When I moved from Europe to Berkeley, in 1986, I quickly discovered that the cultural-artistic heart of the „intellectual village" was beating on campus, between Zellerbach Hall, Hertz Hall and the Greek Theater. At the very edge of the continent, Berkeley was connected with an artistic navel string to the rest of the world, thanks to Cal Performances. Everybody who was anybody, to quote Gertrude Stein, was coming to town: world musicians like Ravi Shankar and classical virtuosi like Yo-Yo Ma; chamber musicians like the Kronos Quartet; opera divas like Cecilia Bartoli and Renée Fleming; folk or Fado stars like Cesaria Evoria and Mariza; classical ballet companies like The Kirov and the New York City Ballet; modern dance choreographers like Mark Morris, Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey, Bill T. Jones; performance artists like Laurie Anderson and Robert Lepage; theater companies like Dublin's Gate Theater, Milan's Piccolo Teatro, and the Berliner Ensemble...
A sense of being connected to the world: there was something magically disproportionate in the smallness of this university town and the huge international cultural program that rolled off season after season on campus. It took me a while to understand that filling and refilling this cornucopia every year was the goal and ambition of one person in particular, who had entered the scene as the new director the same year I arrived: Robert Cole. It was his vision to offer this vast spectrum of culture, serving artistic performances for everyone's taste and predilection, whether it was American avantgarde composers, circus performers from China, folkloristic dance troupes from Africa and Hawaii, or European mock-classical dance companies like Les Ballets Trockadero.
Coming from both a musical and managerial background, Cole had grown up in California, studied conducting (with Leonard Bernstein in Tanglewood, for example), and worked with diverse orchestras, ballet and opera companies on both sides of the continent (at times following in Michael Tilson Thomas's footsteps). He must have kept his Californian pioneer spirit intact for under his stewardship, Cal Performances made a big leap forward into an adventurous future. It grew from an organization under the helm of one brave visionary, Betty Connors, with an annual budget of $ 4 million for 45 yearly events and a staff of sometimes just one, to one of today's top-ranking arts presenters, with a $ 15,5 million budget, 130 performances, a full-time staff of 68, a part-time staff of 110 and more than 200 volunteers.
When you looked at the programming closely it was clear that the new administrator saw himself essentially as an educator for his audience. In 1990, Cole founded the Berkeley Festival and Exhibition of early music; in 2003 he established the Berkeley Edge Fest for the international new music scene. Early on, he expanded Cal Performances' arts education for schools and on campus and extended his directorship to the Student Musical Activities program. He even took his baton to the extracurricular music activities of UC's Cal Band, the UC Jazz Ensemble and UC Choral Ensembles.
In his passion for cultural education, Cole also had a way of spotting exceptional talent in the bud. He fostered collaborations and forged personal relationships with artists and performers who saw their careers launched thanks to Cole's willingness to take artistic risks. He consistently commissioned new works from them, forging national and international alliances in order to produce „events." Dancer and choreographer Mark Morris is one of the stellar examples of this personal collaboration and attachment.
Morris returns every season not only with new commissioned works in dance or opera, but his tongue-in-cheek version of the Nutcracker, The Hard Nut, has grown into a solid Berkeley tradition, including Cole himself in the orchestra pit. Other examples of remarkably sustained collaborations and a shared spirit of invention are composer John Adams with theater and opera director Peter Sellers, or Merce Cunningham and his Dance Company with many American and world premieres over the course of the years.
I once had the privilege of seeing Robert Cole at work. I was part of a big Cal Performance project, when German expressionist dance theater maker Pina Bausch came to California with her Wuppertal Tanztheater to create a commissioned piece on the theme of California. I had written an introduction to her work for San Francisco Focus Magazine and was part of the welcome committee for the notoriously shy and monosyllabic dance theater creator. I watched Bausch thawing in the jovial, warm company of Cole, and witnessed how his famous gifts of a raconteur transformed her into an equally ardent storyteller. I understood the degree to which the success of a big enterprise like Cal Performances is made up of individual, special connections between director and artist, built on mutual recognition as well as pacts of enthusiasm, trust and loyalty.
