With her distinctive voice as maestra, speaker, and poet, Panamanian-American conductor Kalena Bovell has earned praise as “one of the brightest stars in the world of classical music.” (Channel 3 News, Connecticut). Her twin tenets of musical excellence and community access have left their mark on orchestras across North America, and govern her current appointments as Assistant Conductor to the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and Conductor of the Memphis Youth Symphony.
Bovell enjoyed a fruitful 2020 calendar year that included her international conducting debut, leading the Chineke! Orchestra in concert featuring composer Adolfus Hailstork’s “Epitaph for a Man Who Dreamed”—a European premiere. As the arts transitioned to a new post-COVID landscape in 2021, Bovell made her MSO Masterworks subscription debut. Other engagements include a debut performance at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival, concerts with the Louisville Symphony and several other collaborative ventures yet to be announced. As a speaker, she appeared at the Sewanee Winterfest program in January as a guest clinician, joined as a panelist for the SphinxConnect 2021: UNITY Conference, and spoke alongside colleagues for the 2021 International Conductors Guild Virtual Conference.
Since making her professional debut as the Chicago Sinfonietta’s Assistant Conductor in 2015, Bovell went on to hold cover conducting roles with both the St. Louis Symphony and Hartford Symphony before becoming the Music Director at the Civic Orchestra of New Haven for the 2018-2019 season. During her tenure, she not only elevated the musicality of the Civic Orchestra, but also diversified its repertoire and increased the size of its roster. Further, she made her mark on the region through numerous guest conducting appearances, including with the Hartford Opera Theater, conducting two short operas in its annual “New in November” festival.
Prior to her current appointment with the Memphis Symphony, Bovell debuted as 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.
Coming to classical music later than many of her contemporaries, much of Bovell’s artistic philosophy stems from her unorthodox journey to conducting. Though Kalena showed promise as a violinist, a lack of musical resources meant her first private lesson would come at 18 years old. 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.
Now several years into her career on the podium, Bovell has sought to share her unique path to becoming a professional conductor, a topic she has spoken about to 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 was previously named a finalist for the Taki Alsop Conducting Fellowship, a recognition given to talented female leaders in the conducting field. She received a Master of Music and Graduate Performance Diploma in Orchestral Conducting from The Hartt School, where she studied with Edward Cumming, and holds a Bachelor of Music Education from the College of the Performing Arts at Chapman University.
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.