David Milnes presently serves as music director of the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra and conductor of the Berkeley Contemporary Chamber Players. He is also Music Director of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, one of America's largest and most active ensembles dedicated to championing the music of our time. Following early musical studies on the clarinet, piano, organ, cello and voice, he earned degrees from SUNY Stony Book and Yale University His conducting teachers have included Leonard Bernstein, Erich Leinsdorf, Max Rudolf, Herbert Blomstedt and Otto-Werner Mueller.
After winning the prestigious Exxon Conductor position with the San Francisco Symphony in 1984, David Milnes was hailed as "one of the major new conducting talents of our day." (Byron Belt). In San Francisco his award-winning educational programs resulted in a nationally televised broadcast of a Concerts for Kids documentary; he also conducted subscription, contemporary and pops concerts. On twenty four hours notice he was called to step in for an ailing Edo de Waart, conducting a national broadcast of Elgar's Violin Concerto with Pinchas Zukerman as soloist. He served also as Music Director of the acclaimed San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, which he led on an international tour during which he was awarded the Prize of the City of Vienna for his performance of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.
David Milnes is a frequent guest conductor in Russia and the Baltics. He has appeared with the Novosibirsk Philharmonic and served as a principal guest conductor of the Latvian National Symphony, where he led a Wagner program featuring tenor John David DeHaan, an all-Berlioz program that Berlioz himself conducted in Riga, and a special performance of Steve Reich's The Desert Music that was attended by the President of Latvia and the American ambassador. Other recent collaborations have included performances with Dawn Upshaw, Bill T. Jones, Paul Hillier, James Newton and David Starobin. A dedicated proponent of new music, Milnes received a 1994 Grammy nomination for his recording of John Anthony Lennon's Zingari, and has recently recorded an album of music by James Newton with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players.
As Music Director of the Riga Independent Opera Company as well as the opera and orchestral programs at SUNY Purchase and Southern Methodist University, his varied operatic repertoire has included productions of Die Fledermaus, Eugene Onegin, Die Zauberflöte, Le Nozze di Figaro, La Bohème, The Consul, Gianni Schicchi, Suor Angelica and The Threepenny Opera, among others. Opera News wrote of his 1997 performances of Mozart's Idomeneo at The Curtis Institute of Music: "Shaping a persuasive interpretation notable for its drive and drama, conductor David Milnes drew superb playing from the Curtis Institute Orchestra" His Sondheim revue program aired nationally on A&E in 1995.
Milnes has recently conducted the Oregon, Columbus, Anchorage and Cheyenne Symphonies, and has performed at the Tanglewood, Aspen, Monadnock and Killington Music Festivals. He has guest conducted and lectured at the Juilliard, Curtis and Mannes Schools as well as at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He has also had a lifelong interest in jazz which has led to appearances with Gene Krupa, Chuck Mangione, Billy Taylor and John Pizzarelli.