Meet Our New Executive Director

Dear Friends of Cabrillo Festival,

I am pleased to announce that D. Riley Nicholson has assumed his role as our new Executive Director, beginning this week. Riley is a compassionate leader with creative vision. He brings broad strengths to the Festival, including executive expertise in arts administration and a passionate commitment to our mission of building a vibrant community dedicated to the creation and performance of innovative new works for orchestra. I know you will enjoy getting to know him more in the coming months, beginning with his own note of greetings below.

Riley has most recently served as Executive Director for the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas and previously worked in the Bay Area with the Center for New Music, Dance Film SF, Berkeley Ballet Theater, and Post:ballet. He is also a pianist, composer, and graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated a commitment to collaborating with artists and embracing diverse voices. (For more information see our June press release.) 

I also want to generously thank our outgoing executive director, Ellen Primack, who will continue as an advisor to Riley through March. After that, I know she will continue as a devoted Festival attendee and fan. We will continue to honor her for the enduring contributions she’s made over the last three decades.


Claire Schneeberger, President of the Board of Directors

I cannot emphasize enough how honored I am to lead the Festival alongside Cristi, our artists, board, and staff, and how enthusiastically and eagerly I am approaching this new chapter for the Festival and myself.

I have been a longtime admirer of Cabrillo Festival’s impact on the world of orchestral music—a crucial force in generating new, innovative work in the field. This year, I had the pleasure of attending the entire festival and seeing the work behind the scenes. I now know the Festival’s impact is made possible by an exceptionally generous, earnest, and passionate spirit that exists across our community–orchestra, composers, staff, volunteers, community members, board, and everyone involved.

It is my great honor to work to preserve and grow that spirit while continuing to position Cabrillo as the preeminent leader of pushing boundaries within orchestral music. Our role, as Ellen Primack and Tom Fredericks would say, is to “prepare the sacred ground” for artists and audiences to bring themselves fully, to perform at the height of their abilities, and to create music that speaks fearlessly, profoundly, meaningfully to our time and the future of our art form.

While the 2023 Festival just wrapped, we have much on the horizon, including a virtual artistic conversation as a part of the California Festival of New Music on Nov. 11th, exciting plans for our 2024 festival, and much more. I look forward to getting to know you in the months ahead!

With gratitude, 

D. Riley Nicholson, Executive Director  

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