David Milnes

Professor, Conductor, Department Chair

Department of Music


  • D.M.A. in Orchestral Conducting, Yale University School of Music (1989)
  • M.M.A. in Orchestral Conducting, Yale University School of Music (1983)
  • M.M. in Orchestral Conducting, Yale University School of Music (1982)
  • B.A. in Music, State University of New York at Stony Brook (1978)

David Milnes presently serves as music director of the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra and conductor of the Berkeley Contemporary Chamber Players. Following early musical studies on the clarinet, piano, organ, cello and voice, he earned degrees from SUNY Stony Book and Yale University His conducting teachers have included Leonard Bernstein, Erich Leinsdorf, Max Rudolf, Herbert Blomstedt and Otto-Werner Mueller.

After winning the prestigious Exxon Conductor position with the San Francisco Symphony in 1984, David Milnes was hailed as “one of the major new conducting talents of our day.” (Byron Belt). In San Francisco his award-winning educational programs resulted in a nationally televised broadcast of a Concerts for Kids documentary; he also conducted subscription, contemporary and pops concerts. On twenty four hours notice he was called to step in for an ailing Edo de Waart, conducting a national broadcast of Elgar’s Violin Concerto with Pinchas Zukerman as soloist. He served also as Music Director of the acclaimed San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, which he led on an international tour during which he was awarded the Prize of the City of Vienna for his performance of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra.

David Milnes is a frequent guest conductor in Russia and the Baltics. He has appeared with the Novosibirsk Philharmonic and served as a principal guest conductor of the Latvian National Symphony, where he led a Wagner program featuring tenor John David DeHaan, an all-Berlioz program that Berlioz himself conducted in Riga, and a special performance of Steve Reich’s The Desert Music that was attended by the President of Latvia and the American ambassador. Other recent collaborations have included performances with Dawn Upshaw, Bill T. Jones, Paul Hillier, James Newton and David Starobin. A dedicated proponent of new music, Milnes received a 1994 Grammy nomination for his recording of John Anthony Lennon’s Zingari, and has recently recorded an album of music by James Newton with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players.

As Music Director of the Riga Independent Opera Company as well as the opera and orchestral programs at SUNY Purchase and Southern Methodist University, his varied operatic repertoire has included productions of Die Fledermaus, Eugene Onegin, Die Zauberflöte, Le Nozze di Figaro, La Bohème, The Consul, Gianni Schicchi, Suor Angelica and The Threepenny Opera, among others. Opera News wrote of his 1997 performances of Mozart’s Idomeneo at The Curtis Institute of Music: “Shaping a persuasive interpretation notable for its drive and drama, conductor David Milnes drew superb playing from the Curtis Institute Orchestra” His Sondheim revue program aired nationally on A&E in 1995.

Milnes has recently conducted the Oregon, Columbus, Anchorage and Cheyenne Symphonies, and has performed at the Tanglewood, Aspen, Monadnock and Killington Music Festivals. He has guest conducted and lectured at the Juilliard, Curtis and Mannes Schools as well as at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He has also had a lifelong interest in jazz which has led to appearances with Gene Krupa, Chuck Mangione, Billy Taylor and John Pizzarelli.


