Ms. Bilfield goes to Washington | February 1, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - February 1, 2013

Ms. Bilfield goes to Washington

Stanford Live artistic director Jenny Bilfield will head the Washington Performing Arts Society

by Rebecca Wallace

After playing a starring role in bringing Stanford's new Bing Concert Hall to life, Jenny Bilfield is heading east: to the iconic Kennedy Center and the modern Music Center at Strathmore. She's leaving her job as the artistic director of Stanford Live to become president and CEO of the Washington Performing Arts Society.

The Washington, D.C., organization, founded 47 years ago, presents dance and classical, jazz, pop, vocal and world music. Performers this season include violinists Hilary Hahn and Anne-Sophie Mutter, jazz singer and bassist Esperanza Spalding, and the dance company Ron K. Brown and Evidence. The Kennedy Center is a big venue for the group, along with Strathmore, the Harman Center for the Arts and others. Bilfield, who used to live in New York City, is looking forward to moving back to a bustling urban area.

"It's exciting, and a different environment," she said. "There's a real sense of mission and opportunity."

Bilfield has been at Stanford since 2006, serving first as artistic and executive director of Stanford Lively Arts, and then as artistic director of the organization after it was rebranded as Stanford Live last year. She's been a member of the central planning team for the Bing hall and a particular advocate for arts programs that bring performers and students together at the university.

Rather than just whisking in a big name for one performance, Bilfield wanted to have performers arrive earlier and stay longer when they could, imparting artistic knowledge to Stanford's students. Collaborations in the last few years have included sound sculptor Trimpin teaching students to build their own musical instruments; and Stanford dancers and gymnasts being trained by Brooklyn dancer Elizabeth Streb's company — and then getting to perform with the group.

One of the great joys of this job has been seeing high levels of student participation, Bilfield said. With the Bing hall now open, student concert attendance has been especially robust, she added. "Last night we had 150 students for Yo-Yo Ma."

Bilfield has also been active in arranging commissions and premieres on campus. In fact, she plans to stay at Stanford through March 16 so that she won't miss the performance of a new, Stanford-commissioned work by Steve Reich. The innovative chamber orchestra Alarm Will Sound will be performing Reich's Radiohead-inspired "Radio Rewrite."

Bilfield is scheduled to start her new job on April 1, and says her husband, the composer Joel Phillip Friedman, and their daughter, Hallie, are excited for the move. Before moving to California, the family lived in New York, where Bilfield was president of the music publisher Boosey & Hawkes.

Reginald Van Lee, who chairs the board of directors at the Washington Performing Arts Society, said Bilfield was the natural pick for her new job. "She was the unanimous choice of the search committee from an impressive list of candidates," he said in a press release. Bilfield will replace Neale Perl, who will become president emeritus.

Stanford Live also had some staffing changes last year, when the organization was rebranded. Wiley Hausam came from New York to become the first managing director of the Bing hall, and then was also named executive director of Stanford Live, with Bilfield staying on as artistic director.

When asked whether a replacement would be hired for Bilfield -- or whether Hausam would also assume artistic-director duties -- Matthew Tiews, executive director of arts programs at Stanford, said the decision had not yet been made.

"We are sad to see Jenny leave Stanford but wish her all the best with this exciting new opportunity. ... Stanford Live is currently evaluating its next steps and based on the outcome of that process will begin a search for an appropriate replacement," he wrote in an email.