The 2006 season celebrated 100 years of Cal Performances – a proud fulfillment of the promise of its beginnings in 1906, when Sarah Bernhardt appeared as Phedra in Racine's verse drama Phèdre, in the UC's Greek Theater. After the star-studded centenary celebrations Cole announced his retirement for the end of the 2008-2009 season. „There has to be an end to everything," the director (who is in his mid-seventies and still works non-stop seven days a week) declared with obvious regret. For the last time, this season, audiences will see Robert Cole walk up and down the aisle before a new program or premiere is unveiled — a slender man with the quiet, knowing smile of a magician who is certain of the spell that will be cast the moment the curtain goes up.
One of the highlights of his last spectacular season is once again opera's beloved Cecilia Bartoli.
Although Bartoli hates crossing the Atlantic, she has come again to sing in Berkeley where one person once recognized her talent and engaged her before the rest of the world caught on.
No wonder audiences have grown ten-fold since Cole took over. No wonder UC Berkeley's Chancellor Robert J. Bergeneau commented on his tenure: „The University community has been the recipient of Robert's impeccable artistic judgment, and because of it, we have all grown in our understanding and appreciation of the world." When we look back to this almost quarter-century of cultural riches, asking how it was possible, how many qualities had to come together in one person to make this happen, we only need to look at the job description that Cal Performances has put out in order to find a worthy successor:
"The Director of Cal Performances provides the overall artistic vision, executive leadership, direction and management for the organization and ensures that Cal Performances achieves its goals for artistic excellence, financial stability, audience development, and community engagement. Supported by a strong senior staff, the Director is responsible and accountable for all aspects of the operation, including planning: programming; marketing and public relations; budgeting and financial management; board development; fundraising; facilities; and human resource management. The Director represents Cal Performances within the University and with external communities..."
I talked to Robert Cole about his past 23 years, his best and worst memories, the essence of his vision of a culture of education, and the future of Cal Performances.
Q: Everyone agrees with Mark Morris who said it's unthinkable that you are leaving: you have to stay forever! How could anybody possibly step into your shoes? This succession is nearly as dramatic as the succession story of Bayreuth.
Robert (laughs): Well, there are not two granddaughters here! Nobody can step into my shoes. But somebody should bring new shoes. New shoes with good ideas!
Q: Could it be high heels?
Sure, that would be great.
Q: What does your huge success with Cal Performances have to do with Berkeley and its university? Could it have happened in Stanford, for ex?
Well, yes. But it would have been very different because of the different nature of our venues. Cecilia (Bartoli) could have sung there because they have a nice concert hall. We have a very wonderful theater here (Zellerbach Hall), a multi-purpose theater which can be used for all kinds of different performances, like the Bolschoi Theater or Pina Bausch. It's a much more flexible space.
Q: What role did the university play in this success story?
What we have been able to do here was enhanced in particular by our good relationship with the Department of Music. It allowed us to do terrific projects, like the 17th century Horse Ballet, in 2000, with music professor Kate van Orden. A very big deal. And most recently a faculty member, David Moroney, conducted the lost 16th century mass "Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno," by Striggio – a manuscript from 400 years ago which he had discovered and which had never been played in all this time. He first did it for Proms in London and then he did it here for the early-music festival, last year. It was a huge success. So it was this relationship that allowed me to carry out some of my goals.
Q: Wasn't there also a story about the math department?
When pianist Christopher Taylor played all of the Ligeti Etudes, all of them from memory, one or two guys who ran the Mathematical Institute and were very interested in music brought the entire department with them! But preceding that, some years earlier we had Ligeti here in person. We did the American premiere of his etudes – at that time he had eight of them — and it was like a rock concert, because it was totally sold out here at Hertz Hall. Years later, Christopher played all the etudes, 12 by then, and as he had been a mathematician himself he followed the concert with a lecture at the Institute.
