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R.I.P. Faith France, Champion of Young Talent

February 18, 2019

“Dear Alumni and Friends of the San Domenico Music Conservatory and Virtuoso Program,” said the message this morning. “It is with heavy hearts that we share the news of the passing of a beloved member of our San Domenico School community, Faith Y. France.

“Faith passed away on February 8, at the age of 96. She is remembered as the creator of San Domenico’s Virtuoso Program, founded over 40 years ago to provide young string players a pre-professional environment in which to flourish both academically and musically.”

France was an extraordinary champion of young talent, a force of nature, creating a showcase program at San Domenico, a small independent school for girls in Marin, which originally opened in Monterey in 1850.

Beginning her career as a substitute piano teacher at San Domenico, France had what she described as an epiphany while visiting Venice in 1977. It was her experience at the Conservatorio dell’Ospedale della Pietà (Conservatory of the Hospital of the Pietà), the orphanage where Antonio Vivaldi himself had once taught and composed.

France returned to San Anselmo, and created the Conservatory of Music and Virtuoso Program of extended, intensive string training for “ordinary” students — those with a normal academic load, who are not yet pursuing a music career.

Many in the program were recent immigrants, studying on scholarships obtained for them by France.

It is a still rare pre-professional program in the nation, and certainly one of the most successful, having produced both famous musicians and those following other careers, but their lives enriched by music. In the former group: cellist Hai-Ye Ni, who went from San Domenico to the S.F. Conservatory of Music to principal positions with the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Over the years, France helped to obtain prestigious scholarships and launch the careers of Jannie Lo (Peabody Conservatory), Jihyun Yun (Eastman School), Maggie Barr (UC Santa Cruz), Jennifer Chen (Wellesley College), Samantha LaValley (Cornell University), and many, many others.

France also established a choral program, and then annual tributes to Vivaldi, which always begins, as in the Ospedale, with young girls in long, white dresses, flowers in their hair, filing into the music pavilion, playing handbells and singing Gregorian chants.

“Faith’s girls” performed chamber music on an astonishing level. Again and again, as I have watched the Virtuoso Program over the years, what struck me was the amazing flowering of musical talent in an institution other than a music school. No other such small school ever scored as highly numerous times at the National Orchestra Festival and other national competitions.

The Virtuoso Program’s current director is Ann Krinitsky; Music Conservatory Director Rob DeNunzio has been managing San Domenico’s music programs since 2005.

France attracted many prominent musicians to the school to give masterclasses and work with the students. They included Yehudi Menuhin, The Alexander String Quartet, Stuart Canin, Denis de Coteau, JoAnn Falletta, Sharon Isbin, Miro String Quartet, Andre Watts, and John Williams.

France was married to Hugo Rinaldi, the founder and longtime conductor of the Marin Symphony Youth Orchestra, who died in 2015. The couple conducted many concerts together at San Domenico through the years.

When France was celebrated at the school on her 90th birthday, she said:

“Remembering the past, let us look to the future of the program with high hopes and glorious expectations. I cannot go on the journey but I shall be there in spirit — for my heart will always be at San Domenico.”

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].