Stephen Culbertson brings over 40 years of experience to the Society of Musical Arts, having conducted orchestras, opera productions, and ballet companies — ranging from major to community level — in Europe and the United States since 1977. He is in his 9th season as Music Director and Conductor of our orchestra, where he has grown the orchestra and audience to the point where we have overflowed three venues and are moving to a fourth for the 2018-19 season. Steve is concurrently Artistic Director and Conductor of the Ridgewood (NJ) Symphony Orchestra, which is celebrating its 79th season in 2018-19. Culbertson’s other recent activities include conducting productions of Le Nozze di Figaro and Candide with the State Repertory Opera of New Jersey and various stints as interim Music/choir director at the Presbyterian Church of Upper Montclair.
Major engagements include a Spoleto USA debut on the 20th-Century Perspective Series and a new production of Prokofiev’s Cinderella for the San Joaquin Ballet in California. In past seasons, Culbertson has appeared with the Montclair Chamber Orchestra and Orchestra Society of Philadelphia. He has served as Music Director of the Sussex County (New Jersey) Community Orchestra and Associate Conductor of the Bergen (New Jersey) Philharmonic Orchestra. With the latter two orchestras, he conceived and conducted a series of family concerts for the community to great acclaim. He served on the board of Unity Concerts of NJ and was its Artistic Director for the 2002-3 season.
After graduating from University of the Pacific in his native California, Culbertson was awarded a scholarship to study at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki (Finland) with famed conducting teacher Jorma Panula. During his five-year stay, he studied the works of Sibelius with the composer’s son-in-law, Jussi Jalas, and conducted most of Finland’s major ensembles: The Finnish National Opera, the Helsinki Philharmonic, The Finnish Radio Orchestra, The Vaasa and Tampere Operas, and the Oulu Philharmonic. In addition to conducting, he gained valuable experience (not to mention much-needed income) by singing in a number of professional choruses, including the Finnish Radio Choir, Savonlinna Opera Chorus and the Helsinki Festival production of Britten’s Church Parables.
Culbertson introduced Finnish audiences to works by Copland, S.R. Beckler, John Forsman and many others. He introduced local listeners to American music by writing a six-hour series of radio programs entitled “A History of American Music” for the Finnish Broadcast Corporation. As a guest conductor, Culbertson has worked for the Netherlands Opera and appeared in Czechoslovakia (with the Košice State Philharmonic), Italy, Hungary, and England.
Culbertson has been a strong advocate of American music as both a conductor and a publisher. In 1993, he co-founded Subito Music Publishing and became its President in 1997. From 1987 to 1992, he was director of the rental and publications departments for G. Schirmer, Inc., where he supervised the music preparation of, among others, John Corigliano’s opera The Ghosts of Versailles (for the Metropolitan Opera) and Symphony No. 1 (for the Chicago Symphony). He serves on the board of the Music Publishers Association of the US and the Symphony and Concert Committee of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).