Record label

San Francisco Conservatory of Music adds record label to portfolio

Recording facility at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Photo: Matt Washburn/SF Conservatory of Music

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music has acquired classical record label Pentatone Music, with the goal of making it easier for students and affiliated artists at the school to create and release high-quality digital recordings.

The deal, announced Monday, May 9, marks the Conservatory’s second large-scale corporate acquisition in less than two years. In October 2020, the school concluded a financial package to take over the management company Opus 3 Artists.

The new three-way partnership, according to Conservatory President David H. Stull, should reduce production costs for a variety of recording projects that would otherwise struggle to turn a profit.

“We know that classic labels are struggling financially, because of their overhead,” he told The Chronicle. “But we have the best talent available, and with our recording facilities, we have the ability to produce recordings that wouldn’t be made if they had to go through the standard matrix.

“Suddenly, artists have a platform to create new musical projects. Our students have the opportunity to work for a major label or a management company. The synergies become real.

David Stull, president of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The Chronicle

Like the previous transaction, the acquisition of Pentatone, based in Baarn, the Netherlands, was made possible thanks to the donation of an anonymous donor. Stull won’t disclose the size of the donation, or comment on whether the donor was the same one who backed the Opus 3 acquisition.

The inaugural recording from this partnership will be a performance by the National Brass Ensemble, led by San Francisco Opera Music Director Eun Sun Kim. The release will include the premiere of a piece by San Francisco composer Jonathan Bingham, one of the first winners of the Emerging Black Composers Project, a joint initiative of the Conservatory and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

Composer Jonathan Bingham Photo: SF Conservatory of Music

Pentatone, founded in 2001, is known for the technical sophistication and artistic ambition of its releases. They include recordings by international personalities such as pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, tenors Ian Bostridge and Piotr Beczała, cellist Alisa Weilerstein and conductor Marek Janowski.

The label has released Grammy-winning recordings of John Corigliano’s opera “The Ghosts of Versailles” and “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs”, a co-commission from the San Francisco Opera by Bay Area composer Mason Bates. Like Opus 3, Pentatone will continue to operate as an independent company.

Garrett Sorenson (left) as Woz and Edward Parks as Steve Jobs in Mason Bates’ “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” at the Santa Fe Opera. Photo: Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera

“The Pentatone team is excited about the potential for a deep partnership with SFCM and the constituent companies of its largest organization,” chief executive Sean Hickey said in a written statement.

Stull said the Conservatory’s three-way arrangement represented the major component of an organizational model that would continue to grow and develop over the years to come.

Recording facility at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Photo: Matt Washburn/SF Conservatory of Music

“We in the music world need to keep rethinking how our economic structures work,” he said. “We are not immune to the economic realities faced by other types of businesses.

“It’s not the music that’s the problem – everyone loves music. It is the structures that contain it that have become obsolete.