Q: Have there been other surprising connections with the UC?
There is Mark Griffith, a wonderful faculty member in classical studies and ancient Greek, who right now is also in charge of the Department of Dance and Theater. When we brought the National Theater of Greece to Berkeley for the 100th anniversary of our Greek Theater, they played Medea in the Greek Theater and Mark gave a terrific talk beforehand. Everyone loved it. It added a very special meaning to have UC's top scholar in this field as part of the show with his pre-performance lecture !
Q: Were you driven by a competition – with Lincoln Center or Brooklyn's Academy of Music, for example?
It's really more admiration — for Harvey Lichtenstein, for what he did at BAM. My background, of course, my career and training were in conducting, but I also conducted for dance companies, and so I had my other foot there. And these dance companies, by the way, were directed by two famous Russian dancers from the Ballets Russes, so my background goes back to the Ballet Russes! They were running this small company in LA and I made it bigger because I wanted to conduct, so they made me the managing director and music director of the Ballet Society of Los Angeles and I started conducting ballet. Then I was with the Buffalo Philharmonic and with the opera house in Poughkeepsie, and I much admired Harvey Lichtenstein. I think he is this country's number one arts presenter.
Q: I would say you are twins…
(Laughs) I am younger than he is! But, yes we are twins. Our taste goes in the same direction. I saw how he made something out of nothing. I mean, Brooklyn – nobody would go there. The Academy of Music was just a building and nobody went there. I watched him and I thought, yeah, I can do that, this is what I am trained in and what I understand and I have that kind of taste. But his program is different…
Q: It's much narrower than yours.
That's because of the facilities we have. There is no place like Cal Performances, in NY or any place else, or even in Europe. I wanted to serve a very broad audience, no boundaries, all colors. I wanted to do recitals, concerts, world music, you name it , anything that is performance arts. New music, old music, dance, whatever– the only thing we don't do is Broadway musicals. Somebody else does that in San Francisco and we didn't want to do what someone else was already doing better!
Q: Let's talk about some of your amazing discoveries of superstars when nobody here had noticed them yet. I think of Cecilia Bartoli: how did that happen?
I always say, if you want to be successful in this business you've got to BE there, you've got to be in the business. I went to see an opera and I was very friendly with the director – Terence (A. McEwen). I was less busy then and did go to the opera. I saw my very first opera there as I grew up in San Jose and as a teenager used to go the San Francisco opera. So I got to know a number of people there, and one day someone introduced me to Jack Mastroianni, who had been a fundraiser for Houston Grand Opera and was just starting out in his own business as a manager. He told me he had this young soprano and I said, okay, let's hear it, and he gave me something, a tape, I guess. So it happened here at the opera house. As I know from most of my colleagues, they don't go to the opera and never meet people like that. He gave me a tape and I heard it and I called him immediately and said, let's do it.
Q: You are still doing it in your final season – with soprano Danielle de Niese, for example. How did that come about?
I read the newspaper and look up what's happening in Glyndebourne and I know what's going on in Glyndebourne. Everywhere people tell me things and I pay attention. Danielle had this big success in 2005 with Handel…
Q: Giulio Cesare. She seems to be the new "It-Girl" of opera.
We will see how she is doing, when she is a little older… But you have to be interested or else it won't happen. It comes from inside. You can't go, oh I want to find a new singer! No, I am interested in singing. I am a musician and played the violin, but I always felt that the musical sound comes first with the voice. If you play the violin you should emulate the human voice; if you play the saxophone or clarinet or whatever, the voice is the instrument it all starts with. When people ask, why is Jasha Haifez so great – was it his fingers, his instrument? No, it was his ears. You hear a sound, and you can create a sound. A singer has to have it in the ears first – and then it's in my ears; I know what I want to hear and when I hear it, Oh my God, the difference of a voice that has color! If it's monochromatic, forget it.
