Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music Announces that Executive Director Ellen Primack will step down after the 61st Season, August 2023

Contact: Mona Baroudi

SANTA CRUZ, CA—January 17, 2023—Ellen Primack, longtime Executive Director of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, has announced she will step down from her role following the 2023 Festival season.  

 America’s longest-running festival dedicated to new music for orchestra, the Cabrillo Festival is led by Grammy Award-winning Music Director and Conductor Cristian Măcelaru. Each summer it attracts some of the world’s top contemporary composers whose compositions are performed by the award-winning orchestra and shared with an enthusiastic audience.   

Since Primack began her tenure 32 years ago, she has vigorously championed new music, building Cabrillo Festival into a preeminent force in the field, both nationally and internationally. Primack makes this announcement at a time when the Festival is in a strong position both administratively and financially, and continues to thrive artistically.  

“We are deeply grateful for Ellen’s steadfast leadership and passion,” said Claire Schneeberger, Chair of the Board of Directors. “Ellen has built the Festival into the esteemed, world-class organization that it is today. Her vision, commitment, and love will leave a lasting legacy. Because of her leadership, the Festival is well prepared to move forward into the future and to continue breaking new artistic ground.”   

During her 32-year leadership role with the Cabrillo Festival, Primack has engaged countless emerging and preeminent composers, uniting creators, commissioners, and audiences to help bring new works to life. Primack has produced hundreds of performances ranging from full orchestra, chamber orchestra, chamber music, staged opera, musical theater, dance, film, multimedia, electronica, and more. She has stewarded some of the Festival’s most impactful educational programs, including the Free Family Concerts, the Student Staff Program, and the prestigious Conductors/Composers Professional Training Workshop.  

Primack closely partnered with two of the world’s leading maestros, Marin Alsop and Cristian Măcelaru––passionate advocates of diverse contemporary voices, gender equity, and meaningful social commentary. Among the many artistic achievements of Primack’s tenure are more than 50 Festival commissions; and major multimedia productions including Frans Lanting and Philip Glass’ LIFE: A Journey Through Time, The Hidden World of Girls in collaboration with the Kitchen Sisters, and Kristen Kuster’s When There are Nine honoring the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Primack guided the Festival through the pandemic, producing innovative virtual presentations including a filmed version of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s INTONATIONS: Songs from the Violins of Hope and a dance video choreographed by Molly Katzman to Gabriela Lena Frank’s Contested Eden 

“I am immensely grateful for the many hours we spent together crafting a more immersive experience for all participants at the Festival,” said Macelaru. “Ellen has conceived and put into practice a vast number of transformative initiatives, all while balancing her many roles and functions that go far beyond her title of Executive Director. The legacy she leaves behind is one of dedication, integrity, hard work, and selflessness, to name just a few. The more than 50 commissions that she helped realize stand as a testament to her consistent passion for new music. It will remain an example to follow for generations to come.” 

“I often think running any arts organization must be the most difficult job there is,” said composer Jennifer Higdon. “Ellen has successfully done this for 32 years, and as a result, the music world, thousands of artists, and the community at large have gained in a richness of experience that truly is a wonder. I will forever be grateful for the joy and wonderful music-making that she has given to me, and to everyone else.” 

“The Cabrillo Festival is truly a paramount institution of new music,” said composer Iván Enrique Rodríguez. “It is the literal historic door to the new music we later see in our history books, and Ellen made that happen in such a special way. She made it feel organic yet inevitable, of vital importance yet joyfully light and collegial. Ellen made me feel like I was part of a family just getting together for a wonderful summer that just happened to make history every year.”  

Fundamental to the Festival’s long-term sustainability, Primack has successfully managed the Festival’s financial resources including significant growth of Operating Reserves, the Restricted Endowment, and an Artistic Initiative Reserve (AIR) Fund–all allowing the Festival to take the artistic risks core to its mission. Her leadership helped earn the Festival major grant awards and leadership recognition, including participation in Packard Foundation’s Arts Leadership for the Future and the James Irvine Foundation’s Central Coast Arts Regional Initiative. The Festival has long been recognized for its important role nationally, garnering ongoing awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, The Amphion Foundation, The Alice M. Ditson Fund at Columbia University, New Music USA, and BMI Foundation, among others. 

“Ellen has been a champion of the arts in Santa Cruz County for decades, and her influence goes well beyond her exemplary work leading the Cabrillo Festival,” said Executive Director of Arts Council Santa Cruz County Jim Brown. “She championed the transformation of the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium into a performing arts venue and continued to advocate for improvements to the Civic for many years, she was a force within the Arts Council Associates helping build relationships and strengthen organizations across our arts sector, and she has been a mentor and friend to me and many others in our arts community. Ellen’s dedication, intelligence, and heart will be missed, and I’m excited to see what this next chapter holds for her and the Festival.” 

“Though it is bittersweet, my decision to step down from my leadership role with the Festival comes with a great sense of accomplishment and promise, for both the Festival and myself,” said Primack. “As the Festival reemerges after the pandemic and continues to blossom under the artistic leadership of Cristi Măcelaru, it’s a great time for the organization to welcome new energy, new ideas, and a new sense of possibility. Cabrillo Festival has always been first and foremost about people and community. That has been the greatest gift to me in my life’s work, and it remains the true strength of the Festival which will allow it to thrive through this leadership transition. I look forward to the 2023 season when we’ll celebrate all that we’ve achieved together and all that we have to look forward to.” 

The Cabrillo Festival’s Board of Directors is currently undertaking a national search for a new Executive Director. Primack will continue as an advisor to the Festival through March 2024 to help ensure a smooth transition.


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