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MA 30 The Influencers: Janet Cowperthwaite
By Rick Schultz
December 1, 2015
Hired by the Kronos Quartet part-time in the fall of 1981, Janet Cowperthwaite recalls the group, founded in 1973 and based in San Francisco, as being stuffed into “one room with one phone and one hold button.” Now starting her 35th year as managing director of what has evolved into the Kronos Quartet/Kronos Performing Arts Association, Cowperthwaite has played a major role in the group’s growth and success. Overseeing a staff of 10, she supervises pretty much everything: booking, artistic planning, recording, production, fund raising—the entire operation.
With Cowperthwaite facilitating the process, Kronos has widened the scope and impact of the string quartet and chamber music immeasurably, offering a model for other organizations. To date, the group has made over 50 recordings and commissioned over 850 works, many of which have seen repeat performances by other groups. “I can tell you the story of each one—from raising the funds to where the piece was premiered,” she says.
Last year, the organization launched “Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire,” a major educational initiative designed to help young musicians develop the skills required for performing 21st-century repertoire. The material will be distributed online for free. Cowperthwaite says the organization’s artistic ideas and vision are always evolving. “There’s no guidebook. You make it up as you go. I’m a matchmaker. We’re about creating the right fit. Kronos always did, and does, what it wants to do.”
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