Q: You seem to have a seventh sense for spotting new talent and you have even launched quite of number of careers. I am thinking of Ian Bostridge, for example.
Yes, that was his American debut. He was just a young kid when he first came here.
Q: So shy and introverted, almost singing to himself the first time. And now he is this very expressionist performer.
We got him because he had a Britten opera scheduled at NY City opera, with (Gérard) Mortier, and Mortier failed, and Ian was scheduled here at SF Opera and that was also cancelled. So he suddenly had time on his hands, and that's how we got him. But people here in America still don't know what big a star he is because he mostly works in Europe. And Bryn Terfel! His recitals here were the only recitals he did. The last one, in 2007, was so great, breaking your heart, because I knew and he knew that it would be the last time he'd be here. Meanwhile the audiences are BEGGING…
Q: Mark Morris once said he was blown away by the fact that any great discoveries he was making, you had already made: how was that possible, given the multiple tasks you had here? Did you have a Faustian pact with the Devil that allowed you to always be in 5 places at the same time?
(Laughs) We are very nimble, we can do it just for one night, not like an opera. We only need one day in one hall, so even within 6 months we can do it. You can be fast on your feet if you pay attention. Mark is pretty busy too, and now I have little time to travel. I work seven days a week, Saturday, Sunday — I am here. Because I have to, and I want to. But I also play tennis! But even if I didn't do this job I would be thinking about it all the time.
Q: How did you manage to always be ahead of the ball and get the artists when they were just the hottest news somewhere in the world – like Laurie Anderson, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Sankei Juku, William Forsythe, the Ballets Trockadero, Robert Lepage…
Laurie Anderson — I saw her at BAM, in the seventies. Sweet Honey is also an old story by now – appearing this season with Alvin Ailey, that's a huge success, all sold out. Bill Forsythe – you know where I saw him first? There are two people I give a lot of credit to. One is Harvey (Lichtenstein), the other is Christopher Hunt at the Pepsico Festival. I first saw Bill Forsythe there when I was living in NY, early or mid 80ies. That festival existed because Pepsico gave them all the money and they didn't have to worry about the box office, they could do what they wanted. That's where I met a lot of artists. Christopher brought Mark Morris there. I had never heard of him.
Q: What did you recognize in Mark Morris?
I thought he had unusual talent, he was special, I even went back and introduced myself.
Q: With many of the performers you invited, you built creative partnerships, commissioned world premieres, and even created whole traditions – like conducting the Hard Nut for Mark Morris year after year.
That was an accident, someone had cancelled…
Q: And you had to jump in — happily?
It was a nightmare, at first. I control the budget and I made a schedule that allowed for as few rehearsals as possible. This conductor had done it before so I gave him a rehearsal, a stage rehearsal and a dress rehearsal, just three rehearsals. It should have been okay, but now…
Q: You had to do it…
I had to do it! I had seen the classical Nutcracker just once, in Berkeley, but never done a performance. I had conducted the Nutcracker a hundred times, but you have to know the show, the tempos, the cues, which is very different from a concert performance. There I was — stuck with my three rehearsals! I couldn't change now. I wanted five rehearsals, but I had to stick with my budget. We got through it, but it was a nightmare. Since then I must have done the Hard Nut about a hundred times, in NY and London too.
Q: Did you ever imagine anything like this at the start of your tenure, in 1986?
I had no idea. That's one of the great gifts for me, being here, because things developed that I had no idea were possible. They only came to be because of circumstances. There was the fact, for example, that Mark only works with live orchestras, which is one of the things I liked about him, the fact that he always does and I believe in live music. I had seen his Hard Nut in Brooklyn when I first started at Cal Performances. I said to him right away, you should bring it here! But he said, oh no, the stage is too small! For several years this went on. It took me until 1997 to convince him that it could be worked out. He worked it out.
