Special Reports

MA Top 30 Professional: David H. Stull

December 5, 2023 | By Hannah Edgar

San Francisco Conservatory of Music

American conservatories—indeed, the entire concept of a conservatory—faced an existential crisis during the pandemic. Not the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). Between 2020 and 2022, it audaciously redefined what a school of music could be by acquiring the renowned record label Pentatone and two major arts management firms, Askonas Holt and Opus 3.

Why? It’s all about connections, says SFCM President David Stull. SFCM’s recent mergers bring those companies’ affiliated artists straight to students’ doorsteps—literally. Since coming to SFCM in 2013, Stull has also overseen the construction of the award-winning Bowes Center, a $200 million, 170,000-square-foot “vertical campus” that houses not just student residences but three performance venues, a state-of-the-art recording studio, San Francisco’s classical radio station, and apartments for visiting artists. He’s also inaugurated or redeveloped the conservatory’s partnerships with Bay Area cultural juggernauts like the San Francisco Symphony, Opera, and Ballet, the SFJAZZ Center, Skywalker Studios, and Sony.

“This is a way to advance our agenda of creating a playground on our campus for artists when they come here, and for our students while they are here,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It becomes a phenomenal network.”

Stull’s previous tenure at the helm of Oberlin College and Conservatory was similarly visionary. In his nine years as dean and brass studies professor, he launched a record label, hosted the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism—which has since followed Stull to SFCM, and which funds classical music coverage at 17 publications across the country—and raised $40 million. Those accomplishments led then-President Barack Obama to award Oberlin the National Medal of the Arts in 2010.

A graduate of Oberlin himself, Stull is also, in his words, a “recovering tuba player” and an amateur pilot. If the first ten years of Stull’s tenure are any indication, SFCM’s own dizzying ascent is only just beginning.




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