San Francisco Performances’ Ruth Felt announces retirement

Ruth Felt, founder of San Francisco Performances, has brought world-class artists to Bay Area stages for 36 years. (Courtesy photo)

Ruth Felt, founder of San Francisco Performances, is about to step down after 36 years.

The esteemed arts presenter, responsible for local recital debuts of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinists Anne-Sophie Mutter and Gidon Kremer, pianists Evgeny Kissin, András Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida and Ivo Pogorelich, soprano Dawn Upshaw, and many more, announced today that she will retire in fall 2016.

She said the time was right because the organization is in good financial shape and that she and her board have a good strategy in place for finding her successor.

About to turn 77 (“I’ve never been shy about my age,” she says), Felt also is ready to take a break and do some traveling.

Felt started San Francisco Performances in 1979 after a stint working under famously autocratic San Francisco Opera General Director Kurt Herbert Adler (and before that, in administration at University of California, Los Angeles’ Department of Fine Arts.)

“I loved intimate art forms, and I felt they were not being represented in The City,” says Felt, a fan of chamber music, vocalists in recital, jazz and modern dance. (At the time, well before Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco didn’t have a theater, except the huge Opera House, where dance could be staged.)

In 1980, San Francisco Performances began with pianist André Watts appearing in the brand-new Davies Symphony Hall. The season offered seven concerts. The 2015-16 season boasts 200 artists and programs.

Felt, who played piano as a young person (never with an illusion of performing herself) says she developed San Francisco Performances slowly and steadily, building relationships with world-class artists who would return again and again, sometimes negotiating a lower than typical fee.

Asked why San Francisco Performances has been successful, she responds, “After 36 years, I can say it: Basically, I have good artistic taste and good instincts.”

Of course, her legacy will live on. Having already scheduled portions of upcoming seasons, she’s planning on being in the audience in 2017 and beyond.

“I just won’t be getting to the theater as early,” she says.

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