About: History


Cal Performances is the performing arts presenting, commissioning and producing organization based at the University of California, Berkeley. The origins of Cal Performances date from 1906, when stage actress Sarah Bernhardt appeared at the William Randolph Hearst Greek Theater to help rebuild public morale after the devastating San Francisco earthquake and fire in April of that year.

Over the subsequent century, Cal Performances grew to become the largest, multi-discipline performing arts presenter in Northern California, and one of the largest university-based arts presenters in the United States. Traditional and non-traditional artists regularly appear on or near the UC Berkeley campus in the theaters and concert halls managed by Cal Performances, including Mikhail Baryshnikov, Wynton Marsalis, Cecilia Bartoli, Bryn Terfel, Mark Morris, Yo-Yo Ma, Philip Glass, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch, Bill T. Jones, Peter Sellars, and Robert Lepage; as well as artists based in the San Francisco Bay Area like John Adams, Lou Harrison, Margaret Jenkins, Paul Dresher, Kronos Quartet, Joe Goode, Kaila Flexer, Jon Jang, and Sarah Cahill. Cal Performances is also instrumental in facilitating the touring of large ensembles from abroad, and has hosted such companies as the Grand Kabuki Theater of Japan, the Bolshoi and Kirov Ballet companies, Lyon Opera Ballet and Orchestra, the Kirov Orchestra, the Russian National Orchestra, the Berliner Ensemble, the Beijing People's Art Theater, the Gate Theater of Dublin, Les Arts Florissants, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and Nederland Dans Theater, among others.

Cal Performances presents over 100 performances annually in five venues—Zellerbach Hall, Zellerbach Playhouse, Hertz Hall, and Wheeler Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, and First Congregational Church of Berkeley—and in site-specific locations and other spaces. The performances range among Modern and Classical Dance, Theater, Instrumental and Vocal Recital, Early Music, Opera, Chamber Music, Jazz, New Music, World Music, Dance & Theater, and a speaking series. Cal Performances serves some 150,000 patrons annually through performances and arts education, residency and community programs.

Founding and Early Expansion

The San Francisco earthquake and fire of April 18, 1906 proved momentous to the rise of this arts institution in Berkeley. Sarah Bernhardt's landmark performance in Racine's Phèdre on May 17, 1906, was a testament to the restorative powers of the performing arts for the thousands of citizens who had been impacted by the earthquake, and the atmosphere of expectancy surrounding the appearance of "The Divine Sarah" was rewarded by her decision to donate the proceeds of her performance to the Emergency Relief Fund. Bernhardt's wild popularity combined with the Greek Theatre's spectacular design and atmosphere, set in motion the tradition of performing arts presentation in Berkeley. In the words of theater director Samuel Hume, it was the event that "placed the Greek Theatre definitely in the field of the commercial theatre."

William Dallam Armes, Chair of the Musical and Dramatic Committee, realized that the Theatre's large seating area (of about 6,500) made it economically feasible to invite big-name artists of national and international standing such as Bernhardt. Major stars of the time such as Margaret Anglin and Maude Adams brought notoriety to the campus through the Hearst Greek Theatre, in conjunction; the theatre also burnished their reputations as well.

Soon after the Greek Theatre opened, University faculty and administration realized the need for a smaller stage suited to productions requiring an intimate setting. In 1917, the campus gained a 1,050-seat (now reduced to 700) auditorium with the opening of Wheeler Hall, in the heart of the university campus. Wheeler Hall's auditorium immediately became a vital performance venue overseen by the Musical and Dramatic Committee, where it was possible to increase the variety of chamber music and recital programs offered, as well as drama, lectures and other entertainments.

Though members of the Drama, Music and Dance departments realized that Wheeler Auditorium was not the ideal venue for the performing arts on all occasions, several uncompleted projects and, later, the financial strains of The Great Depression delayed the completion of a venue designed for such performances. The opening of Alfred Hertz Memorial Hall in 1958, with its formidable collection of organs and superior acoustics, was marked by the May T. Morrison Music Festival, a presentation of 11 programs between April 15 and May 22, 1958, presented by the Committee on Drama, Lectures and Music. Music critic Alfred Frankenstein claimed Hertz Hall to be the finest auditorium in California.

