Jeremy Geffen discusses curiosity, community as Cal Performances’ new executive and artistic director

Portrait of Jeremy Geffen
Nishali Naik/Staff

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On Jan. 15, Jeremy Geffen was announced as the new executive and artistic director of Cal Performances, a performing arts organization connected to UC Berkeley. According to the official press release, Geffen will take the helm of Cal Performances following the departure of Matías Tarnopolsky, who served as executive and artistic director for nine years and stepped down in the summer of 2018.

In an interview with The Daily Californian, Geffen spoke about his new role as artistic director and addressed the importance of performing arts to a campus community like UC Berkeley. Geffen expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to work with such a reputable program.

“It is not done in isolation,” Geffen commented, noting that he is entering an already well-established artistic community with strong and dedicated artists.

Geffen will begin working with Cal Performances on April 1 after 12 years of experience at Carnegie Hall, where he served as director of artistic planning and later as senior director and artistic advisor. At Carnegie Hall, Geffen was involved in a multitude of projects, including the “overall program planning and thematic development for the entirety of the approximately 160 performances comprising the Carnegie Hall concert season.”

Geffen was also closely involved with Carnegie Hall’s Ensemble Connect, a two-year fellowship program for young classical musicians, and looks forward to continuing to collaborate with young artists through Cal Performances.

He was quick to express his appreciation for emerging talents, admiring the “energy and freshness of approach” that a youthful mind can bring to their craft. “Every artist brings something different, something personal to the table,” Geffen said.

Geffen noted that he has “always been driven by a curiosity” — part of what lead him to pursue the arts. In his early musical career, Geffen trained as a violist. He had a smaller range of works he was able to perform, and that limitation only encouraged him to expand his knowledge. This drive to expand his knowledge has stuck with him throughout his time at Carnegie Hall, and it will no doubt help him engage with other forms of performance art, such as theater and dance, that are so important to Cal Performances.

Going forward, one of Geffen’s goals for Cal Performances is to facilitate a greater connection to the UC Berkeley campus and student body. Advocating the importance of the arts, he argued that one of the best parts of performing is simply being a part of a team; that’s an experience that everyone, not just highly-trained artists, can benefit from.

In fact, in Geffen’s view, most people who would never consider themselves performers have what he calls “untapped potential.” In his own career, Geffen has worked among the highest caliber of artists and will continue to do so with Cal Performances. At the same time, however, he promotes the idea that “amateur” art is not inferior or unimportant compared to so-called professional art. Instead, art in all its forms should simply be seen for what it is: “A method of communication for complicated concepts.”

Geffen also stressed the importance of forming a connection with the city of Berkeley as a whole. For him, having a strong connection with community is the basis of performance arts. “Performance is a form of dialogue,” he explained. More importantly, it is a discourse that exists between a performer and his or her community — one that performers have to be very conscious of.

“What is seen on the stage is a reflection of the community you serve,” he said. Whether that means reflecting popular social values or presenting a diverse range of cultures and styles on stage, art is undoubtedly an important medium for engaging with society.

All in all, Jeremy Geffen appears ready to dive into Cal Performances with a spirit of curiosity and collaboration. In the upcoming years, there is no doubt that he will encourage the already exceptional program to greater heights.

Lauren Sheehan-Clark covers theater. Contact her at [email protected].