SF Conservatory of Music's state-of-the-art Studio G | Courtesy of SFCM

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) made news in 2020 when they announced their “unprecedented” alliance with Opus 3 Artists, the powerhouse music-talent management firm. At the time, SFCM said, “The alliance will offer unparalleled opportunities for our students to work with and learn from the world’s top artists.” In a similar move this month, SFCM announced that it is now the home of Pentatone Music, a premier classical-music record label founded in 2001 by former Philips Classics executives in the Netherlands.

In a press release announcing the acquisition, SFCM said, “[This] partnership will enable students, artists, and the public to benefit from the combined resources of a leading conservatory and a legendary label. … As a trio, SFCM, Opus 3 Artists, and Pentatone present an innovative platform to reimagine the model for professional music education and to invent the performance experience of the future.”

This combination of a music-education organization with two professional music businesses is indeed unusual, but not out of line with the outside-the-box thinking SFCM President David Stull described to SFCV in a 2018 feature titled “David Stull’s Culture of Achievement.”

David Stull

Last week Stull described how this latest partnership fits into his vision:

Bringing Pentatone in-house creates an extraordinary backdrop to explore new ideas for performing, recording, and distributing music. For the first time, professional artists have access to a research and development engine in the form of SFCM’s students and Pentatone’s skill and creativity producing musical experiences of quality and enduring importance.”

The label — awarded “Label of the Year” in 2019 by Gramophone magazine and in 2020 by the International Classical Music Awards — will continue its operations in Baarn, Netherlands, as an independent company, but the new arrangement will give its artists access to SFCM’s state-of-the-art Studio G, which is adjacent to the Conservatory’s multipurpose, black box Technology Hall — two of the most desirable spaces to create, capture, and listen to immersive audio.

Pentatone Managing Director Sean Hickey added the label’s perspective on the deal:

The team at Pentatone is excited for the potential that comes with a profound partnership with SFCM and the constituent companies of its larger organization. We are pleased that it affords us the potential for meaningful collaboration in the areas of higher education, recorded music, and music management and the shared resources that we hope to enjoy as a result. The record industry is changing drastically and now is a good time for one of the largest and most-celebrated independent classical labels to forge deeper and more strategic partnerships.”

Pentatone releases
A selection of Pentatone classical-music releases​​​​​​

To kick off the formal collaboration, Pentatone plans to record and release a performance by the National Brass Ensemble during Summer@SFCM’s National Brass Ensemble Academy. According to the announcement, the performance will be conducted by San Francisco Opera Music Director Eun Sun Kim inside the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall; it will include the debut of a commission by Jonathan Bingham, a winner of the Emerging Black Composers Project sponsored in part by SFCM and the SF Symphony.

And in addition to sharing its considerable tech and academic talent — engineers, orchestral talent, educational resources, masterclasses, and professional development sessions — SFCM says it intends to welcome the Pentatone team to campus to participate in a project with students and faculty during the Conservatory’s 2023 Winter Term, ultimately resulting in the release of an album. 

“Our collaboration will provide invaluable opportunities to students while giving new life to one of the world’s greatest labels,” said Stull. “Together, we will continue to push boundaries that advance the cause of music worldwide.”

SFCM’s Pentatone acquisition was made possible through a private donation.