January 22, 2013
Chamber Music San Francisco's 10th season, February through May in three locations, will have an impressive lineup: Sarah Chang, Richard Goode, Garrick Ohlsson, Tokyo Quartet, and more. But here we are focusing on Founder and Director Daniel Levenstein, who has created and is maintaining single-handed an enterprise vying in artist presentation with numerous organizations in the area, some bigger by a crore or two.
Levenstein says his career is not merely checkered: "You would need stacks of checkerboards to do it justice." But, he firmly believes, "each step of the way has been an essential step towards doing what I do today."
In 1993, after working with the late choreographer Michael Smuin on dozens of projects (including Anything Goes on Broadway, the Geena Davis film Angie, and — this is true — a show for Siegfried and Roy) Levenstein co-founded Smuin Ballet and served as its executive director until 2001.
Besides managing the operations of this $2 million arts group, he was responsible for its marketing, fundraising, and touring efforts and, until 1997, was also Smuin Ballet's music director:
Working with Michael was like earning a post-graduate degree in arts management. His artistic standards were the highest, and, since he had a strong Bay Area following, when we decided to create Smuin Ballet I knew we could harness that to build a strong organization. It worked out pretty well. Plus it was fun — you sort of get addicted to having sold-out houses.
Before Smuin Ballet days, Levenstein operated a music software and equipment distributorship, a music booking service, and a school of musical theater. He wrote and produced shows for the S.F. Conservatory of Music, the S.F. Convention and Visitors Bureau and such corporate clients as Toshiba, Seagram Classics, and Silicon Graphics.
He also composed works performed by artists ranging from The Mommies to the Kronos Quartet, and produced soundtracks for such clients as blues singers, a Charles Schulz ice show, country bands, Hartford Ballet, and a ventriloquist.
That many-checkered career went from being a bassoon major at the S.F. Conservatory (where he studied composition with John Adams) to a 13-year "sideline" as associate music director of Beach Blanket Babylon:
I was the understudy band leader — without someone sitting in that seat leading the band, they would have to cancel a performance. So I was paid a retainer to be on call, and could do other things in the meantime. Again, I learned a ton from playing that show, seeing what worked and what didn't work onstage.
In 2003 he founded Chamber Music San Francisco, which not only survived the early startup problems, but expanded to regular seasons in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Walnut Creek. The issue of venue in San Francisco has been an especially difficult one: Now that CMSF has graduated from 300-seat houses to 900-seat Herbst Theatre, Levenstein — and his colleagues/competitors — will have to find alternative dwellings while that building undergoes seismic restructuring over the next two years.
Near the end of the season, CMSF will move to Marines Memorial Theatre, a 650-seat venue with merely adequate acoustics (that's my take, not Levenstein's). At least, the soon-to-be disbanded Tokyo String Quartet will make its last appearance in San Francisco in Herbst, on April 18.