Special Reports

MA Top 30 Professional: Thor Steingraber

December 5, 2023 | By John Fleming

Executive and Artistic Director
The Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts

Executive and Artistic director Thor Steingraber is celebrating his 10th season with the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, which is part of California State University, Northridge. Known as the Soraya—the first name of the matriarch of the Nazarian family, who made a $17 million donation in 2017—the center has carved out a distinctive niche in the complex performing arts market of Southern California.

“We are very much a multidisciplinary venue,” says Steingraber, an opera and theater director before turning to management. “Our identity is wrapped up in a couple things that don’t always sit side by side. To reflect our community, we try to present the best Spanish-language content we can, and we put that right alongside our classical music and dance.” Most performances are in the 1,690-seat Great Hall.

Among highlights of his tenure, Steingraber cites the 2018 Los Angeles premiere of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, the first-ever mariachi opera, by José “Pepe” Martinez. For Treelogy, composers Gabriella Smith, Steve Mackey, and Billy Childs were each commissioned to write a work inspired by an iconic California tree—the Redwood, Sequoia, and Joshua. The trilogy’s world premiere was performed last season by Delirium Musica, a 15-piece string ensemble. With underwriting from the Soraya, the Martha Graham Dance Company revived its classic Canticle for Innocent Comedians with a new score composed and played by jazz pianist Jason Moran.

Asked about challenges for presenters like the Soraya, Steingraber points to “the total decimation of the touring orchestra ecosystem. We had a robust international and American orchestra series that has diminished radically. Our audience is not back to pre-pandemic levels, but the real problem is on the supply side. Touring costs are something like three times what they were. The fee you pay a touring orchestra is already challenging, and if they increase fees to cover additional costs, there’s no way we’d be able to do it.”




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