Honoring a maestro’s legacy

CSU Director of Orchestras, Wes Kenney, will retire in Spring 2023.
CSU Director of Orchestras, Wes Kenney, will retire in Spring 2023.

How do you build a legacy? It starts with an illustrious music career, includes working with young people, and finishes with creating a scholarship to support student musicians.

That is the legacy of Maestro Wes Kenney, who is retiring this spring after 20 years of conducting at CSU.

Besides his comprehensive and excellent work at CSU, Maestro Kenney is also involved in the community as music director of the Fort Collins Symphony and director of the Denver Young Artists Orchestra.

Many honors have been bestowed on Kenney, from the 2007 Grand Prize Varna (Bulgaria) International Conducting Competition to the 2020 Honored Artist by the American Prize. In 2022, Kenney was named a Colorado State University Distinguished Professor, a select group recognized as “role models for emulation.”

Thinking over his time at CSU, Kenney notes that what stands out most is the repertoire the orchestra has learned and performed over the years, including Gustav Mahler’s symphonies 1, 3, 5 and 7; Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring; and Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé Suite No.2, plus the addition of BIPOC and DEI ideals within the programming. He is particularly proud of his time as a founding master teacher of the Summer Master of Music Education in Conducting program, which has graduated more than 75 working music educators worldwide since 2007.

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A Monumental Close

Join us on May 4 and May 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the University Center for the Arts as we celebrate Maestro Wes Kenney’s retirement with a performance of Mahler’s gigantic Symphony No. 3. This virtuosic work concludes with what quite possibly is Mahler’s view of heaven. The concert features the CSU Symphony, CSU Choirs, CSU faculty Nicole Asel as mezzo-soprano soloist, and the Centennial Children’s Choir. Tickets are available at csuartstickets.com.

The Colorado State University Theatre program and the Colorado State University Orchestra collaborate in the production of "Every Good Boy Deserves Favor," April 12, 2005.
The Colorado State University Theatre program and the Colorado State University Orchestra collaborate in the production of "Every Good Boy Deserves Favor," April 12, 2005.

When Maestro Kenney started his career at CSU in 2003, the University Center for the Arts facility was not yet a reality. The unique, multi-faceted, spaces now available in the facility enhance the possibility of collaborations among the arts faculty. One of those memorable collaborations was the “Justin Bieber/Rap” for the annual Halloween Organ Extravaganza with organ faculty member Joel Bacon.

“Every time I walk into the UCA, I’m proud of being in a world-class facility that includes one of the best concert halls in Colorado,” Kenney said.

Kenney’s love and admiration for his fellow faculty, staff and students is evident.

“The entire applied teaching staff is recruiting and teaching at a level that has made so much of the orchestra’s performances over the past two decades possible,” Kenney said.

Wes Kenney headshot
Wes Kenney, director of CSU Orchestras

As he prepares to walk off the stage and out the UCA doors for the last time, he feels particularly rewarded by the number of former students that have contacted him to wish him well and have made an effort to perform in his final concert.

Kenney most hopes that his students emulate his work ethic.

“In 20 years, I’ve never taken a sick day or missed a single day of teaching,” Kenney said. “There is a tremendous amount of prep prior to going into a rehearsal. Ninety-five percent of the job is preparation and five percent is on the podium.”

Kenney’s aspirations for his students’ futures do not stop there. Teachers often hope their students surpass them at some point in their careers. Kenney is no exception and hopes that his students go on to surpass him in their ability to treat everyone with sympathy, tolerance and kindness.

“If one can have a career in conducting, or even just music, and have those who knew them put on their tombstone, ‘this person was a Mensch,’ it would be an honor to know that this is what I brought to the students,” Kenney said.

While he said he won’t miss working in a building without coffee service, he will miss working with such supportive staff.

Leslie Stewart
Leslie Stewart, Director of the CSU Concert Orchestra, will retire in Spring 2023.

“I have been continually inspired by everyone who teaches, learns, and creates art in our building,” Kenney said. “I have told the CSU Symphony members on many occasions that there is nothing better than seeing young people ‘getting’ a masterpiece for the first time, and there is no other place I’d like to be than helping them achieve that. This, in a nutshell, has been my gift from CSU for the last two decades.”

Nothing builds legacy like the desire to pay it forward. Along with his wife, Leslie Stewart, a fellow faculty instructor and conductor of the Concert Orchestra, Wes Kenney’s radiance will continue to shine long after his retirement with the establishment of the Kenney/Schwartz Graduate Performance String Scholarship Endowment.

Legacy through scholarship

Gifts to the Kenney/Schwartz Graduate Performance String Scholarship Endowment provide scholarship support for Colorado State University Graduate String Quartet members and select graduate bass players, who are also provided the opportunity to play in a professional ensemble with the Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra. Wes Kenney and Leslie Stewart established this scholarship endowment in 2019 to honor the legacy of former CSU and Fort Collins Symphony maestro, Will Schwartz, and the connection between the two organizations.

During Will Schwartz’s tenure with the Fort Collins Symphony, he regularly invited CSU students to join the orchestra. In 2003, shortly after Schwartz’s retirement, Kenney was selected in a joint search between the University and the symphony as the director of CSU Orchestras and music director of the Fort Collins Symphony.

The Graduate String Quartet program has provided essential leadership for the CSU Symphony and has drawn top string students from national and international universities. Following Maestro Kenney’s retirement from CSU, this scholarship will offer outstanding musicians studying at CSU the opportunity to play with a professional orchestra.

In celebration of their retirement, Wes and Leslie invite others to continue this legacy by making a gift to the scholarship endowment which will provide increased support for graduate strings players for years to come.

Interested donors may give to the Kenney/Schwartz Graduate Performance String Scholarship Endowment here.


Chair of the Department of Music and associate professor Michelle Stanley said, “Wes has a great memory for the great moments. He reminds me of all the wonderful concerts and the memorable performances we’ve experienced on stage together. It’s important to remind us of the impact of music and the audiences who were moved by the performances. I hope to remember the music-making like he does.”

After a CSU major donor event at the Lory Student Center, where the CSU Symphony hid behind a curtain during dinner, only to be revealed to the astonished audience, then CSU President Tony Frank said, “Note to the next president, don’t follow the orchestra.” There is pride in Kenney’s voice when he notes that the CSU Symphony represents just about every major on campus. His legacy spans his department, the CSU campus, the Fort Collins community, and students past, present, and future. Bravo, Maestro!