Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music Announces its 61st Season

Contact: Mona Baroudi

Season highlights include two World premiere commissions, one US premiere, nine West Coast premieres: three percussion concerti; a tribute to Cabrillo Festival co-founder Robert Hughes; and a celebration of longtime Executive Director Ellen Primack, who steps down from her role after 33 seasons

SANTA CRUZ, CA—March 21, 2023—The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, America’s longest-running festival of new orchestral music, celebrates its 61st  season July 30 – August 13, 2023.

Led by Grammy Award-winning Music Director and Conductor Cristian Măcelaru, the Cabrillo Festival is all about “music of our time, for our time.” The Festival offers composers a haven to present contemporary music that speaks to the world around us, bringing together a community of artists and audiences to experience the creative process. This year’s Festival is infused with tremendous energy, hope, and possibility. The Festival’s 61st season welcomes fourteen resident composers, seven renowned guest artists, and features two World premiere commissions, one US premiere, and nine West Coast premieres. This season’s highlights also include three electrifying percussion concerti; a tribute to the beloved Cabrillo Festival co-founder Robert Hughes who passed away in 2022; and a heartfelt send-off to longtime Executive Director Ellen Primack, who steps down from her role after 33 seasons.

This year’s composers in residence are Dan Caputo, Anna Clyne, Sebastian Currier, Xavier Foley, Jennifer Higdon, Gabriela Ortiz, Kevin Puts, Andrea Reinkemeyer, Peter Shin, Carlos Simon, Gabriella Smith, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Julia Wolfe, and Bora Yoon. Works by Tan Dun, Robert Hughes and Olga Neuwirth are also on the program.

Guest artists include percussionists Colin Currie, Svet Stoyanov, Matthew Strauss, and Beibei Wang, bassist Xavier Foley, violinist Eunice Kim, and Kronos Quartet.

As well as the featured evening concerts, the Festival continues its tradition of hosting Open Rehearsals, Meet the Composers and other talks, and the Conductors/Composers Workshop professional training program (focused on the creation, performance and promotion of new music). 

Forward – Friday, August 4, 8pm

Maestro Măcelaru kicks off the 61st season with an evening of West Coast premieres by composers Sarah Kirkland Snider, Jennifer Higdon, Sebastian Currier, and Bora Yoon.  

Dubbed “one of the decade’s more gifted, up-and-coming modern classical composers” (Pitchfork), Sarah Kirkland Snider writes music of direct expression and vivid narrative. Her work Forward into Light is a meditation on perseverance, bravery, and alliance, inspired by the work of American women suffragists.

Master percussionists Matthew Strauss and Svet Stoyanov take center stage in the West Coast premiere of Duo Duel. This electrifying work was co-commissioned by the Cabrillo Festival. Dubbed “limb defying” and composed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon, Duo Duel showcases the full spectrum of percussion’s expressive power. Higdon composed the work specifically for Stoyanov and Strauss, two artists the composer praised for their “extraordinary technique and musicality.”

Grawemeyer Award–winning composer Sebastian Currier is known for writing “music with a distinctive voice” (New York Times) that is “lyrical, colorful, firmly rooted in tradition, but absolutely new” (Washington Post). His work, Track 8, draws inspiration from and parallels Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, in what the composer calls a “Beethoven remix.”

The “genre-bending” (New Yorker) Korean-American composer, vocalist, and sound artist Bora Yoon offers up The Wind of Two Koreas, a work inspired by Stravinsky’s early orchestral works and his inspiration from Russian folklore. The Wind of Two Koreas excavates the idea of cultural blood memory and epigenetics—a recurring theme in Yoon’s work. 

Tears of Nature – Saturday, August 5, 7pm

Maestro Măcelaru leads the Festival Orchestra in works by composers Peter Shin, Carlos Simon, Andrea Reinkemeyer, and Tan Dun.

Composer Peter Shin’s music explores matters of national identity, social belonging, and other contemporary issues and has been described as “entirely fresh and personal” (New York Times). The Festival Orchestra performs Shin’s Relapse, a reflection on the composer’s upbringing as a Korean American.

Carlos Simon, whose music ranges from concert music for large and small ensembles to film scores with influences of jazz, gospel, and neo-romanticism, was recently announced as Composer-in-Residence at the Kennedy Center. The Festival presents the West Coast premiere of his four-movement work, Tales – A Folklore Symphony, a composition exploring African American folklore as well as Afrofuturist stories.

The music of American composer Andrea Reinkemeyer has been described as, “hauntingly melodic and fun, dancing and almost running its way forward (Fanfare Magazine). It explores the interplay of visual metaphors, nature, and sound to create lush textures against churning rhythmic figures. Her piece, Water Sings Fire draws inspiration from Leigh Bardugo’s eponymous short story, a feminist origin myth to the Hans Christian Andersen classic, The Little Mermaid, in which themes of ambition and betrayal are explored allegorically through Ulla’s transformation from obscure mermaid to tempestuous sea witch.

