Paul Hersh retires from San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Paul Hersh headshot

The celebrated faculty member taught at SFCM for 49 years.

Paul Hersh, a beloved faculty member at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, has retired after 49 years of teaching.

Hersh was a violist with the Lenox String Quartet and also wowed New York audiences with several solo piano recitals (making a splash with his 1964 debut performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations) before joining SFCM in 1972.

“When I started at San Francisco Conservatory, it was a funky neighborhood school with a pioneering spirit,” Hersh recalls. “It’s grown a bit bigger now.”

Hersh quickly gained a reputation as a renaissance man at SFCM. Serving as an instructor on two different instruments at the collegiate level is nearly unheard of, but Hersh did it; he taught both piano and viola. Hersh also taught humanities and music history.

“His music history and literature graduate level classes were legendary—a unique combination of learning the context of composers and pieces, then playing them in class to see how that knowledge informed their interpretation,” says Jonas Wright, dean and chief academic officer.

Hersh was instrumental in the creation of the master’s degree in chamber music at the Conservatory. Throughout his tenure, he mentored several generations of pianists and chamber musicians including the late Robin Sutherland, Julio Elizalde, and Teddy Abrams. As a performer, he collaborated with Robert Mann, Leon Fleisher, and Menahem Pressler, as well as made appearances with the Boston and San Francisco Symphonies and the New York Philharmonic.

Hersh enjoyed teaching and learned as much from his students as they did from him.

“When eminent painter Chester Arnold retired after 30 years of teaching, he wrote a wonderful letter emphasizing that you only get as much as you receive,” says Hersh. “Teaching is a two way street.”

Hersh recalls many meaningful moments at SFCM, including learning and working on the Schoenberg Wind Quintet with students last semester. He also has fond memories of his colleagues at the conservatory.

“The ability of the Conservatory faculty to come together during times of crisis, like this past pandemic year, and rise to the occasion is nothing short of remarkable,” says Hersh. “I will miss working with such talented folks.”

Watch Paul Hersh, colleague Ian Swensen, the late Robin Sutherland, and SFCM students perform Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 15 by Gabriel Fauré.