Seeing that Wheeler Auditorium and Hertz Hall were not suited for presenting drama and dance, Zellerbach Hall was built in 1968. Zellerbach Hall consists of two main theaters: the 2,015-seat Auditorium (today known as Zellerbach Hall) and the 500-seat, multiform Playhouse. The Playhouse was conceived as a laboratory in which students can learn all aspects of the dramatic arts. Movable seating allows for numerous formations of the stage. The stage of the Auditorium is equipped for all major forms of theater, opera, music and dance productions, and, with the aid of a movable acoustic shell, the magnitude of the stage can be scaled back to suit chamber or recital music programs. Zellerbach has become Cal Performances' main venue for presenting various genres of the performing arts as well as lecture events, and is one of the most well-appointed theaters in the United States.

Leadership History

Cal Performances descends from a lineage of people and organizations both within and outside the committees to make UC Berkeley an epicenter for the performing arts. Phoebe Apperson Hearst and her son, William Randolph Hearst, first facilitated the university's ambitions through their donation of funds that enabled the erecting of Hearst Greek Theatre. What the Greek Theatre made possible was realized through numerous persons who served as Chair of the multi-monikered Committee of faculty members that oversaw performing arts presentation on campus.

A History of Chairs and Directors, Listed by Date of Leadership:
William Dallam Armes (1903-1918), Associate Professor of American Literature, Director of the Greek Theatre and Chair of the Musical and Dramatic Committee: Armes was responsible for moving the Hearst Greek Theatre from the realm of campus functions to a nationally known stage for renowned artists. After the success of Sarah Bernhardt's first visit, Armes rallied to bring the top artists to the Greek Theatre.

Samuel J. Hume (1918-1924), Director of the Greek Theatre and Chair of the Musical and Dramatic Committee: As a student at UC Berkeley, Hume had developed strong roots in theater. Succeeding Armes after his death, Hume established year-round programming for the Greek Theatre, Wheeler Hall and Harmon Gymnasium, as well as various off-campus sites. He created fall and spring seasons of modern and classic drama productions at Wheeler Hall, and created the Prize Play Contest to stimulate new work among California playwrights, enlisting George Jean Nathan, Eugene O'Neill and Susan Glaspell to judge the entries. Hume also organized the Western Association of Art Museum Directors to route the touring of exhibits to the western states.

William Popper (1924-1945), Chair of the Committee on Music and Drama: Following Hume's departure, the University merged the Greek Theatre management and the Musical and Dramatic Committee, to form the Committee on Music and Drama. The eight-member group of faculty members selected Popper as chair and, illicitly, the director. During Popper's tenure, due to the rise of campus art clubs, there was an increase in the number of artists visiting campus and the expanded use of the University space for performance. The new Committee established basic ideals and procedures, with priority of performing arts presentation set upon education. Popper's assiduous record-keeping kept the program on budget, even throughout the Depression and World War II. He was the first director to suggest that an endowment be established to supplement the budget, in order to reduce the pressure for financial success.

Betty Connors (1945-1979), Director of the Committee for Arts and Lectures: Following suggestions that the campus have a distinct concert presenting unit, the University approved the position of Director (initially "Secretary") through the University Extension; the first salaried position devoted exclusively to the management of concerts on campus. The first person to fill the position was Betty Connors, a recent UC Berkeley graduate of the Department of Music. Throughout her tenure, Connors sought to prioritize the educational aspects of the performing arts while also steadily increasing the scope of arts presentation. Lectures by poets and writers, including Thomas Mann, Dylan Thomas and W.H. Auden, came to the fore, and the campus saw a broadening of musical tastes as represented by folk, jazz and early-music events. Connors was also able to facilitate the expansion of the performing arts program thanks to the addition of Hertz and Zellerbach Halls. The artists she brought to campus included harpsichordists Ralph Kirkpatrick and Gustav Leonhardt, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, pianists Glenn Gould and Rudolf Serkin, soprano Birgit Nilsson, mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, French mime Marcel Marceau, theater artists Jean-Louis Barrault and Madeleine Renaud, Jerzy Grotowski's Polish Theatre Lab, sitarist Ravi Shankar, Maurice Béjart's Ballet of the 20th Century, the Joffrey Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and jazz artists Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong, among many, many others. Also during Connors's tenure, the organization was renamed the Committee for Arts and Lectures—or "CAL"—in 1959.