Q: For me and a number of people, one of your most exciting recent discoveries in dance theater was Shen Wei. What was it like for you when a company like that wanders over to San Francisco Performances?
Q: Were you hurt?
No, no, it's fine to share this kind of thing with others in the market place. There are exceptions though. We don't have Mark exclusively as he also does things for SF Ballet, but his company is seen exclusively here, and we have that relationship with him. Also, Shen Wei can do smaller places whereas Mark's work really requires a place of this size, and he has the live music, and he is used to playing New York State Theater. City Opera presents him.
Q: Did you see Shen Wei's career as equally promising?
I am not so sure. Mark went from here to the Met – not too many people are doing that. You are guessing and hoping, but you can't be sure.
Q: Is there any company or artist that you feel you missed or failed to get?
I won't tell you. Well, there were two I had dates for, very famous artists that for various reasons were taken away from me and that I lost. I have always regretted it but couldn't control it. I had actually signed them up in Europe, verbally, and they ended up going somewhere else. You don't always get what you want.
Q: Sometimes your audiences don't get it – like with the British choreographer Matthew Bourne. Were you too late, missing his first masterpiece – the all-male Swan Lake?
I had it twice on the books and it was cancelled. They could not get the tours, the money… We got his CarMan, just a week after 9/11. Not a chance. But his aesthetic is not tailored for American audiences. And then we got his Nutcracker – that piece is too dark, it would not really work anywhere in America where the Nutcracker is considered a light-hearted piece. Mark hit it right on the nut. His Hard Nut is even more light-hearted than the original Nutcracker, and much more fun, whereas Matthew's is the opposite — and brilliant in his own way. His work is different, if you know America, it's not an American thing. It's a cultural phenomenon. They want to bring another show, Dorian Gray, but again, it would not go over in this country, especially now with the financial crisis. Nobody has any money.
Q: But his dark and provocative Swan Lake went over brilliantly.
Yes, that was an exception.
Q: And you have had many exceptions, haven't you?
True, even Pina Bausch is an acquired taste.
Q: It was one of your master-strokes, getting Pina Bausch all the way from Germany to Berkeley, even twice. Was that an old dream of yours?
I had been trying since the very first day I got here. It was a long struggle. I went there, to Wuppertal, I spent a week talking to her, her agent and staff. I put a lot into that. We created this partnership with several different venues for Nur Du (Only You). People don't realize how difficult this was, that she didn't even want to come here.
Q: But don't you think the topic of creating her own vision of California tempted her?
(Laughs) Remember these damn trees? The gigantic redwood trees?
Q: Her designer, Peter Pabst.
Like, 'Peter, couldn't you bring something smaller?'
Q: The next time, she did bring something smaller: her carnations!
That is my favorite piece which I had seen in Brooklyn and I wanted it, always wanted her Carnations.
Q: So it was your wish and she complied?
Q: Did you regret not grabbing hold more often of Robert Wilson, the other major creator of dance theater, operatic theater?
Yes, we had different projects, but these things are so difficult…For example, we wanted to bring back his Philip Glass opera, Einstein on the Beach, and we worked on that for a couple of years. There even is a producer in NY who is still working on it. She wanted to bring it back to NY City Opera, Berkeley, and also to places in Europe, but when City Opera dropped out, that killed it. It was going to happen this season but it just didn't work out. A lot of people want to see it again. It would be a huge success and that's why it was so stupid that NY City Opera cancelled it – to cancel something that would be a complete sellout!
Q: Were there any other great dreams you could NOT realize?
I wanted to bring more contemporary opera, with Einstein being a notable example because of the artists involved. I wanted to bring Nixon in China. I went to see the premiere in Houston, in 1987, and I immediately started. I knew Peter and I knew John, although not very well because I only just got here. So these were the two major pieces I wanted but it didn't happen. Nixon in China may come back to San Francisco Opera in a new production, but I wanted to bring the original because back then it was fresh, it was new.
