Elizabeth Askren Named Hawai'i Opera Theatre's Inaugural Principal Guest Conductor

Conductor, educator, and cultural activist Elizabeth Askren has been named the first-ever Principal Guest Conductor of Hawai'i Opera Theatre (HOT).

By: Feb. 26, 2024
Elizabeth Askren Named Hawai'i Opera Theatre's Inaugural Principal Guest Conductor
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Conductor, educator, and cultural activist Elizabeth Askren has been named the first-ever Principal Guest Conductor of Hawai'i Opera Theatre (HOT).

A master teacher at both The Dallas Opera's Hart Institute for Women Conductors and at the Paris Opera's Academy, Askren made history by judging the Paris Philharmonic's inaugural La Maestra Competition for Women Conductors alongside her mentor, Marin Alsop. Askren is also the Founder and Artistic Director of Transylvanian Opera Academy (TOA), Romania's first opera studio and is regularly invited to speak about leadership, culture-preneurship, inclusivity, and cultivating humanity in the age of AI. 

HOT, founded in 1961 as a division of the Honolulu Symphony Society and incorporated in 1980, has served to enhance the quality of life in Hawaiʻi by presenting opera performances and education programs of the highest standards. Celebrating over 60 years as the only professional opera company in Hawaiʻi, HOT is one of the largest performing arts organizations in the state with performances and education presentations on all of the major islands.

Elizabeth Askren first came to the attention of HOT when searching for a conductor for their 2022 production of Nolan Gasser and librettist Carey Harrison's opera, The Secret Garden. HOT's General Director, Andrew Morgan, has made a priority of seeking diversity for cast and creative teams, including increased opportunities for female conductors and stage directors.  

Of Askren's appointment, Morgan says, “We needed someone who not only has experience with contemporary works but is also sensitive to singers' needs and with a nurturing approach, since HOT typically engages younger singers. From the very first rehearsal – and even prior to her arrival – we knew we had found someone completely in command of the score, with a broad and deep knowledge of opera as an artform, and a collegial attitude that put everyone at ease in rehearsals and performances, coupled with extremely high artistic standards.” 

"After Maestra Askren's debut with HOT, we knew instantly that we wanted to build a relationship with her by looking for future projects. We knew that she would be the perfect fit,” added Artistic Director Jamie Offenbach. 

Askren shares, “Sometimes there is a chemistry between an artist and a house which is immediate and undeniable. In a post-pandemic atmosphere of doom and gloom, HOT continues to innovate and lead with heart, with a deep love of the craft, and who treats their artists with respect. They are a company which epitomizes grace under pressure and are a wonderful example of an opera company serving its public. For all of these reasons, I am honored to collaborate with HOT under a new title: that of Principal Guest Conductor.”

Askren was recently in Honolulu, where she led performances of Ruggiero Leoncavallo's masterpiece, Pagliacci, at the Blaisdell Arena on February 16 and 18, 2024, directed by HOT Artistic Director Jamie Offenbach. 

More About Elizabeth Askren

Askren performs regularly with leading opera houses and orchestras throughout North America and Europe. Last season she made mainstage debuts with The Dallas Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, Hawaii Opera Theatre and Opéra de Dijon to great acclaim. Askren opened the 2023/2024 season with back-to-back productions of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro at New Orleans Opera and Portland Opera, before returning to Hawai'i Opera Theatre to conduct Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. She is the Music Director of composer Paola Prestini and poet Brenda Shaughnessey's Sensorium Ex, a Ford Foundation-funded multi-modal arts project produced by VisionIntoArt and Beth Morrison Projects which explores issues at the intersection of AI, disability, and the human voice.

Askren holds degrees in piano and conducting from The Juilliard School, Oberlin Conservatory, and the Conducting Institute of Bard in the United States, as well as the Schola Cantorum, the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, and the Romanian National Academy of Music “Gheorghe Dima'' in Europe. Her musical mentors include conductors Marin Alsop and Lorin Maazel, along with pianists Byron Janis and Sergio Perticaroli. She was awarded the highest teaching diplomas from both the French Ministry of Culture (VAE, certificat d'aptitude en direction d'ensembles orchestrales) and the Romanian Ministry of Education (PhD, magna cum laude).  She received administrative training from Harvard's Kennedy School, Christie's Education, and Paris' Cité de la Musique.

When not performing abroad, Askren divides her time between New York, Paris and Transylvania. An enthusiastic contributor to her local communities, she has served on numerous educational and philanthropic boards, and consults for nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and Europe. Askren is also creator and host of the children's edutainment series MaestraMagic!, a multimedia production combining live action, animation and puppets in a program compared to Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, and Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts. Learn more at www.elizabethaskren.com

*Photo Credit: Olivier Koning



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