Spoleto Festival USA General Director Nigel Redden Retires After 35 Years

By Chris Ruel

The Spoleto Festival USA General Director Nigel Redden announced his retirement in a statement Thursday, September 24.

Redden cited the cancellation of the 2020 season and “the enforced isolation of the past several months,” as his reasons for departure after 35 years at the Festival’s helm. Redden went on to say, “The Festival continues to mean an enormous amount to me — my first real job was working as a student assistente at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, starting in 1969. I have no doubt the Festival will continue to thrive, and I will be excited to see how the organization evolves under new leadership.”

In his statement, Redden related the joys and memorable moments of his tenure at the Charleston, South Carolina-based festival, including how audiences dedicated their time to “The Peony Pavilion” — and 18 ½-hour-long opera sung entirely in Chinese and hearing such artists as Renée Fleming and Joshua Bell at the beginning of their careers.

Redden returned as general director of Spoleto USA in 1995 after serving as the Festival’s general manager from 1986 to 1991. Redden served as executive director of the Santa Fe Opera from 1991 to 1995 and lead the Lincoln Center Festival as director from 1998 to 2017.

Prior to rejoining the Festival in 1995, the organization was saddled with a deficit of $3.5 million. Redden has righted the ship, leading it out of perilous financial waters. The Festival currently has an endowment of $16 million, along with real estate holdings that include a theater, scene shop, and Festival headquarters.

Bill Medich, Chairman of the Board of Spoleto Festival USA, stated, “Nigel Redden has been an inspirational leader for the Festival. Under his leadership, Spoleto has become known as America’s premier performing arts festivals, fulfilling its mission each ear to present the best possible program while contributing to the development of young artists and proving a commitment to all forms of the performing arts. He has demonstrated an incredible talent for bringing together important stakeholders, including artists, arts administrators, volunteers, donors, the City of Charleston, and the College of Charleston — all necessary to produce the Festival.”

Festival Resident Conductor and Director of Orchestral Activities John Kennedy praised Redden for his dedication to the artists and the Festival’s home city. “Nigel has brought the Festival a perspective rooted in a love for Charleston and a love for the arts. In addition to his broad and general view of the arts can be, he possesses a deep knowledge of history and global culture, which has an enduring impact on Spoleto’s programming and ethos. He is an unfailing ally of artists, encouraging us to take chances and placing faith in our dreams.”

Spoleto Festival USA was founded in 1977 and is a 17-day performing arts festival in Charleston, SC. The showcases leading artists in classical and popular music, opera, jazz, dance, and theater. Its 2021 season is scheduled to run from May 28 to June 13.