Janet Cowperthwaite, Manager of Kronos Quartet and Executive Director of KPAA, to step down in October 2024

Photo by Falu Bakrania

Janet Cowperthwaite, longtime manager of the San Francisco–based Kronos Quartet and founding Executive Director of the Kronos Performing Arts Association (KPAA), has announced that she will step down in October to pursue new opportunities in the performing arts. The Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet is celebrating its 50th anniversary in the 2023/24 season. Cowperthwaite was hired by Kronos in 1981, and has devoted her entire professional work life to date to the quartet and its organization. During her 43-year tenure, she has managed the career of the Kronos Quartet, one of the most respected artists of our time, and has led the non-profit KPAA, widely considered to be a model arts organization.

“Kronos Quartet got lucky when Janet Cowperthwaite joined us,” said Kronos founder, Artistic Director, and violinist David Harrington. “Soon she was our manager. How rare it is for her combined qualities of honesty, common sense, ingenuity, kindness, and a capacity for sustained hard work to all reside in one person. Janet soon became known affectionately throughout the worldwide music community. She has been instrumental in all of Kronos’ work these last 43 years. Janet has also been our bedrock through personal tragedies and societal traumas, and she has set the stage for the amazing career high points of Kronos. We are immensely and eternally grateful to Janet, and we wish her the very best always.”

Said Kenneth Foster, KPAA Board of Directors Co-chair and the former Executive Director of San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, “Janet’s strong sense of ethics, her willingness and ability to not just dream big but make those dreams a reality, and her complete dedication to the work have been central to the quartet’s extraordinary career. We will miss her enormously and are deeply grateful for all she has done to make Kronos the success that it is.”

Cowperthwaite started working with Kronos while studying for her bachelor’s degree in Communications and Journalism at San Francisco State University, soon becoming KPAA’s first Managing Director, and later, its founding Executive Director. Over the years, she built KPAA’s budget, programs, and staff, sculpting a nimble and proactive nonprofit organization of unprecedented scope – managing a top-tier touring and recording ensemble, commissioning 1,100 new works and arrangements, presenting an annual festival, and producing an array of education programs. She has arranged thousands of concerts for Kronos in the world’s most prestigious venues and festivals, overseen recording projects resulting in 70+ releases with cumulative sales of more than four million units (more than any string quartet in history), and developed a robust fundraising operation that includes individual gifts and grants from government agencies and prestigious foundations.

“When I first met the quartet, I could not have imagined the amazing world that would unfold,” said Cowperthwaite. “It has been a privilege and honor to work with Kronos, one of the most important, creative forces of our time. They are incredible musicians and I have always been grateful for their trust and friendship. I have deeply valued the talented and committed KPAA staff, past and present – without which none of the successes would have been possible – and our Board of Directors, a steadfast foundation of support over the years. Our collective efforts have brought a lot of wonderful music into the world. It’s been thrilling to have a life in the arts, to grow up with this band, to work with hundreds of remarkable artists, and to create treasured relationships with countless colleagues. I will begin my next chapter with a great sense of accomplishment, and I wish Kronos and KPAA continued success as they move forward into an exciting future.”

“Janet’s example as an artistic community member – somehow pulling together the magical balance of impactful leadership, boundless imagination, meaningful lifelong relationships, humility, and genuine love for the people and sounds around her – is one that I find especially unique to her,” said Pulitzer Prize finalist, composer Mary Kouyoumdjian. “I’m so very grateful for her decades of unwavering work to create an artistic landscape that is more open and vibrant, for all of us.”

Robert Hurwitz, the President of Nonesuch (Kronos’ longtime record label) from 1984–2017, commented, “Artists and record companies rarely stay together more than five or ten years; Nonesuch and Kronos worked together over four decades and produced close to 50 albums. Janet made endless contributions that helped make that rare achievement possible.”

Cowperthwaite’s role as a creative producer of Kronos projects began in 1987 with the evening length work Live Video, designed by Larry Neff. The production of many other important multidisciplinary works followed, including Terry Riley’s Sun Rings, with visual design by Willie Williams, At War With Ourselves-400 Years of You, with music by Michael Abels and text by Nikky Finney, and A Thousand Thoughts, written and directed by Sam Green and Joe Bini.

“Long before the curtains opened on our eight-year project, At War With Ourselves,” wrote National Book Award–winning poet Nikky Finney, “Janet was the human beehive directing where the music and words might best incubate and commingle. She’s exceptional with people and has a holistic understanding of what is needed from every angle of the performance. Behind the stage, on stage, even after the performance. Eyes, ears, heart, listening out for the sacred honey.”

Cowperthwaite’s signature achievements include the creation of the Kronos Under 30 Project to commission and record the work of young composers; KRONOS MUSIC: The Future is Now, an education and mentoring program for high school musicians; and the upcoming Kronos Oral History Pilot Project, a collection of 50 oral histories collected from Kronos members, past and present, and many of the group’s closest artistic collaborators.

Cowperthwaite also provided the impetus and guiding vision for Kronos’ most ambitious commissioning, education, and legacy project, Kronos Fifty for the Future. Launched in 2015 and completed in 2023, the program has assembled 50 commissioned works that are available at no cost to musicians and the general public on the KPAA website, along with recordings, composer interviews, performance notes, and other material needed to perform the pieces. To date, 38,000 scores have been downloaded in 108 countries and territories. Cowperthwaite and her team created an architecture for the groundbreaking project, including an innovative funding model with lead partner Carnegie Hall and more than 50 other organizations which contributed more than $1M of the $2.5M project budget. The new works are now being performed by student and professional string quartets all over the world.

In her final major KPAA legacy project, Cowperthwaite oversaw the Library of Congress’ recent acquisition of the Archive of the Kronos Quartet/Kronos Performing Arts Association, making Kronos’ work accessible to scholars, musicians, and others in perpetuity.

“As the chief strategist and executive leader for Kronos, Janet invented a unique, sustainable business model that enabled Kronos to thrive,” said Jenny Bilfield, President & CEO of Washington Performing Arts, a longtime presenter and commissioning partner of Kronos. “With a true sense of vision, laser focus, and integrity, Janet has been part of, and helped fuel, one of the most powerful creative legacies of our lifetime.”

Cowperthwaite has been recognized with several industry honors, including being named to the roster of the “Musical America 30: The Influencers” (2015) and the Fan Taylor Award from the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (2022). In addition to KPAA’s board, she has served on the boards of the American Music Center, International Society for the Performing Arts, and the Association of Performing Arts Professionals. She has been invited to speak or serve on panels by many organizations, including the National Endowment for the Arts, SXSW, and Chamber Music America.

The KPAA Board of Directors is currently conducting a search for Cowperthwaite’s successor and plans to fill the position by the time of her October departure.




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