Executive & Artistic Director
John Kilkenny is a percussionist, conductor, and artistic leader who is rewriting the rules of a classical music career. John has served as Artistic and Executive Director of the Sewanee Summer Music Festival, in 2018. During this tenure, the festival has seen a 30% increase in enrollment, a 147% increase in annual giving, two new endowment gifts, and a vast expansion of artistic and educational programs. As part of this expansion, In January 2021, the Sewanee Music Festival launched its first-ever WinterFest. Offered digitally, this groundbreaking new program focused on career development, community engagement, performance practice, and in-depth study of orchestral and symphonic literature. In 2022 Sewanee Summer Music Festival will become the Sewanee Music Center, overseeing the Summer Festival and the University Performing Arts Series. In total, the Music Center will reach thousands of participants and patrons annually through both in person and online programming.
Artistically, The SSMF has shone brightly during John’s tenure. In recent seasons, the festival has commissioned or premiered new works by Avner Dorman, Alejandro Vinao, Jorge Variego, Adolphus Hailstork, and Timothy K. Adams, Jr. The 2023 festival will premiere a new work for voice and chamber ensemble by acclaimed composer Shawn Okpebholo. In 2019 the festival added a two week string academy, and in 2021 launched OperaFest Sewanee. Guest conductors have included Robert Moody, JoAnn Falletta, Gemma New, Kalena Bovell, Jacomo Bairos, Jeffery Grogan, Andrew Crust, and Janna Hymes. A committed and inclusive leader, John has worked with his colleagues at the festival to build deep and meaningful relationships with a number of Musical Pathways programs, resulting in one of the most diverse student populations of any summer program.Hailed as a “particularly fine timpanist” by the Washington Post, John maintains a dynamic career as a soloist, orchestral, and chamber musician. Recent concerto performances include the Philip Glass Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists, Michael Daugherty’s Raise the Roof, and UFO percussion concerto, and Viet Cuong’s Re(NEW)al concerto for quartet and orchestra. His orchestral work includes regular engagements with virtually every symphony and opera company in the DC region.For 15 years, John was Director of Percussion Studies and Associate Professor at George Mason University. The Mason percussion group, which John founded, has performed all over the world, including tours of Costa Rica, scheduled tours of China, and clinic performances at the Virginia Music Educators, New York State Music Educators Western International Band Conference, The College Music Society mid-Atlantic and National Convention, and twice at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention.Recognized internationally as an engaging and thoughtful clinician, John has enjoyed the unique opportunity to work with gifted young musicians at a wide range of institutions, including the Eastman School of Music, the Shepherd School at Rice University, The University of Michigan, The Juilliard Pre-College, Interlochen School for the Arts, University of Tennessee, University of North Carolina, The National Institute of Music in San Jose Costa Rica, The University of Costa Rica, and the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. He has presented a regular series of workshops for the percussion students at New York University for several years.John studied conducting with Anthony Maiello and began early percussion training with Jonathan Haas and William Richards. He went on to receive his bachelor’s degree at the Juilliard School under the tutelage of Greg Zuber and Daniel Druckman. He completed a Master’s Degree at Temple University, where he studied with legendary percussionist Alan Abel. Additional studies include management and leadership training at the Devos Institute at the Kennedy Center, The Fundraising Standard, and The Harvard Business School online. Starting in March 2021, John assumed the role of Executive Director of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, alongside his continued work at Sewanee.
Manager of Marketing & Admissions
Anna Burklin holds a B.A. in Music from the University of the South where she received the Gilchrist Award for distinction in performance. She focused on Vocal Performance and performed in a cappella, jazz, and choir ensembles as well as solo and duo as part of the voice studio. Anna earned her M.A. in Arts Management in 2021 from George Mason University, where she served as the Arts Management Program’s Graduate Assistant and held internship and staff positions at George Mason’s Center for the Arts Hospitality and Marketing Departments. Anna was awarded the Erin Gaffney Memorial Award for contributions to the Department and the field of Arts Management. Anna has worked for the Sewanee Summer Music Festival in many capacities since 2017 and is now excited to serve as the Festival’s Manager of Marketing & Admissions.
Development & Community Relations Coordinator
Jesse-Katharine Owens was born in Cape Town, South Africa. She moved to Sewanee, Tennessee where her mother and father both attended the University of the South. Jesse attended Sewanee before moving to Chattanooga to work as a paralegal for South Tennessee Legal Services. Jesse attended the National Outdoor Leadership School where she spent three months in India working with women’s self-help groups. She then flew to Cape Town, South Africa for 3 months where she tutored young children in the neighborhood in which she grew up. After her time abroad, Jesse moved to Athens, GA to finish her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Piedmont University where she graduated with honors. Jesse joined the Sewanee Summer Music Festival as the Office Programs Specialist in 2021 and since then has been promoted to the position of Development & Community Relations Coordinator.
Office Programs Specialist
Robert Esposito, originally from Long Island, New York, has a background in instrumental performance and music education. He earned his degree in Music Education from George Mason University in 2019. While at Mason, he won the Mason Wind Symphony Concerto competition, and was a participant in the Wind Symphony Annual Conductors concert. Robert taught elementary music in Loudoun County Virginia, and was a regular freelancer in the NOVA/DC area. He was a student at SSMF from 2018-2021, and served 2 years as an orchestral fellow. He became the Cumberland Orchestra manager for SSMF in 2022. Robert is now excited to serve as the festival’s Office Programs Specialist.