Susan Farr (1980-1986), Director of Cal Performances: With 35 years of Betty Connors's success preceding her, Farr believed her priority for the campus was to sustain the existing presenting program. She sought out resources to meet the increasing costs of presenting, and negotiated contracts with Bill Graham Presents and other promoters of popular music for the use of the Hearst Greek Theatre. Farr also supported the touring of contemporary dance ensembles and brought to Berkeley a variety of troupes including Bella Lewitzky Dance Company, Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and Pilobolus Dance Theater, in addition to classical dance ensembles. Cal Performances, as it then began to be called, introduced Bay Area audiences to numerous folk dance and music ensembles. Additionally, Farr founded the Student Committee for the Arts to encourage campus participation in Cal Performances.

Robert Cole (1986-2009), Director of Cal Performances (1986-2009): For Cole, a musician and conductor, one of the chief attractions of the position was the organization's proximity to the UC Berkeley Department of Music. Cole made it a priority to seek the music faculty's advice in expanding the presenting program and, in particular, enlisted their ideas to develop a festival of early music. In 1990, Cole founded the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition of early music, now a biennial weeklong festival presented. By establishing long-term relationships with important artists and commissioning new works, Cole positioned Berkeley to become a major arts hub. He built an enduring relationship with choreographer Mark Morris beginning in 1987 and brought many premieres to Berkeley, including Four Saints in Three Acts and King Arthur (American premieres 2000 and 2006 respectively); Dido and Aeneas, Mozart Dances and Romeo & Juliet, On Motifs of Shakespeare (West Coast premieres 1995, 2007, and 2008). Cal Performances co-commissioned the American premiere of John Adams's song-play, I Was Looking at the Ceiling, and Then I Saw the Sky (1995), with libretto by UC Berkeley poet June Jordan, directed by Peter Sellars; the following year Cole brought Nur Du (Only You) by German expressionist choreographer Pina Bausch. In 2004, Cal Performances hosted the World Premiere of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble. Cole also initiated an expansion of the education and community programs. University faculty often partnered with Cal Performances to conceive in-depth cultural, historical, and political investigations built around the performing arts program. To carry out these ambitions Cole formed a Board of Trustees to increase fundraising capacity and to provide long-term stability. In 1997, UC Berkeley Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien awarded Cole the Berkeley Citation, the campus's highest administrative award. In 1995, Cole was made Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by France's Minister of Culture and Francophilia, and he received the William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters in 1998.

Robert Cole's complete Oral History [PDF]

Matías Tarnopolsky (2009–2018) came to Cal Performances after holding senior leadership positions with the New York Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony orchestras in addition to working at London's BBC Radio 3, BBC Symphony, and BBC Proms. At the beginning of his tenure as Executive and Artistic Director, he articulated three major artistic values around which Cal Performances is organized—artistic excellence, advocacy, and accessibility—and which informed the extensive performing arts and education programming he implemented. Intent on deepening the relationship between the world's greatest orchestras and the UC Berkeley campus and community, in 2011 Tarnopolsky launched an ambitious orchestra residency program with an extensive campus visit by the Vienna Philharmonic. Subsequent residences have featured Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen and London's Philharmonia Orchestra, and Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, and have included lectures, master classes, and symposia. In his first season, Tarnopolsky launched Ojai North, an artistic partnership with the Ojai Music Festival, which has brought to Cal Performances such talents as Dawn Upshaw, Peter Sellars, Leif Ove Andsnes, Mark Morris, Vijay Iyer, and Patricia Kopatchinskaja. Under Tarnopolsky's leadership, Cal Performances grew into an organization that presents approximately 150 performances each year to audiences numbering more than 150,000, in addition to world-class educational programs that reach more than 20,000 young people annually. While at Cal Performances, Tarnopolsky was named one of Musical America's international "Movers & Shakers: 30 Key Influencers in the Performing Arts," was selected as Classical Music "MVP" of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle, and was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication.

