UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Robert Cole, Director of Cal Performances, to step down at the close of the 2008-09 season

– Cal Performances' Director Robert Cole, who turned Berkeley into a destination for internationally celebrated artists and one of the most admired performing arts centers in the world, today announced his decision to step down at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season. A conductor and instrumentalist by training, Cole assumed the directorship of Cal Performances in 1986 and has propelled the organization to the top ranks of performing arts presenters, regularly mounting world, American and West Coast premieres in dance, music and theater.

"For more than 20 years Cal Performances has reflected Robert Cole's brilliant direction and contributed to the important work of the University," commented UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau. "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."

"I am deeply grateful to have been a part of this renowned university and vital arts community since 1986," says Cole. "As our Centennial capital campaign draws to a successful close and my 22nd season here begins, I thought it a fitting time to announce my plans for departure to allow for sufficient time for leadership succession. There is uncommon opportunity for growth at Cal Performances; what I have been able to accomplish with this talented staff and devoted Board of Trustees is only the beginning."

Robert Cole has taken Cal Performances from a respected regional performing arts presenter that presented about 45 events annually with a budget of $4 million, to one that shares acclaim with the greatest performing arts centers and festivals in the world, annually presenting some 80 events in 130 performances with a budget of $14 million with ticket sales increasing more than ten-fold since 1986.

One of his early partnerships was with choreographer Mark Morris whom Cole first invited to Berkeley in 1987. Cole has presented a string of Mark Morris Dance Group world, U.S. and West Coast premieres and commissions including the U.S. premieres of Morris's staging of Jean-Philippe Rameau's Platée (1998) and King Arthur (2006); and West Coast premieres of L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (1994), The Hard Nut (1996) and Mozart Dances (2007).

Cole also commissioned and presented an impressive list of premieres with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, including the American premiere of Ocean (1996), performed in Harmon Gym, and the world premiere of Cunningham's masterpiece Biped (1999).

Cole additionally commissioned or co-commissioned new works from theater/opera director Peter Sellars; choreographers Twyla Tharp, Bill T. Jones and Pascal Rioult; the Kronos Quartet; actor/director Robert Lepage; and performance artist Laurie Anderson, among many others. Highlights for Cole have been presenting the world premiere of John Adams song-play I Was Looking at the Ceiling, and Then I Saw the Sky (1995) with libretto by UC Berkeley poet June Jordon, directed by Sellars; Nur Du (Only You) by German expressionist choreographer Pina Bausch (1996); and the final performances of the acclaimed Berliner Ensemble before the company disbanded forever in 1999.

In 1990, Cole founded the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition of early music now a biennial weeklong international festival presented in association with the UC Berkeley Department of Music, the San Francisco Early Music Society and Early Music America. In 2003, he established the Berkeley Edge Fest, a biennial showcase for new and contemporary works of performing arts that has featured the work of John Adams, John Zorn, Lou Harrison and Terry Riley. Wall Street Journal arts critic David Littlejohn wrote in the California Monthly, "Cole's programming for Cal Performances has been more adventurous than Lincoln Center's and broader than in scope than that of Brooklyn Academy of Music."

Soon after Cole arrived, the campus's Student Musical Activities program was brought under his leadership. He welcomed the opportunity to shape the extracurricular music activities composed of the University's famed Cal Band, UC Jazz Ensemble and UC Choral Ensembles.

In the past 20 years, Cal Performances has expanded arts education offerings both in schools and on campus. More than 100 programs are presented annually, including the highly popular SchoolTime and Cal Performances in the Classroom and AileyCamp that together serve more than 22,000 K-12 students and teachers and are nationally recognized as model arts education programs. Additionally, the organization works closely with UCB faculty to present a full range of lectures, demonstrations and symposiums are programmed yearly for University students and community members.

In 1996, Cole along with the support of the University and key patrons, initiated the formation of a Board of Trustees to insure the stability and continuity of Cal Performances.

In recognition of Cole's achievements, in 1997 UC Berkeley Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien awarded him the Berkeley Citation, the campus's highest administrative award, bestowed on an individual who has "rendered distinguished or extraordinary service to the University." In 1995, Cole was made Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by France's Minister of Culture and Francophonia; he received the William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters in 1998.

Robert Cole is a graduate of the University of Southern California School of Music and studied conducting with Richard Lert and Ingolf Dahl in California, with Leonard Bernstein and Leon Barzin at the Tanglewood Music Center, and with Hans Swarowsky in Europe. Prior to his appointment in Berkeley, Cole was the Executive Director of the Brooklyn Center for Performing Arts at Brooklyn College, and previously served as Executive Director of the Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie, New York. He was Associate Conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and was Music Director and Executive Director of the Ballet Society of Los Angeles.