Crowden orchestra
A moment during the Crowden School’s 30th anniversary concert at UC Berkeley’s Hertz Hall | Credit: Luce Photography

A special school for the very young — grades 3–8 (about ages 8–13) — is relishing its own middle age. The Crowden School is turning 40, and it’s throwing itself a big party on May 25.

Crowden is a private school in Berkeley offering a “collaborative and ensemble-based curriculum centered around chamber music,” its students learning by playing music together daily. The result is a strong general education and, in numerous cases, the foundation for a career in music, with some alumni going on to great fame.

The school has no formal record of its graduates’ eventual careers, but highest estimates suggest around 20 percent of alumni make a living in music, comparable to the percentage working in science.

The upcoming anniversary party honors founding and sustaining benefactors Gordon Getty (and the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation), composer John Adams — long associated with the school — and cellist Bonnie Hampton, who studied with Pablo Casals in the 1960s and took her first faculty position at Mills College at age 23. She has since been on the faculties of Stanford University, UC Berkeley, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and The Juilliard School.

Samuel Adams
Composer Samuel Adams with Crowden Executive and Artistic Director Doris Fukawa | Courtesy of Crowden School

The gala program, with a welcome address by Frederica von Stade, includes the world premiere of Arches, a Crowden commission from composer Samuel Adams (a 2000 Crowden graduate), featuring violinist Nora Chastain and Pittsburgh Symphony concertmaster David McCarroll (1999) as soloists.

Arches is a new score that celebrates 40 remarkable years of music-making at Crowden,” says Adams. “I envisioned the energetic and kaleidoscopic music as a kind of bridge connecting the school’s past, present, and future. On the surface, the piece works like a Baroque double violin concerto.

“However, the work is scored in such a way that the musical ideas are passed around the multigenerational orchestra, creating a series of musical impulses that flow through the ensemble composed of faculty, alumni, and — most importantly — a wonderfully talented group of current students.”

Other musicians featured on the program, Crowden graduation years in parentheses:

The Grammy Award-winning Catalyst Quartet (violinist Karla Donehew Perez, 1999), Friction Quartet, Crowden faculty conductors Rachel Durling and La Nell Martin, San Francisco Chamber Orchestra conductor Jory Fankuchen (1991), and Crowden summer faculty violinist Ariana Kim.

David McCarroll
David McCarroll performs for Crowden students | Credit: Geoffrey Biddle

Also: Menuhin Competition-winning violinist Kenneth Renshaw (2008), former Crowden and SFCO Music Director Benjamin Simon, composer Gabriella Smith (2005), Crowden Artistic Director Eugene Sor, John Adams Young Composers Program student Nicole Targosz, pianist Audrey Vardanega (2009), and San Francisco Ballet Orchestra cellist Mariko Wyrick (2006).

Additional performers include Crowden students, faculty, alumni, and friends, Quartet San Francisco founding violinist Jeremy Cohen, violist Abigail Rojansky (2003) of the Verona Quartet, and the Alexander String Quartet members on the Crowden summer faculty: Zakarias Grafilo, David Samuel, and Sandy Wilson.

Work and distance prevent some famous Crowden alumni — such as cellist Jay Campbell and violinist Noah Bendix-Balgley — from attending. Among Crowden’s distinguished teachers being remembered at the anniversary is the late Milly RosnerTickets for the concert are available here.

When violinist Anne Crowden founded the Crowden School in 1983 with 13 students, she was “entering unknown territory, and she certainly never imagined that her dreams of a supportive educational environment for musical children would develop into a thriving, established Bay Area cultural institution,” says the school’s literature.

Crowden’s presence in the community is widespread, including its annual Community Music Day attended by hundreds and student recitals that are free to the public, as are all the school’s concerts for children.

Eighth-grade class
Crowden’s eighth-grade class | Credit: Heidi Alletzhauser

The latest publicly available operating budget for the entire nonprofit Crowden Music Center is $3.86 million for fiscal year 2022.

Cost of attendance varies significantly per program, but basic school tuition for 2024–2025 is $35,000 for grades 3–5 and $38,000 for grades 6–8. Tuition is all-inclusive, even covering the cost of the biennial tour, which this year was to Hawaii for the Pacific Basin Music Festival.

With the number of faculty fluctuating around 100, Crowden has up to 1,000 students of all ages (3 through adult) enrolled each year in various classes, ensembles, private lessons, the John Adams Young Composers Program, and summer offerings. There are 52 full-time students in grades 3–8, many receiving need-based tuition assistance.

Support for Crowden began with Getty and the Bernard E. & Alba Witkin Foundation giving the school $100,000 to spearhead the capital campaign that allowed Crowden to purchase its Berkeley campus.