S. Shariq Yosufzai (2018–2019) served as interim executive director of Cal Performances. Passionate about the performing arts, he has been a vital member of Cal Performances' board of trustees since July 2014 and has served as a vice chair of the board since July 2016. Yosufzai also serves as president of the board of directors of the Berkeley Symphony and as an executive committee member of the San Francisco Opera's board of directors. Previously he was on the board of directors and was chair of the corporate council of the Houston Grand Opera. In March 2018 Yosufzai retired from the Chevron Corporation, where he served as vice president of global diversity, a position he held since 2013, and in which he was responsible, in part, for Chevron's relationship with UC Berkeley. Over the course of his distinguished 43-year career at Chevron, Yosufzai has had significant experience in board membership and leadership, and in senior executive roles at publicly traded companies. He served as president of several Chevron global businesses and oversaw large, multinational operating companies in global markets including Asia, North America, Central and South America, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. S. Shariq Yosufzai is the recipient of numerous business and nonprofit awards, including the 2017 Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business Award from the Asian American Business Development Center, and recognition as outstanding foreign-born leader by the World Affairs Council. He was named on The Economist's Global Diversity List as one of the 2015 "Top 50 Diversity Professionals in Business" in the world. Yosufzai earned a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Texas A&M University, which has recognized him as a Distinguished Alumnus, Outstanding International Alumnus, and Outstanding Engineering Alumnus.

Current Leadership

Jeremy N. Geffen serves as Executive and Artistic Director of Cal Performances. Geffen came to Berkeley from Carnegie Hall, where he held the position of Senior Director and Artistic Adviser. During his 12 years there, Geffen was instrumental in designing and directing visionary artistic projects, built deep and meaningful connections with artists and collaborators, cultivated community partnerships, and aided in the expansion of the organization's rich educational offerings. As part of Carnegie Hall's artistic planning team he led program planning and thematic development for the approximately 160 performances each season at Carnegie Hall, as well as the creation of a wide range of audience engagement programs. Geffen played a pivotal role in the expansion of Carnegie Hall festivals including this season's concerts dedicated to the impact of large-scale migrations on American culture.

Rob Bailis joined Cal Performances in 2013 and was named associate director soon after. He served as interim artistic director from July 2018 through March 2019, leading the artistic planning team in curating all Cal Performances productions and presentations for the 2019-20 season. In his role as associate director, he has been especially involved in the curation of the organization's dance and theater presentations, a position from which he works closely with many of Cal Performances' most established and longstanding artistic partnerships, while also introducing a new generation of international talent to UC Berkeley stages. During his tenure, Bailis has been instrumental in developing collaborations with leading international artists and producing organizations dedicated to groundbreaking contemporary work, as well as contributing to the continuation and advancement of Cal Performances' commitment to excellence in classical music. Bailis has played a foundational role in designing many of its recent initiatives, including Berkeley RADICAL (Research and Development Initiative in Creativity, Arts and Learning), which has deepened the organization's commitment to thematic curation and placed artists more directly in contact with the diverse audiences and communities that Cal Performances serves.

Bailis has been pivotal in developing a body of new work linked directly to UC Berkeley through major commissioning projects such as the creation of Dreamer, an oratorio by composer Jimmy López and librettist Nilo Cruz (scheduled for performances in March 2019), and the current five-year Joffrey Ballet residency and commissioning partnership, launched in 2017–18. He has welcomed and continues to foster audiences of the future through large-scale student-based initiatives including the annual student-curated Front Row program, which received over $1 million in support from The Wallace Foundation with the goal of encouraging UC Berkeley's undergraduate community to engage in hands-on collaborations in the live performing arts with guest stars and mentors including (to date) Lars Ulrich, drummer and co-founder of Metallica; author Daniel Handler; and comedian Margaret Cho. During the 2017–18 season, Bailis oversaw the production of Cal Performances' first exploratory Oakland series of performances held in unconventional and innovative venues throughout the city; the events on the series featured the work of artists from four countries, were performed in three languages, and included three companies making Cal Performances debuts in multidisciplinary arts forms.

