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Joana Carneiro Resigns as Berkeley Symphony's Music Director

May 29, 2018

Berkeley Symphony announced on Thursday that Joana Carneiro was resigning her position as music director, nine years after succeeding Kent Nagano. She plans to visit as an emerita music director, so the Bay Area will see her again. Guest conductors Ming Luke, Jonathon Heyward, Christopher Rountree, and Christian Reif are scheduled to take on next year’s conducting duties, while the search for a successor takes place.

Although no reason was given for her resignation, it was a move that surprised no one who has followed Carneiro’s burgeoning career. The Portuguese maestra is now principal conductor of the Orquesta Sinfonica Portuguesa and the Teatro Sao Carlo, Lisbon, and principal guest conductor of the Gulbenkian Orchestra. In addition, she has made recent debuts and returns to major European orchestras such as the BBC Symphony, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, London Sinfonietta, Helsinki Philharmonic, and English National Opera, adding to a long list of orchestras she has regularly worked with.

Carneiro also missed several Berkeley Symphony concerts this season as she prepared for the birth of her fourth child. With a growing family and no shortage of assignments, Carneiro will probably prefer to have fewer long-distance travel days on her calendar for the next few years.

The Berkeley Symphony has always been the little orchestra (budget-wise) that could, and Carneiro’s legacy with the orchestra includes 14 world premieres, as well as one United States premiere, and 10 West Coast premieres. Through the Symphony’s Under Construction—a new music workshopping program—she has led 41 additional world premieres. She led programs that focused on living composers, including Gabriela Lena Frank, Kaija Saariaho, and John Adams and won a Helen M. Thompson Award from the League of American Orchestras in 2010.

A number of SFCV reviewers have praised Carneiro’s past performances. Jerry Kuderna, writing in 2011, praised Carneiro’s interpretation of Brahms’s Third: “From the start, Carneiro was in her element, urging even the downbeats heavenward. Using her entire body, she elicited a sound that was full of warmth while fully expressing the Brahmsian Sturm und Drang. Yet behind the passion lay a reading of surprising depth and subtlety as well.”

Carneiro left with a short message, “I love this orchestra and the Berkeley community. I am so proud of what I have been able to accomplish together with this extraordinary organization over the past nine years and look forward to returning to Berkeley soon.” She’ll be welcomed back.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.