Q: Are there many operas like that?
There are operas out there but they don't get played because they are not appropriate for big opera houses. In Europe, there are many smaller opera houses where these pieces work, but they don't work here. Besides, the audiences might not like them!
Q: Like the London "Junk Opera" Shockheaded Peter?
Yes, but that went to a commercial house, to my good friend over there, and for a much longer run, whereas we don't do long runs, for various reasons. So when finally Matthew's Swan Lake came, or Bob Wilson's The Black Rider, they went to different venues.
Q: Which magical moments at Cal Performances stand out for you after 23 years?
Many things, but I guess when Yo-Yo Ma first got the idea of the Silk Road Project. I was invited along with a number of people from around the world in this business to come to Tanglewood to see the first iterations of this, the first rehearsals, the first performance. Tanglewood is very important because I studied there as a conductor, in 1970. So, I was invited and I saw it and he said, do you want to do this? I said, yeah, that looks good. You don't say no to Yo-Yo, it's got to be something special if Yo-Yo does it. But the thing that made it really special was that Mark Morris was doing a ballet with him, Kolam. So we had this ballet and the concert. We did a two-week event with two great artists, a world premiere and the start of a world tour. All because when Yo-Yo asked, Do you want to do this? I didn't say, well, I'll think about it. It was YES! And it worked and the public loved it. Also when we had John Adams and Peter Sellers here. Because even though I could not get Nixon in China we premiered this little opera thing…
Q: With June Jordan? I Was Looking at the Ceiling, and Then I Saw the Sun Come Out?
Yes, we created it from the beginning, we rehearsed it at this Berkeley storefront with the cast and Peter, staging rehearsals… That was one of the high points for me, because this is a beautiful composition by John that will last.
Q: Can you tell us about any embarrassing moments of bad luck?
(Laughs) Artists that didn't come through. Like one great singer who wasn't prepared and sang with the score in front of his face… I won't name him, and we haven't seen him since. And another singer who really had vocal problems and I told her that I would be happy to tell the audience that she wasn't well and she could be excused, and she agreed, which saved the day! She was going to go out and sing! But it was so bad that I said, I will help you out, you need help here, let's have dinner!
Q: Were there any flagrant 'wardrobe malfunctions' – like when Cecilia walked onstage one year with a completely wrinkled yellow dress?
There were a few, I heard, with Mark and his Hard Nut, but I didn't notice them because I was in the pit!
Q: We can't imagine what's next at Cal Performances. But you recently said in an interview that your 23 seasons were 'only the beginning.' What did you mean?
There are many things I would still love to do if I were still here. But that is now up to that person in high heels — to come up hopefully with new big ideas.
Q: Were you planning simulcasts like the Met does – something like "Live in HD at Cal Performances", in cinemas nationwide?
That's in the planning, we are working on that.
Q: Are you involved in the search for your successor?
No, I don't project myself into the process. But the search committee asks me questions and when they ask, I answer.
Q: What qualities does your successor need to make her or his stewardship a success like yours?
They need to have a really strong education and professional background in the arts, not someone who just listens to CDs or even just goes to performances, but has had a professional training in the arts, at a conservatory or whatever. I mean, the two main arts we are doing here are music and dance. We do very little theater, because there isn't such a thing as touring theaters here, it would be too expensive. We do a little bit of international theater on a limited basis. So, a good educational background in a performing art and / or also professional experience, ideally both, which I happened to have.
And, of course, a world view. Some people think, if we are doing Russian ballet, we can't do modern things. Well, that's crazy. We do Merce Cunningham more than anybody in the world. If you only have this narrow view you should not be here. Because you are not doing it for yourself, you are doing it for other people. And there are lots of different people. So you need both. If you only like the one and not the other, only Swan Lake and not Merce Cunningham, you don't know what you are talking about. Because they are different but they are both good. I mean, they can also be bad, but the idea is good. The same is true with early music and new music – you want to bring them both to people, because people don't know. You want to do it for the world.