Bailis has also played a key role in leading Cal Performances' education and community programs, activities that support enhanced artistic literacy and envision a society where all people have the tools, opportunity, and access to fully exercise their human right to engage with the cultural practices of their communities and to make meaning from all kinds of art. Cal Performances' Artistic Literacy Program is focused on increasing resources and experiences for K–12 and campus students that will encourage lives enriched by performances and artistic expression as part of daily discourse. Deeply connected to the Bay Area arts scene, Bailis has also encouraged Cal Performances to embrace the international talent that makes its home throughout the Bay Area and on the Berkeley campus.

From 2003 to 2011, Bailis was the director of ODC Theater, where he helped direct the organization's $9 million expansion of its facilities. He elevated the theater's profile from regional to national and international visibility. During this time the San Francisco Chronicle named him "MVP" in dance presentation, describing his curation as "...smart...instinctive, and infectious." He has received numerous awards in recognition of his presenting and residency programs and has served as a peer review and policy specialist for many of the nation's leading grant-making foundations, including the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Creative Capital, New England Foundation for the Arts, MAP Fund, Chamber Music America, WESTAF, and the Center for Cultural Innovation. A frequent public speaker on arts and culture, he has been heard at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and on NPR's West Coast Live, and has been a speaker and content provider at national conferences such as Dance USA and the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. Following a three-year term, Bailis has recently stepped down as an advisor to the National Dance Project, where he is proud to have assisted more than 60 new works from generations of dance makers find the resources and partnerships necessary to move from inception to presentation. He currently serves on the board of the Alliance of Artist Communities, the national service organization for artist residencies.

An accomplished professional clarinetist, Bailis has appeared with symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, and in solo recital across the US, Canada, Asia, and the UK. He is proud to have sent students from his clarinet studio to many of the great university music programs in the US, including at UC Berkeley. He holds degrees from Northwestern University and the Yale School of Music.

Notable Artists and Performances

Over the past 25 years, Cal Performances has forged lasting relationships with numerous artists and organizations, discovering new talent, presenting premieres and commissioning new works. The organization was enjoyed collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma, Mark Morris, Laurie Anderson, Merce Cunningham, Peter Sellers, Jordi Savall, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Robert Lepage, among many others. Cal Performances has also forged decades-long relationships with several dance companies, including Mark Morris Dance Group, which has premiered a number of its works on the Zellerbach stage since its first performance in 1987 and has returned at least once yearly since 1994; Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which first performed on the Cal Performances stage in 1968 and has come to be presented by the organization in more performances each year than any other venue outside New York; and Merce Cunningham Dance Company, with whom Cal Performances recently presented Craneway Event, a site-specific work held at the landmark former Ford assembly in Richmond, CA. Over the years Cal Performances has also fortified an artistic relationship with Chinese performing organizations such as the National Ballet of China and the Beijing People's Art Theater and Russian arts organizations including the Bolshoi, Kirov, Georgia, Eifman and Moishev dance companies.

Cal Performances' tradition of presenting landmark performances began with Sarah Bernhardt in 1906 and has steadily continued. In addition to the above mentioned premieres, Cal Performances has presented groundbreaking performances such as the American premiere of Alessandro Striggio's long-lost Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno in 40 and 60 parts, the largest known contrapuntal choral work in Western music, rediscovered in France by UC Berkeley musicologist Davitt Moroney. Kate van Orden, also a professor of music at UC Berkeley, discovered the score and drawings for Le Carrousel du Roi, an equestrian ballet originally created by cavalry master Antoine de Plyuvinet for the King Louis XIII in 1612. The pageantry including 21 horses and riders was presented in 2000 and 2002. The Ming Dynasty Opera, The Peony Pavillion, has been presented on two separate occasions in different productions—the first, in 1999, was an avant-garde production by Peter Sellars co-commissioned by Cal Performances; while the 2006 production was a nine-hour, 27-scene spectacle performed by the Suzhou Kun Opera Theatre of Jiangsu Province.