Hidden from small

Building Something Uniquely Philadelphian: an Interview with New Director of Collaborative Learning Daniel Berkowitz

March 04, 2015

With Collaborative Learning Week underway, we thought we’d check in with Daniel Berkowitz, the Orchestra’s new director of Collaborative Learning. He has an ambitious goal for his new job: “How can we build something that is uniquely Philadelphian—of Philadelphia, for Philadelphia—that empowers this community and addresses its greatest needs?”

Yannick leads the All-City Orchestra of the School District of Philadelphia in a rehearsal for their March 2 All-City Music Festival concert in Verizon Hall during the Orchestra’s Collaborative Learning Week. Photo by Jessica Griffin

Berkowitz seems uniquely qualified to answer that question successfully. Born and raised in Broomall, Delaware County, he’s an accomplished trombonist. He’s just back from a stint in LA, as manager of Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), which grew to reach over 700 students in the city’s most underserved communities. In his new job, Dan leads the Orchestra’s Collaborative Learning Initiatives at the Kimmel Center and at schools and neighborhood venues all over Greater Philadelphia. He’s charged with expanding the Orchestra’s opportunities for collective music making that take its musicians on the road and into the lives of music lovers, in Philadelphia and beyond.

Later in March, the Collaborative Learning celebration continues with a noontime pop-up concert at Reading Terminal on March 9 and numerous Musicians in the Schools events, sponsored by PECO; the annual Albert M. Greenfield Student Competition Finals on March 24; finally, on March 28 in Verizon Hall, the Orchestra presents Make Your Own Musical Adventure, a Family Series concert featuring host Charlotte Blake Alston.This week he’s presiding over events designed to showcase the depth and breadth of the Orchestra’s musical programming, longstanding relationships in the Philadelphia community, and dedication to forging new partnerships across the region. The week got off to a bang on Monday with the All-City Music Festival at Verizon Hall, with Yannick conducting the finale of the concert. Still to come: an open rehearsal Thursday morning, with Yannick, international superstar Emanuel Ax, and the Orchestra; the Cello PlayIN Thursday night; and Yannick leading a side-by-side rehearsal with the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra on Saturday, among other events.

Why did Berkowitz return to his old stomping grounds? Simple: “When I saw this opportunity come up, it was one of those potentially too-good-to-be-true moments!” That’s because “the foundation is really fascinating here. We have a group of musicians that are very dedicated not only to exceptional artistry, but also to service of the community. This Collaborative Learning Week is sort of a taste of that.” In the broad array of music making “you’ll see a majority of our musicians. They are very passionate about this community and are connected to so many programs in the region. In a way they are the lifeblood of this city in this space.”

Berkowitz also believes the Orchestra is looking at what he calls “an identity opportunity.” “What we have here is a unique opportunity where an orchestra is taking a serious look at everything it does and the community in which it functions to explore where we can add unique value.”

You’ll notice Yannick is heavily involved in Collaborative Learning Week; Berkowitz says that’s no accident. “His ability to get in front of these students and to be so generous in all of these different settings is really special. He’s going to be very busy all week, but I think there’s something about working with students that energizes him as much as the students. We’re very lucky to have him in Philadelphia.”

Berkowitz hopes to learn a lot from Collaborative Learning Week, about the community and the Orchestra’s role in it. But he isn’t losing sight of the most important thing: “It’s going to be really exciting and inspiring for all!”