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Conductor Kellen Gray returns home for ‘The Nutcracker’
Rock Hill native leads Charlotte Symphony classic
Published Wednesday, December 11, 2019 11:15 am
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Charleston Symphony assistant conductor Kellen Gray, a native of Rock Hill, returns home to lead the Charlotte Symphony for “The Nutcracker” through Dec. 23 at Belk Theater.

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Beekeeping led Kellen Gray back to music.

The Rock Hill, South Carolina native and assistant conductor of the Charleston Symphony went from life as a professional violinist to a beekeeper during a sabbatical from music. Yet the sweet song of bees brought him back to music in a different capacity.

“I got into conducting as a transition from being a professional violinist,” Gray said. “I played in many orchestras around Georgia and South Carolina. When I came back into music as a violinist and started working in orchestras again, I really had a different perspective on music because I had a different perspective on life. Much like a beehive is its own super organism, the orchestra kind of works the same way. When I sat in the orchestra again, things seemed so different. It was much harder for me to focus on just my part in front of me, and I was so much more focused on the global picture. That planted the seed of conducting in my mind.”

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Gray reached out to conductor Howard Hsu at the Valdosta Symphony in Georgia to seek training for conducting auditions.

“A couple days later, his assistant conductor had to move back home to Korea,” Gray said. “Hsu asked if I might be willing to come study with him at the local university, and therefore work for him at the Valdosta Symphony. I went and did my master’s degree at Valdosta State University, while also working as assistant conductor of the Valdosta Symphony.”

Gray’s journey took him from Chicago to Charleston.

Now he is closer to home for the season. Gray is bringing the holiday classic “The Nutcracker” to life with Charlotte Ballet and the Charlotte Symphony, whose production runs through Dec. 23 at Belk Theater.

“The Charlotte Symphony is sort of my hometown orchestra,” Gray said. “My first classical music concert was a MLK concert that the Charlotte Symphony put on decades ago. I probably would have been in elementary school at the time.”

As a child, Gray would listen to Tchaikovsky’s score on vinyl. Now, he dictates the way the story flows, serving as a conduit between dancers and musicians.

“As the conductor, you’re the middle person between what is happening in the pit and on the stage,” Gray said. “We have such a fabulous and flexible orchestra that they are able to accommodate just about anything we need to do.”


Excellent article. My nephew Kellen has put in the work and now it is finally paying off. Keep grinding and success will truly come your way.
Posted on December 12, 2019

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