Q: Adopting the global village?
I wanted to make people more aware of what's out there. Some of them know nothing and when they come here they go, wow! They learn something they had never thought of before. I have known a lot of people like that, and it changed their life. Not only students, also adults. I have seen students who had no idea of becoming music majors or theater majors, but one of them came here and is now at the Met, very high up at the Met. She worked here with us and it changed her life.
Q: Do you have a special piece of advice for your successor?
Think BIG. Don't be too conservative, be visionary. Always try to reach further and then do what's possible. (Laughs.) Think big and do what's possible!
Q: The visionary and the pragmatic?
Yes, you've got to combine them both.
Q: After all the interviews you had to give, is there a question nobody has asked – but that you would like to answer?
Ah… I guess one thing that people have asked peripherally and that I feel really strongly about is this. I was born in this country, in this area, I went to the San Jose school of music, I saw my first opera and concert in San Francisco, I studied clarinet with someone from the San Francisco Symphony, I made my living as a jazz musician playing in bands and in clubs because…
Q: You were cool!
At age 15, 16 being cool is of course a high priority! But I was also making a living. I happened to have a single mother, my father had died. It was hard times, so in order to go to school and get an education I had to have a job. I was playing the saxophone and clarinet, and then conducting church choirs and doing anything you could do as a musician. My concern is that this culture, American culture, is so focused on irrelevant things, things that are not raising us up but bringing us down. What we are doing here at Cal Performances is raising us up but I think just too many people are deprived of that opportunity because some people do not realize how important this is – that the arts, in this case the performing arts, are essential to life. Education, as Plato said, includes music. He puts it right up there, with everything else.
Q: With the Nine Muses.
And not just Plato — many other great writers of Greek times thought the same, but in America we have many people who are supposed to be smart and are not very smart, who have not studied the Greek culture. They haven't studied the fact that these things are possible.
Q: It's still a pioneer country?
It's cowboys. Cowboys with suits on! They are not fully educated. They are educated, they have degrees, but they are not fully educated. We don't need more scientists, or more lawyers, but we need people who have a life, a full life, enriched by things like the arts. I have doctors, developers, all kinds of different people I love on my Board, but their rich life is here. As an educator, and I consider myself an educator — in Italian maestro, conductor, teacher —, I see one of the best example in " El Systema" in Venezuela – taking kids from the slums and teaching them music.
Q: Cuba has done something similar for ballet, China also for music.
Yes, so I am not worried about the future of classical music, I am worried about this country, not about China – they have so many damn pianists over there – 50,000 kids practicing the piano! Because they understand it's important. But what this one person, Dr. Abreu, has done for kids, for the people in Venezuela, is unbelievable. Conductor Dudamel is a product of this – the greatest talent on the musical scene of today, a product of this program.
Q: A grassroots program.
Right. This is what we need in this country, and our new president has an understanding of that from the grassroots projects of helping people with housing, etc. But we need someone who understands this from the point of view of the arts because if you have a house and you have no life, you know what I mean, it's a house…
Q: With a TV.
A house with a TV, watching the Super Bowl. Sorry, that's not a life, it's not a rich life. But Dudamel and the thousands of kids effected by that program which is so great and does not cost a lot of money, that's a different story. It could be done any place, it could be done here, but there is no leadership. There are some people now in this country who try to replicate this, like in Boston, in a small way, but if I had a second life, that is what I would do.
Excerpts of this profile appeared in California Magazine, May-June 2009.
The new director of Cal Performances has been chosen: Matias Tarnopolski (currently Vice-President of Artistic Planning at the New York Philharmonic).
Photos - Courtesy Cal Performances
Cover Photo - Peter De Silva