. We’ll perform her original work alongside several newly writing pieces set to her texts. I’ve a soft spot for Hildegard, as I met my husband through a medieval art and music collaboration in which I was singing her music!
This February, I will join Voices of Ascension and Dark Horse Consort for the Monteverdi Vespers – one of my favorite works in the entire repertoire. I’m very excited about this project, and for the opportunity to collaborate with Dennis and so many wonderful musical colleagues.
What’s your motto or the advice you live by?
My family, my friends, and my daily practice are the centerpieces of my life.
I breath in abundance, and I exhale gratitude.
In a parallel universe, if you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
Teaching yoga or pilates.