SFCM and SF Ballet Partner for a New Fellowship to Advance Opportunities for Black Musicians

Denis De Conteau, sf ballet, sfcm,

The Denis de Coteau Fellowship—named after SF Ballet’s longtime music director and SFCM faculty member—will provide funding, instruction, and performance opportunities; applications are now open.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—The San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) and San Francisco Ballet announced today a fellowship that will provide Black musicians with tuition, housing, and a stipend for SFCM’s one-year Professional Studies Certificate in Instrumental Performance and the opportunity to play rehearsals and shows with the SF Ballet Orchestra, as well as other training and support. The fellowship is named after SF Ballet’s former Music Director Denis de Coteau, who also served on faculty at SFCM. "I am pleased to honor the legacy of Dr. de Coteau by supporting this unique partnership to develop well-rounded artists, trained in his winning style: a rare combination of warmth and professional technique,” shared sponsor Denise Littlefield Sobel.

The application is currently open and the deadline for the fellowship has been extended. SFCM and SF Ballet anticipate accepting up to two fellows in string instruments for the initial year of the program, which starts in fall 2022. Applicants will be evaluated by a joint committee of musicians and administrators from both organizations. There is no fee to apply.

“This is a phenomenal opportunity for highly-talented musicians and a welcome pathway to help diversify our field,” said SFCM Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Special Advisor to the President Jason Hainsworth. “What’s more, this will be truly transformational for students, the Ballet, and the Conservatory in terms of building a diverse musical community.”

The fellowship follows SFCM and the San Francisco Symphony’s announcement of the second Emerging Black Composers Project; both programs are part of the Conservatory’s ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Likewise, in 2020, the SF Ballet launched a multi-year initiative to drive change and reflect the heterogeneity of society and the vibrancy of the global community.

The fellowship is named for Denis de Coteau, one of the first Black music directors of a major U.S. orchestra. De Coteau joined SF Ballet in 1968 and served as its music director and conductor from 1974 to 1998 before being appointed music director emeritus in recognition of his leadership of the ballet orchestra, considered to be one of the finest. He was also conductor emeritus and a faculty member at SFCM and was known for his work with youth orchestras, including the Oakland Youth Symphony. De Coteau died in July 1999. 

“Give dancers the tempo and they do the steps,” he was known to have said. “But give them great music and they will really dance!” The SF Ballet recently celebrated his career and legacy with a special tribute including interviews with current and former members of SF Ballet Orcestra.

Martin West, music director of the SF Ballet Orchestra said, “We are tremendously excited to be partnering with the SFCM on this project. By welcoming the fellows into our orchestra we hope to give them extraordinary experiences that will help them be successful in their careers and begin building a pipeline to better diversify our profession."

In addition to practicing and performing with the ballet orchestra, each fellow will participate in chamber concerts, leadership training, and activities with local schools. She, he, or they will be invited to mock auditions and will receive financial support for professional auditions. As part of the SFCM certificate program, each fellow will participate in advanced, focused studies that emphasize individual instruction and preparation for a performance career. 

Fellows will live in SFCM’s new Bowes Center, a 12-story “vertical campus” home to three performance halls, practice rooms, a recording studio, residences for students and visiting artists, and more. The Bowes Center is located in San Francisco’s Civic Center, across the street from SF Ballet’s performance address at the War Memorial Opera House and within a short walk of its Chris Hellman Center for Dance.

“Together, the Conservatory and SF Ballet can provide a peerless experience in advancing our fellows’ professional, artistic, intellectual, and individual development,” said SFCM Dean Jonas Wright. “It’s the first program of its kind of which we’re aware, and it demonstrates a forward step in inventing the future of music by being imaginative about how arts organizations work together as educators and presenters.”

To apply or request more information, please email apply@sfcm.edu.



SFCM draws on the bold creativity of San Francisco to offer unparalleled training for the 21st century musician. We support students in developing the skills and vision to chart successful careers and advance the human experience through music. We believe a musical education must extend far beyond technical and performance skills. Our commitment to music of enduring quality and importance is the foundation of our innovative curriculum, cultivating critical thinking and business acumen alongside artistic practice, and creating a transformative environment of inquiry, collaboration, and entrepreneurship. Our DNA combines a global perspective with the unstoppable energy and imagination of our hometown. Our pioneering programs and partnerships with leading institutions and businesses prepare students to seize opportunities in music and a wide array of the fastest developing sectors today. SFCM is a magnet for exceptional faculty whose ongoing professional experience benefits our students. As the only conservatory partnered with a leading artist management company, we are able to provide our students unique insight and access to the music industry.



San Francisco Ballet is one of the world’s leading ballet companies. As a commissioner, collaborator, and presenter, the Ballet performs locally, nationally, and internationally with the top choreographers, artists, and dancers while proudly celebrating its trailblazing role in dance. Since its founding in 1933 as the first professional ballet company in the United States, the organization has been an innovator in dance and an originator of well-loved cultural traditions, from staging the first American production of Swan Lake to being the first company in the United States to present an annual holiday Nutcracker. In the progressive, innovative spirit of San Francisco, it aims to share the beauty of classical and contemporary ballet, the joyful, transformative experience of live dance performance by artists working at the highest caliber, and to provide exceptional training opportunities for the next generation of professional dancers in its School.

Visit our blog at https://www.sfballet.org/discover/backstage/.