History

Visit our new Conservatory history blog, containing valuable information, records and images from our past!

In 1917, local pianists Ada Clement and Lillian Hodghead opened the doors of the Ada Clement Piano School. Located in the remodeled home of Lillian's parents, the school began with three pianos, four studios, two blackboards and forty students. Enrollment grew quickly. Recognizing the need for a music conservatory on the West Coast, the school incorporated in 1923 as the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, offering classes in many instruments as well as theory, composition and voice.

Among the early students nurtured  by the Conservatory were two of our era's greatest violin virtuososóIsaac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin. In 1924, the Conservatory engaged the eminent composer Ernest Bloch to teach a five-week summer course. It was a resounding success and Bloch was hired as director the following year. During his tenure, Bloch's musical vision, international reputation and skill as a teacher spurred a tremendous expansion of the school. When Bloch left the Conservatory in 1930 to compose full time, Ada and Lillian resumed leadership of the growing institution.

A Unique Chamber Music Program
From the very beginning, chamber music has been an important part of the Conservatory. In 1926, a group of faculty formed the school's first chamber ensemble, the California String Quartet. In 1948, the internationally renowned Griller Quartet established a summer school at the Conservatory, attracting students from across the United States. The ensemble returned for three more summers and served on the faculty for many years. The renowned Alma Trio began a summer residence program in 1952, and the ensemble's pianist Adolph Baller subsequently joined the Conservatory's faculty.

The Conservatory Moves to the Sunset
Albert Elkus came out of retirement in 1951 to become Director of the Conservatory after serving 14 years as Chairman of the Music Department at University of California-Berkeley. One of his first priorities was to find the Conservatory a new home. In 1956, the school moved to a 1928 Mission-style building at 1201 Ortega Street.

Musicologist Robin Laufer succeeded Elkus in 1957. Under Laufer's direction, the Conservatory reached a major milestone in 1960, becoming the first music school on the west coast to receive accreditation from both the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the National Association of Schools of Music.

The Salkind Years
Appointed President in 1966, Milton Salkind guided the Conservatory through a second great period of expansion. During his 24-year term, collegiate enrollment soared from 42 to over 250. He developed innovative programs, many of which became models for other schools. Recognizing the importance of performance, Salkind added recital requirements for juniors and seniors and increased performance opportunities for all students. Salkind also initiated a community service programóthe first of its kind among U.S. conservatories. By expanding master classes, Salkind brought the professional music world to the Conservatory with visits from such artists as Alfred Brendel, Leon Fleisher, Placido Domingo, Beverly Sills, Yehudi Menuhin, Pinchas Zukerman and Yo-Yo Ma.

The Salkind years also saw the birth of many events and programs that became long-standing Conservatory traditions, such as the annual "Sing-It-Yourself Messiah" and Chamber Music West, a summer festival launched in 1977 that brought together talented students, alumni, faculty and distinguished artists. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music was the first U.S. conservatory to add ethnomusicology and Asian music to the curriculum, and the nation's first institution to offer a degree in classical guitar and a Master's Degree in chamber music.

The performance of new music also flourished during Salkind's tenure. Building on a composition department that had its roots with Ernest Bloch, Salkind hired new talents such as Andrew Imbrie, Ivan Tcherepnin and John Adams, an early director of the Conservatory's New Music Ensemble. Students and faculty premiered many works by composers such as Pauline Oliveros, John Cage, Morton Feldman and Gyorgy Ligeti. This tradition continues today with the New Music Ensemble under Director Nicole Paiement, which regularly presents works by luminaries including Henryk GÛrecki, George Perle, Lou Harrison and Libby Larsen. In 2002, the Conservatory launched BluePrint, a performance series that commissions, premieres and revisits contemporary music from around the world.

Colin Murdoch
In 1992, Colin Murdoch, who had served as dean of the Conservatory since 1988, was appointed president. Under his leadership, the Conservatory celebrated its 75th anniversary with a gala concert at Davies Symphony Hall featuring world-renowned artists Isaac Stern, John Adams, Jeffrey Kahane and Hai-Ye Ni. In 1997, the Conservatory celebrated both its own and composer Lou Harrison's 80th birthdays with Celebrating Lou Harrison!, a multicultural four-day festival of Harrison's music, dance, art and poetry. Renowned guitarist David Tanenbaum, chair of the Conservatory's guitar department, was the festival's artistic director.

A New Era:  The Conservatory Moves to the Civic Center
In 2006, the Conservatory relocated to a revitalized Civic Center campus with three state-of-the-art performance spaces, ushering in another era of growth. With the new facilities have come new opportunities. Composer John Adams held a composition and conducting residency. The orchestra made its recording debut on the Naxos label.  A sister school agreement with the Shanghai Conservatory of Music yielded the San Francisco-Shanghai International Chamber Music festival, an annual event hosted alternately in each city, featuring joint performances of faculty and students from each school. In 2010, the Conservatory marked the 25th anniversary of its chamber music program with a festival and special celebration honoring cellist Bonnie Hampton, longtime former faculty member and the program's co-founder.  A new Alumni Recital Series showcases outstanding alumni soloists and ensembles in command performances.  Acclaimed guest artists such as violinist Pinchas Zukerman, guitarist Pepe Romero, conductor Sir Simon Rattle and opera stars and Conservatory Advisory Board members Frederica von Stade and Thomas Hampson continue to make frequent appearances, enhancing the Conservatory's reputation as an international center of music education located at the cultural heart of one of the world's most dynamic cities.

The Future
The San Francisco Conservatory of Music is pleased to announce that David H. Stull, Dean of the Conservatory of Oberlin College, has been named the next president of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He will take office effective July 1, 2013. Stull will succeed outgoing president Colin Murdoch, who steps down after 25 years of service to the Conservatory, including 21 as president.
Learn more about the new president.

Our Students
The Conservatory currently enrolls 412 collegiate students from 34 states and 30 countries. They study with a distinguished faculty that includes more than two dozen members of the San Francisco Symphony, Opera and Ballet orchestras. Some 600 pre-college students in the Preparatory Division receive instruction after school, on weekends and during the summer, and 100 adults participate in evening classes and private instrument and voice lessons through the Adult Extension Division.