With her distinctive voice as maestra, speaker, and poet, critics praise Panamanian-American conductor Kalena Bovell as “one of the brightest stars in classical music.” (Channel 3 News, Connecticut).
Her twin tenets of musical excellence and community access have left an imprint on orchestras across North America, including recognition as a 2022-2024 Awardee of the Taki Alsop Conducting Fellowship. Bovell, highly in demand as a guest conductor, continues to implement these values as Assistant Conductor to the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and Conductor of the Memphis Youth Symphony.
Bovell’s 2022-2023 season features a bevy of exciting conducting debuts, including her opera debut in Volcano Theatre, where she will lead a reimagined production of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha. September 2022 sees Bovell return to the international stage with the Musikkollegium Winterthur–marking her first performance in Switzerland. To open 2023, Bovell makes her Sphinx debut at SphinxConnect 2023: Impact, followed by debuts with the Albany Symphony and Louisiana Philharmonic. Residencies this season include UC Redlands in California as well as the Harmony Project in Los Angeles in February 2023.
In recent years, Bovell has led numerous marquee performances, including at the BBC Proms with the Chineke! Orchestra, the Louisville Orchestra, and the at Kennedy Center’s “Reframing the Narrative” with the Collage Dance Collective in Kevin Thomas’s Firebird. Reviewing her BBC performance, ArtsDesk stated simply: “Never let her go.” She is also quickly becoming a mainstay on the North American festival circuit, conducting at the Summer Orchestra Institute at New England Conservatory, and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival in 2022. Outside conducting, Bovell’s poem, “Tethered Voices,” also premiered the same year, set to music by James Lees III and performed by the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra. She additionally made speaking appearances at Sewanee Winterfest and the SphinxConnect 2021: UNITY Conference.
After making her professional debut as the Chicago Sinfonietta’s Assistant Conductor in 2015, Bovell held cover conducting roles with the St. Louis Symphony and Hartford Symphony. However, her 2018-2019 appointment as the Music Director at the Civic Orchestra of New Haven would serve as a first marker of Bovell’s potential. There, she elevated Civic Orchestra’s musicality and the diversity of its repertoire, all while increasing the size of its roster. Further, she made her mark on the region through numerous guest conducting appearances, including Hartford Opera Theater, leading two short operas in its annual “New in November” festival. Prior to her current appointment with the Memphis Symphony, Bovell debuted as a guest conductor in a memorable 2019 performance with Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr. Her relationship with the MSO dates back to 2016, when she served as Assistant Conductor for former Music Director Mei-Ann Chen’s farewell concerts.
Much of Bovell’s artistic philosophy stems from her relatively delayed entry to the classical music world. Though Kalena showed promise as a violinist, a lack of musical resources meant her first private lesson would come at 18. Her experience far behind the typical conservatory-trained musician, Kalena found a new home as a conductor, and worked six jobs to fund the many plane tickets, workshops, and conducting lessons required to excel. Hoping to inspire younger musicians, Bovell shares this unique journey to professional conducting as often as possible. Among those who have heard her story are the BBC, the League of American Orchestras, Tennessee Music Education Association, and the III International Women Conductor’s Symposium, among many other radio, webinar, and podcast appearances.
A Los Angeles native, Bovell received a Master of Music and Graduate Professional Diploma in Orchestral Conducting from The Hartt School, where she studied with Edward Cumming. She holds a Bachelor of Music Education from the College of the Performing Arts at Chapman University, which honored her as a Distinguished Alumni in 2021.
In addition to conducting, Bovell is a published author, releasing her first poetry book titled “Dear Soul…” in 2009. She has increasingly interwoven her poetry with her music career, collaborating with Rob McClure’s Conductor Cam series in 2020 to perform her poem “Tethered Voices”.
Kalena makes her home in Memphis, Tennessee, where she enjoys cooking, writing poetry, weight training, and trying new pizza places.