Executive and Artistic Director
Jeremy Geffen, executive and artistic director of Cal Performances, provides the overall artistic vision and executive leadership of Cal Performances and UC Berkeley’s Student Musical Activities. Since his appointment in April 2019, he has been responsible for conceiving, planning, and implementing all of Cal Performances’ artistic and educational activities and supporting the overall mission of the university through strong and creative advocacy of the musical, choreographic, and theatrical arts. Geffen brings to his work at UC Berkeley more than two decades of experience in the field of arts management.
Jeremy Geffen is passionate about the ability of the performing arts to transform lives. Under his leadership, and during a particularly challenging period, Cal Performances has stayed connected with audiences and artists during the COVID-19 pandemic through the production and presentation of two Cal Performances at Home streaming seasons (Fall 2020 and Spring 2021). Cal Performances at Home presented 28 original, professionally produced performance videos by artists Geffen had originally engaged to appear in Berkeley before the pandemic forced cancellation of in-person performances. Among the series’ memorable offerings were performances by pianist Mitsuko Uchida; cellist Yo-Yo Ma; pianist Leif Ove Andsnes; new-music ensemble Bang on a Can; vocalists Renée Fleming, Julia Bullock, and Jazzmeia Horn; the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; and performance collective Manual Cinema. Geffen interviewed all the artists featured on the series and videos of those conversations—along with thought-provoking talks about pressing issues of the day with scholars from UC Berkeley—are archived and viewable on the Beyond the Stage section of Cal Performances’ website.
Beginning in March 2020, and as a way of regularly reminding patrons of the power of the performing arts, Geffen began curating regular Now, More Than Ever video playlists featuring extraordinary performances by great artists past and present. The series continues and currently boasts more than 60 editions covering in excess of 300 videos.
Cal Performances’ 2021–22 season will be the first in-person season programmed by Geffen to take place at UC Berkeley. The robust and expansive schedule features more than 70 music, dance, and theater performances. Special Illuminations thematic programming will explore the topic of “Place and Displacement” through five mainstage performances featuring three West Coast premieres. Also during the 2021–22 season, singer, composer, activist, and humanitarian Angélique Kidjo joins Cal Performances as the organization’s first season-long artist-in-residence, with two performances and special collaborations with students, faculty, and campus partners. Under Geffen’s direction, renowned music ensembles The English Concert and the Danish String Quartet will embark on multi-season performing partnerships with Cal Performances.
Before coming to Cal Performances, Geffen was senior director and artistic adviser of Carnegie Hall, where he was responsible for the overall program planning and thematic development of the approximately 160 performances that annually comprise the concert season, as well as the creation of a wide range of audience education programs. During his 12-year tenure there, he oversaw the expansion of festivals and multidisciplinary citywide explorations and led two critically acclaimed and popular festivals of music from the Medieval to early Baroque periods. He steered Carnegie Hall’s ambitious 125 Commissions project, marking the hall’s 125th anniversary by commissioning or co-commissioning more than 125 new works. And he was responsible for selecting the artists for two season-long and large-scale artist curation projects—Carnegie Hall Perspectives and the Debs Composers Chair.
Prior to his appointment at Carnegie Hall in 2007, Geffen was the vice president of artistic administration for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (2005–07) and the artistic administrator of the New York Philharmonic (2000–05). From January 1998 until September 2000, he was the associate artistic administrator for the Aspen Music Festival and School where—and beyond the scope of his regular activities—he taught courses in music at Colorado Mountain College, hosted a weekly classical music program on KAJX Radio, and at age 26 became the Aspen Institute’s youngest-ever seminar moderator.
Geffen currently serves on the advisory entities for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Bowers Program (previously CMS Two) and the executive committee of the Avery Fisher Artist Grant; and on the advisory boards of the Fondazione delli Arti Venezia and the National Advisory Council of the Music Academy of the West. A frequent adjudicator of competitions, Geffen served on the juries of the 2015 Honens International Piano Competition, the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music (nominating jury), and the 2011 Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition, and for the district, regional, and national final levels of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. In addition, he chaired the nominating jury for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music, an award bestowed upon Caroline Shaw, then the youngest recipient in the prize’s history. In June 2015, Geffen was recognized with Bang on a Can’s Visionary Award at the organization’s annual gala, and in April 2019, he was honored at Sō Percussion’s annual benefit.
A native of Cape Town, South Africa, Geffen grew up in Newport Beach, California. While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in viola performance at the University of Southern California, Geffen developed problems with his right hand that led him away from performance and into arts administration, a field that combines his curiosity for and love of the breadth of artistic expression, the artists who bring that work to life, and the transformative ways in which the arts enrich all of our lives.
Read about Jeremy Geffen’s
Road to Berkeley in this interview originally published in Cal Performances’ program book.