Merton alumnus named as next Director of major US performing arts festival

Alumnus Mena Mark Hanna is set to become the next General Director of Spoleto Festival USA, one of America's major performing arts festivals, which runs across 17 days each spring.

Talking about his new role at the festival, which has just finished its 45th season, Mena says:

"The job of the curator, the job of the producer, is to take existing works and draw from them meaning that gives us insight into our contemporary condition; to produce works of art that can give us a glimpse of the impossible and endow the audience with a newness and comprehension they did not have before they took their seats. This is what I want to do at Spoleto Festival USA."

Mena is currently Professor of Musicology and Composition at the Barenboim-Said Akademie, the Berlin music conservatory named after the conductor Daniel Barenboim, founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and the Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said. Previously he was Assistant Artistic Director at the Houston Grand Opera, and a Visiting Scholar in Musicology at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.

Describing his time at Merton—he matriculated in 2006 to study for an MSt in Musicology and a DPhil in Music Composition and Critical Writing—Mena says:

"My time at Merton, and Oxford more generally, was profoundly formative for me. I was surrounded by brilliant people who were deeply passionate about their chosen vocations, and everyone had an insatiable curiosity. It was there that I really learned about the world outside of music: about film, literature, art, math, the future, the past, and the universe."

Mena has spoken forcefully about what he describes as the legacies of colonialism, orientalism and racism that persist in classical music and opera - for example in Verdi's Aida - but believes the arts and culture can play an important role in bridging our differences and helping us to develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. Alicia Gregory, the President of the Board of Spoleto Festival USA, says:

“Mena possesses a depth of knowledge and experience across artistic genres, and also understands and is passionate about the power of artistic expression to bring people together.”

Mena will take up his position in October at the South Carolina-based arts group responsible for the annual festival.