Keynote Speech – Leading from the Pit


Dr. Carolyn Watson (Director of Orchestral Studies, University of Kansas)


Karen Kamensek (Conductor)
Lidiya Yankovskaya (Music Director, Chicago Opera Theater & Artistic Director, Refugee Orchestra Project)



Karen Kamensek’s remarkable versatility and expansive artistry, coupled with her deep commitment to championing many of the leading compositional voices of the 20th and 21st century, is reflected in her work in both the opera house and on the concert stage. Recently, she made her long-awaited Metropolitan Opera debut with Glass’ Akhnaten—a production, under her direction, that won the coveted Olivier Award in London—as well as debuts with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra and the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra conducting works by Pépin and Takemitsu, respectively.

Ms. Kamensek served as the Music Director of the Staatsoper Hannover from 2011-2016. She has also served as the 1st Kapellmeister at the Volksoper Wien, Music Director of the Theater Freiburg, and Associate Music Director at Staatsoper Hamburg (2008-2011). Frequently in demand as a guest conductor with many of today’s most prominent opera companies and orchestras, Ms. Kamensek’s recent opera highlights include her debut and return performances with the English National Opera in Glass’ Akhnaten; her debut with the San Francisco Opera conducting a new production of Floyd’s Susannah with soprano Patricia Racette; and the Royal Swedish Opera’s production of Victoria Borisova-Ollas’ Dracula.


Russian-American conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya is a fiercely committed advocate for Russian masterpieces, operatic rarities, and contemporary works on the leading edge of classical music. As Music Director of Chicago Opera Theater, Ms. Yankovskaya has led the Chicago premieres of Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick, Rachmaninov’s Aleko, Joby Talbot’s Everest, Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta, and the world premiere of Dan Shore’s Freedom Ride. Elsewhere, she has recently conducted Don Giovanni at Seattle Opera, Pia de’ Tolomei at Spoleto Festival USA, Il barbiere di Siviglia at Wolf Trap Opera, Ellen West at New York’s Prototype Festival, and the world premiere of Taking Up Serpents at Washington National Opera. An alumna of the Dallas Opera’s Hart Institute for Women Conductors and the Taki Alsop Conducting Fellowship, Ms. Yankovskaya received a Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award in 2018. Upcoming debuts include Dallas Opera, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Glimmerglass Festival, Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, Houston Grand Opera, and Opera Seville.



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