[image-1]John Kennedy, Spoleto Festival USA’s conductor and director of orchestral activities, just began one of his favorite yearly projects: putting together the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra.

Comprising mainly graduate students and recent postgraduates from some of the best music schools in the country, like Juilliard, the Curtis Institute, and the University of Indiana at Bloomington, the orchestra is easily the busiest group of performers at the festival each year. Not only do they perform major classical concerts — this year, they’re doing Bach’s epic St. Matthew Passion — they’re also a part of many of the other performances, especially the operas. This year they’ll also be accompanying two silent films, City Lights and Decasia.

Auditions opened in New York last Friday, and will continue in 10 cities around the country. “It’s a real joy to go through this process, as it’s different every year,” Kennedy says.

He and his committee hear between 500 and 600 hopefuls audition in person each year, although many more apply. The process takes about three weeks, but he doesn’t do it all at once. “I’ll do four days, maybe a week at a time,” he says. “Any more and you start to lose your ear.”