The concert concludes with the percussion concerto, The Tears of Nature, by Academy and Grammy Award-winning composer Tan Dun (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). In writing about this work the composer says, “This work is about the beautiful sadness of nature’s predicament and the threat to our survival today. Throughout the music, nature’s tears tell us that the threat to our survival is ourselves.” Percussionist Beibei Wang is the featured soloist. 

Kronos Quartet in Concert- Sunday, August 6, 7pm

The San Francisco-based, Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet—David Harrington, John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola) and Paul Wiancko (cello)—are the special guests for tonight’s concert. For nearly five decades Kronos Quartet has challenged and reimagined what a string quartet can be. Kronos is one of the most celebrated and influential groups of our era, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 70 recordings of extraordinary breadth and creativity, and collaborating with many of the world’s most accomplished composers and performers. Through its nonprofit organization, Kronos Performing Arts Association, Kronos has commissioned more than 1,000 works and arrangements for string quartet—including the recently completed 50 for the Future library of free, educational repertoire.

Rise & Fly – Saturday, August 12, 7pm

The second weekend of the Cabrillo Festival begins with works by Gabriella Smith, Julia Wolfe, Gabriela Ortiz, Robert Hughes, and Olga Neuwirth.

Gabriella Smith’s music is described as “high-voltage and wildly imaginative” (Philadelphia Inquirer), and “the coolest, most exciting, most inventive new voice I’ve heard in ages” (Musical America). Her work, f(x)=sin²x-1/x, draws inspiration from mathematical curves to build waves of musical energy. 

Composer Julia Wolfe’s music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes. She drew inspiration from the street performers that played music near her home in New York City for her percussion concerto riSE and fLY. The star of this piece is acclaimed percussionist Colin Currie who performs using his body and other objects including pans, oven racks, and buckets.

One of today’s most prominent Mexican composers, Gabriela Ortiz’s musical language synthesizes high art, folk music, and jazz. Măcelaru leads the Festival Orchestra in Ortiz’s Tzam, a work that pays tribute to the composer’s father, her composition teacher, and faculty colleague—three important figures she lost in succession. The work is a departure from her usual style, and features different atmospheres with important harmonies and tone colors. The title means “dialogue” in a nearly extinct dialect from Mexico and Ortiz notes that the piece establishes a dialogue not only with her influences but also with herself.

Composer Robert Hughes co-founded the Cabrillo Festival more than six decades ago and passed away in August 2022. “Hughes was a visionary who kept coming up with ideas to make musical life in the Bay Area more exciting, more surprising and more responsive to the creative demands of the world around,” wrote Joshua Kosman in The San Francisco Chronicle. The Festival will feature Hughes’ Uutiqtut, one of several of Hughes’ works inspired by the Arctic region’s nature, people, and music. Uutiqtut is an Inuit term that means ‘movement.’

The Grawemeyer Award-winning Austrian composer and multimedia artist Olga Neuwirth is celebrated for her technical virtuosity and the elemental power of her work. The composer describes how her one-movement work, Dreydl, “emerged out of my preoccupation with memory and the passing of time.” Reflecting the circular rotation of the dreidel the piece is driven by cyclical repetitions of rhythmic patterns. 

Wild Geese– Sunday, August 13, 7pm

The Cabrillo Festival concludes another extraordinary season on Sunday, August 13 with works by Dan Caputo, Xavier Foley, Robert Hughes, Kevin Puts, and Anna Clyne

Dan Caputo, a composer of instrumental and electronic music, explores the ways detailed aural textures and curious musical behaviors can elicit complex psychological responses. Măcelaru leads the Festival Orchestra in Liminal, a work that aims to reflect the psychological behaviors people experience during transitional states.

Rising star composer and double bassist Xavier Foley is celebrated for his virtuosity and passion for music on the double bass, which is rarely presented as a solo instrument. The recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, Foley was one of the Washington Post’s “23 classical musical composers and performers to watch in 2023”. Cabrillo Festival, in conjunction with Mahler Foundation, commissioned the World premiere of Foley’s Double Concerto for Violin & Bass, which will feature the composer on double bass and the acclaimed Eunice Kim on violin.

Măcelaru and the Festival Orchestra continue their posthumous tribute to Robert Hughes and revisit his popular work, Estampie. This work was deeply influenced by Hughes’ relationship with Lou Harrison–a composer who, along with Hughes, played an important role in shaping the beginnings of the Cabrillo Festival.

Cabrillo Festival veteran and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts was inspired by the poem, Hymn for the Hurting, by Amanda Gorman when composing his Concerto for Orchestra, a work co-commissioned by the Cabrillo Festival with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Puts’ Concerto for Orchestra spotlights the virtuosity of each orchestra section and the principal players. 

