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UC Davis Magazine

Volume 26 · Number 4 · Summer 2009

Passing the Baton

D. Kern Holoman took his final bow this spring as UC Davis Symphony Orchestra conductor, ending a 30-year run.


D. Kern Holoman

(Philip Daley/UC Davis)

Then and now: D. Kern Holoman first dreamed of becoming a conductor as a little boy while mimicking Leonard Bernstein with his mother’s knitting needles. Five years after joining UC Davis in 1973 as an acting assistant music professor, he became the fourth conductor in campus history.

During his time at UC Davis, the symphony has played in such places as French Polynesia, Australia and France, as well as locally in The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento, Hertz Hall at UC Berkeley and the Memorial Church at Stanford University.

Holoman himself has become renowned as an expert on French composer Hector Berlioz. In 1989, the French government named him a chevalier (knight) of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and elevated him to officier 10 years later.

Living a dream: “The Davis campus was always astonishingly supportive of my preposterous ideas,” he said. “It’s always been a place where dreams can come true.”

One dream made real for Holoman was the creation of the Robert and Margret Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. “I continue to pinch myself,” he said. “This belongs to us and continues to belong to us.” Playing a “beautiful piece of art” in the Mondavi Center is “just as satisfying as shlepping 200 people to Australia.”

Lesson learned: He credits the symphony — which celebrated its 50th annivesary this year — for teaching him about patience, how to deal with crisis and about himself. “Over the years, it’s been gradually revealed to me that I am the happiest when I’m in the classroom and on the podium. That’s when I’m truly who I am. This is what makes me happy.”

Still, he plans on taking a year off from teaching to finish his 10th book. (UC Davis continues to use the Music 10 textbook he wrote). He will return to campus as a professor of musicology.

Next generation: Holoman passes on the UC Davis conducting baton to Christian Baldini, who was previously the conductor and music director of the Symphony Orchestra of the State University of New York at Buffalo. Baldini joins the department of music as an assistant professor.

“It’s been a good run,” said Holoman. “I have absolutely no regrets that this is coming to an end.”