Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music Names New Executive Director

Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music Names New Executive Director Riley Nicholson to assume role October 1, 2023

Contact: Mona Baroudi

SANTA CRUZ, CA—June 1, 2023–The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music is pleased to announce the appointment of D. Riley Nicholson as its next Executive Director, effective October 1, 2023. Nicholson will succeed Ellen Primack, who, as previously announced, will step down from her role as Executive Director in September of this year, after 33 years of leadership with the organization. An accomplished arts leader and a composer and pianist, Riley brings a diverse background and a deep passion for contemporary music to the Festival.

“I am thrilled to have Riley Nicholson join the Festival as our new Executive Director,” said Claire Schneeberger, President of the Board of Directors. “He brings a breadth of experience and creative energy to Cabrillo Festival’s mission of building a vibrant community dedicated to the creation of new and innovative music.” 

“I will be Riley’s biggest cheerleader as he assumes the role of Executive Director of the Cabrillo Festival, which I love so much,” said Primack. “His appointment gives me enormous confidence as the Festival approaches a new era with great promise and possibility — further advancing our impact on the music world and our local community.”

Nicholson has been serving as Executive Director of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas (SoNA) since 2020. During his tenure at SoNA, Nicholson spearheaded numerous initiatives, including the adoption of a new vision; a new diversity, equity, and inclusion action plan; and a three-year strategic plan. He expanded the symphonic mainstage season, introduced the SoNA Beyond community outreach concert series, and significantly expanded educational programming. Nicholson’s dedication to commissioning new works and his focus on the living voices of today have earned SoNA critical acclaim. Previously, Nicholson was the Project Manager for the Center for New Music, a Marketing Consultant for Dance Film SF, and also served on the Board of Directors at Berkeley Ballet Theater and Post:ballet. 

Reflecting on his upcoming transition to the Cabrillo Festival, Nicholson expressed his enthusiasm for the opportunity to focus on new music and contemporary voices. “My choice to work with the Cabrillo Festival is rooted in my life’s work and passion for the contemporary arts,” he said. “Cabrillo’s commitment to the creation and performance of profound, relevant, and innovative music aligns perfectly with my artistic vision.”

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. It has been a trailblazer in the music world for more than 60 years, continuously pushing the boundaries of orchestral experiences, captivating audiences and artists alike. The partnership between Măcelaru and Nicholson marks a new and exciting chapter in the Festival’s history, as it continues to evolve and shape the future of orchestral music.


D. Riley Nicholson has been selected to be Cabrillo Festival's next Executive Director
D. Riley Nicholson has been selected to be Cabrillo Festival’s next Executive Director

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