Brent Assink, Executive Director of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), leads one of North America’s most forward-looking arts organizations with a distinctive combination of business skills and musical passion. He brings over 30 years of experience in orchestra management to his role at the SFS helm as he continues to steer the organization in new directions, forging a path for classical music in the 21st century.
A native of Washington State, Mr. Assink has been a pianist since childhood and is an accomplished organist. After taking a master’s degree in musicology and business administration from the University of Minnesota, he joined the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s (SPCO) artistic operations department in 1981 and six years later was named SPCO Manager. In 1990, he was named SFS General Manager, then returned to the SPCO in 1994 as the organization’s President. He was named SFS Executive Director in March 1999.
Now in his thirteenth year as Executive Director of the San Francisco Symphony, Brent Assink heads an institution that presents more than 220 concerts each year with an annual budget of more than $69 million. He has implemented initiatives that have put the SFS into the front ranks of the world’s most innovative and successful orchestras, including television, radio, Internet, and recording projects. His passion for music has spearheaded education projects and community engagement activities, and the Orchestra’s reputation has assumed new dimensions through its national and international tours, with annual performances at Carnegie Hall.
Among the high-profile projects the Symphony has launched under Mr. Assink’s leadership is the establishment in 2001 of its own audio and video recording label, SFS Media. The label’s releases have featured Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and the Orchestra in an acclaimed Mahler cycle that includes all of the composer’s symphonies and works for voices, chorus, and orchestra. The Mahler recordings have won seven Grammy Awards and widespread international acclaim. The label continues to feature works of the core repertoire as well as adventurous and infrequently recorded contemporary material.
Assink spearheaded the Orchestra’s Keeping Score project, an unprecedented global multimedia endeavor designed to make classical music accessible to people of all ages and musical backgrounds. Keeping Score’s components include television documentaries and concert programs seen by over 9 million Americans on PBS television, a Peabody Award-winning national radio series, interactive web sites and an education program that has trained elementary school teachers nationwide to incorporate music instruction into core subjects. The educational Web site for children sfskids.com, first introduced in 2002, will re-launch in 2013 using the latest web-based learning tools and gaming techniques. Under Brent Assink’s leadership, the SFS has expanded Adventures in Music, the longest running and most comprehensive education program among U.S. orchestras, now bringing music to every child in grades one through five in all San Francisco public elementary schools, and reaching more than 23,000 students. In 2011-12, its Instrument Training and Support program has expanded to reach more students in every public San Francisco middle and high school with a music program, with professional musicians teaching and coaching at schools and helping provide students with music supplies, instrument repairs, and other needed resources. As part of the SF Symphony’s Centennial initiatives, Assink oversaw the development of Community of Music Makers, an ambitious amateur music program serving adult musicians and promoting active participation in music-making and lifelong learning. The popular program extends the Symphony's role beyond its historic performance and teaching model by creating opportunities for SFS concertgoers to participate in music-making under the auspices of the SFS and with the support of SFS players and artistic staff.
Other successful programs initiated during Mr. Assink’s tenure, and designed to serve San Francisco’s uniquely diverse community, include an annual Chinese New Year Concert that celebrates Asian and Western musical traditions; the popular Deck the Hall holiday celebration for children from local community organizations; and an annual Día de los Muertos community concert and celebration.
As SFS General Manager from 1990 to 1994, Brent Assink oversaw a major acoustical modification of Davies Symphony Hall, launched several new concert series, expanded ticket revenue, and augmented its education and community activities.
As SPCO President from 1994 to 1999, he recruited new board leadership, appointed Bobby McFerrin and Nicholas McGegan to the artistic staff, launched an educational initiative in partnership with St. Paul and Minneapolis public schools, and solidified the ensemble’s program of national and international touring, including the SPCO’s first tour of Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The SPCO presented annual balanced budgets, retired its accumulated deficit, and launched a new endowment campaign that raised more than $14 million under his direction.
Brent Assink holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and piano performance from Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. He is a regular faculty member for the Orchestra Leadership Academy, sponsored by the League of American Orchestras and Co-Director of the League’s Essentials of Orchestra Management Seminar. He serves on the board of the League of American Orchestras and on the Advisory Council for the University of Minnesota’s School of Music, and is a regular panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts. He has published articles on church music, is a published composer, and has been recognized as a distinguished alumnus by Dordt College. He and his wife, Jan, have three children.