Brian Hermanson still can’t get over the small-town welcome he received when he and his wife moved to the Central Coast.
As the couple pulled up in their Penske rental truck, they were greeted by an impromptu welcoming committee. One neighbor brought food. Two others offered to help the Hermansons move.
“The community here is so open and so nice,” said Hermanson, the San Luis Obispo Symphony’s new executive director.
Hermanson, 29, arrives at a heady time in symphony history.
The symphony kicks off its 50th anniversary season Saturday with a concert featuring works by Gustav Mahler, Maurice Ravel and Ralph Vaughn Williams.
Hermanson described the mood as “downright exciting.”
“There’s an energy and vitality that the symphony always had, and then you add on the fact it’s (been) 50 years,” said Herman-
son, who replaces longtime Executive Director Sandi Sigurdson. “We’re very fortunate to be succeeding, and we’re looking forward to the next 50 years.”
Raised in a tiny town in western New York, Hermanson earned a bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance from the acclaimed Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.
A founding member of the Cerulean Wind Quintet, recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts for its work with music education, he co-founded the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra and served as its executive director.
Hermanson also served as after-school programs director of Crockett Elementary School, a Houston charter school that received two NEA grants and won Oprah Winfrey’s Wildest Dreams competition.
Most recently, he served as executive director of the Cobb Symphony Orchestra in Kennesaw, Ga.
“What he had done with that organization was really phenomenal,” said attorney June McIvor, president-elect of the San Luis Obispo Symphony’s board of directors. “He’s got a great vision.”
In particular, she praised Hermanson’s commitment to music education and community outreach. He plans to focus on both of those areas, as well as fundraising and programming, in his new role.
Hermanson said he’s always enjoyed teaching kids about music.
“You walk into a room where you have 80 kids coming from 80 different backgrounds with 160 parents telling them different things,” he said. “There’s that magical moment at least once in every rehearsal where everyone’s on the same page. It makes the hair on the back of your arms stand up.”
Hermanson wants to duplicate that experience with the San Luis Obispo Youth Symphony.
By expanding the symphony’s Strings in the Schools program and starting an introductory Super- Bows program, he hopes to create not only conservatory- class musicians but lifelong music patrons.
“That’s our fundamental role,” Hermanson said. “The biggest thing is keeping a presence (in the community).”
The symphony’s music director, Michael Nowak, agreed.
“We have to ensure that there’s a symphony 50 years in the future,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hermanson is planning partnerships with local nonprofit organizations ranging from the San Luis Obispo Opera (formerly Pacific Repertory Opera) to the Sexual Assault Recovery & Prevention Center of San Luis Obispo County.
“He’s out every day in the community,” said McIvor, praising the new executive director’s limitless energy. “It’s really amazing how much he’s dived in.”
Nonetheless, Hermanson said, he has a lot to learn.
“One of the biggest challenges is just the fact that I’m new. I don’t have a track record in this community,” said Hermanson, who is the youngest executive director the symphony has hired to date. “It takes time to build up that level of trust and assurance.”
Hermanson might have one advantage over certain predecessors: his background as a musician.
The clarinet player will make his performance debut Saturday with the San Luis Obispo Symphony during Mahler’s “Symphony No. 1 in D Major.”
Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers will join the symphony for its season opener.
The upcoming season also features guest appearances by cellist Zuill Bailey, guitarist José María Gallardo del Rey, pianist Rina Dokshitsky and violinists Anabel García del Castillo, David Kim and Shunské Sato.
Other season highlights include collaborations with jazz singer Diane Schurr and the Damon Castillo Band, a New Year’s Eve bash starring soprano Maria Jette, and a season-closing concert featuring Ludwig van Beethoven’s beloved “Ninth Symphony” and the world premiere of “Celebration!” by local composer Craig Russell.
“It’s going to be an incredible year,” Hermanson said.