Guest Conducting
Guest Conductor, Composers Inc,  (SF) (2005)
Guest Conductor, Symphony Orchestra of the University of Guahajuato (2004)
(inaugural program of International Festival “El Callejon del Ruido”
Guest Conductor,  Orquesta Sinfonica de Mexico (Media and Music Festival) (2003)
Alea II at Stanford University (December 2002)
Empyrean Ensemble (December 2002)
San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (March 2002)
SF Symphony Youth Orchestra (October 2001, March 2002, April 2002, May 2002)
Worn Chamber Ensemble (March 2000, October 2001, June 2002)
Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra, (NY), (November 2000)
University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra, (December 2000)
SF Conservatory Guitar Ensemble (West Coast Tour) (November 2000)
SF Symphony Youth Orchestra (October 2000, March 2001, April 2001)
Earplay (March 2000)
Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival (August 1999)
San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (with James Newton) (January 1999)
Berkeley Symphony Orchestra (November 1998)
San Francisco Conservatory of Music (April 1998, November 1998)
Earplay (April 1998)
The Curtis Institute of Music Opera Theater (December 1997)
Worn Chamber Ensemble (July 1997)
San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (April 1997)
Dawn Upshaw, soloist
San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, Guest Clinician (October 1996, November 1996,
February 1997, March 1997)
Latvian National Symphony (January 1997, September 1996, May 1996)
Latvian National Chamber Orchestra (January 1997)
Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orchestra (March 1995)
Latvian National Symphony (December 1995, August 1995, January 1995, June 1994)
Riga Chamber Orchestra, Riga, Latvia (September 1994)
Killington Festival, Killington, VT (August 1994, July 1993)
Riga Independent Opera, Riga, Latvia (June 1994)
Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Cover Conductor (January 1996, September 1995, March 1994, April 1993)
Voices of Change, Dallas, TX (September 1993)
Monadnock Festival, Monadnock, NH (August 1993)
Paul Hillier, Soloist
Latvian National Chamber Orchestra (July 1993)
Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra (November 1992)
Voices of Change (September 1992, September 1991)
SMU Summer Conservatory Orchestra (June 1991, June 1990)
Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra, SUNY Stony Brook (February 1990)
Purchase Dance Corps, SUNY Purchase (December 1989)
Mannes College of Music (November 1988)
Columbus Symphony Orchestra (April 1988)
Ray Charles, Guest Performer
Minnesota Orchestra, Cover Conductor (February 1988)
Edo de Waart, Music Director
Anchorage Symphony Orchestra (January 1988)
Oregon Symphony Orchestra (October 1985)

Commercial Recordings
Music of Edmund Campion (2008)
Conductor, SF Contermporary Music Players
Albany Records

Music of Pablo Ortiz (2004)
Conductor, SF Contemporary Music Players
Albany Records

Song of Songs, Jorge Liderman (2002)
Conductor, SF Contemporary Music Players
Bridge Records

As the Sound of Many Waters (1999)
Music of James Newton
Conductor, SF Contemporary Music Players
New World Records

Music of Barbara Strozzi  (August 1997)
Record Producer for PGM Records
Christine Brandes and Jennifer Lane, soloists
New York Baroque
Academy of Arts and Sciences, New York, NY

John Anthony Lennon Zingari
Grammy Nomination (1994)
Conductor, SMU Meadows Symphony Orchestra with David Starobin, soloist
Bridge Records No. BCD9042


Professional Positions
San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Music Director (2002-2009 )
Worn Chamber Ensemble (SF), Principal Conductor (1997- )
San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Visiting Professor of Conducting (1998-2001)
Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University
Director of Orchestral Activities (1989-1996)
Music Director, Meadows Opera Theater (1991-1996)
State University of New York at Purchase
Director of Orchestral Activities and Lecturer in Conducting (1986-1989)
Purchase Opera Theater, Music Director
Purchase Dance Corps, Music Director
San Francisco Symphony
Exxon/Arts Endowment Conducting Assistant  (1984-1986)
San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, Music Director
Educational Concerts, Conductor and Director
New and Unusual Music Series, Conductor
Assistant to Herbert Blomstedt, Edo de Waart, Michael Tilson Thomas
Greater New Haven Youth Orchestra, Music Director (1981-1984)
Chamber Orchestra and Chorus of Long Island, Music Director (1974-1980)

Conducting Studies
Leonard Bernstein         Tanglewood Music Center (1987)
Herbert Blomstedt     Blomstedt Summer Institute, Riverside, CA  (1983, 1984)
Thomas Briccetti     Festival of a Thousand Oaks, Omaha, NE (1978, 1979)
James Dixon     Conductors’ Guild Summer Institute, Morgantown, WV (1981)
David Lawton     SUNY Stony Brook (1975-1980)
Erich Leinsdorf     N.Y. Philharmonic Conducting Symposium (1987)
Gustav Meier     Tanglewood Music Center, Lenox, MA (1987)
Otto-Werner Mueller         Yale School of Music (1980-1983)
Max Rudolf     Exxon Conductor Seminars, Philadelphia, PA (1985, 1986)
Paul Vermel    Aspen Music Festival (1980)