The Festival’s final work of 2023 was commissioned by the Festival as a tribute to longtime Executive Director, Ellen Primack, who steps down from her role after 33 seasons. During her tenure at Cabrillo, Primack has vigorously championed new music, building Cabrillo Festival into a preeminent force in the field, both nationally and internationally, and leading the organization with determination, passion, and grit. Măcelaru leads the Festival Orchestra in the world premiere of Wild Geese, a work by Anna Clyne that draws its inspiration from the eponymous poem by Mary Oliver. Wild Geese marks the first implementation of the Augmented Orchestra, a new creative exploration that combines the sounds of a live orchestra with computer-controlled processes, developed by Clyne in collaboration with audio engineer Jody Elff. Described as a “composer of uncommon gifts and unusual methods” (New York Times) and as “fearless” (National Public Radio), Clyne is a beloved presence at Cabrillo, making this a fitting sendoff to Primack.



Festival tickets range from $20-$80 for individual concerts and $312-360 for full subscriptions. Many events are free and open to the public. The public may access information on the Festival website at or call (831) 426-6966; and are encouraged to join the mailing list to receive updates. 

Full Subscriptions may be ordered online, by phone (831-420-5260) or in person at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium Box Office, 307 Church Street beginning May 3; Single Tickets may be purchased beginning June 7. The Box Office is open Tuesday through Friday, 12 to 4pm, and during events.


All events will be held at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium at 307 Church Street in Downtown Santa Cruz.


Friday, August 4, 8pm –  Forward 

  • Sebastian Currier: Track 8 (West Coast Premiere)
  • Jennifer Higdon: Duo Duel (Svet Stoyanov and Matthew Strauss, percussion) (West Coast Premiere | Festival Co-commission) 
  • Sarah Kirkland Snider: Forward into Light (West Coast Premiere) 
  • Bora Yoon: The Wind of Two Koreas (West Coast Premiere) 

Saturday, August 5, 7pm – Tears of Nature  

  • Peter Shin: Relapse 
  • Carlos Simon: Tales: A Folklore Symphony (West Coast Premiere)
  • Andrea Reinkemeyer: Water Sings Fire
  • Tan Dun: The Tears of Nature (Beibei Wang, percussion)

Sunday, August 6, 7pm – Kronos Quartet in Concert

  • Featuring the Grammy Award-winning Kronos Quartet 

Saturday, August 12, 7pm – Rise & Fly

  • Gabriela Ortiz: Tzam (West Coast Premiere) 
  • Julia Wolfe: riSE and fLY (Colin Currie, percussion) (West Coast Premiere)
  • Robert Hughes: Uutiqtut
  • Gabriella Smith: f(x)=sin²x-1/x (West Coast Premiere) 
  • Olga Neuwirth: Dreydl  (US Premiere) 

Sunday, August 13, 7pm – Wild Geese 

  • Dan Caputo: Liminal 
  • Xavier Foley: Double Concerto for Violin & Bass (Xavier Foley, bass, Eunice Kim, violin) (World Premiere | Festival Commission)
  • Robert Hughes: Estampie 
  • Kevin Puts: Concerto for Orchestra (West Coast Premiere | Festival Co-commission) 
  • Anna Clyne: Wild Geese (World Premiere | Festival Commission)


  • Anna Clyne: Wild Geese 
  • Xavier Foley: Double Concert for Violin & Bass (Xavier Foley, bass, Eunice Kim, violin) 


  • Olga Neuwirth: Dreydl


  • Sebastian Currier: Track 8 
  • Jennifer Higdon: Duo Duel for Two Percussionists (Svet Stoyanov and Matthew Strauss, percussion) (Festival Co-commission)
  • Gabriela Ortiz: TZAM
  • Carlos Simon: Tales
  • Gabriella Smith: f(x)=sin²x-1/x 
  • Sarah Kirkland Snider: Forward into the Light 
  • Julia Wolfe: riSE and fLY (Colin Currie, percussion)
  • Bora Yoon: The Wind of Two Koreas 
  • Kevin Puts: Concerto for Orchestra (Festival Co-commission) 


  • Dan Caputo
  • Anna Clyne
  • Sebastian Currier
  • Tan Dun*
  • Xavier Foley
  • Jennifer Higdon
  • Robert Hughes*
  • Olga Neuwirth*
  • Gabriela Ortiz
  • Kevin Puts
  • Andrea Reinkemeyer
  • Peter Shin
  • Carlos Simon
  • Gabriella Smith
  • Sarah Kirkland Snider
  • Julia Wolfe
  • Bora Yoon

*not in residence 


  • Colin Currie
  • Xavier Foley
  • Eunice Kim
  • Kronos Quartet 
  • Svet Stoyanov
  • Matthew Strauss
  • Beibei Wang


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