Brooklyn Youth Chorus Appoints Elise Bernhardt Executive Director

September 23, 2014

Brooklyn, NY September 23, 2014 — The GRAMMY® Award-winning Brooklyn Youth Chorus is pleased to announce that its Board of Trustees has appointed Elise Bernhardt as the organization’s new Executive Director. With Founder & Artistic Director Dianne Berkun-Menaker, Ms. Bernhardt will lead the celebrated Chorus as it continues to evolve into a collaborative commissioner, producer, and presenter of new music, in addition to training young singers and giving them opportunities to perform regularly with internationally renowned orchestras and artists.

“We’re so pleased to have found a unique, dynamic leader in Elise,” says Jennifer Sage, Chair of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus Board of Trustees, of Ms. Bernhardt’s appointment. “As a seasoned artistic leader and longtime resident of Brooklyn, Elise brings a vast knowledge of our community, a deep understanding of the performing arts field, fresh and creative ideas for partnerships, and a tireless hunger to grow this dynamic institution. Her expertise and fiery energy make her a perfect fit as we look to engage students and audiences across New York City and beyond with our expanded programming and productions. With Dianne’s fearless concert repertoire, Elise will be a passionate advocate who will inspire and drive our students, parents, donors, and staff to advance the mission of Brooklyn Youth Chorus.”

Elise Bernhardt is a nationally acclaimed arts executive, curator, producer, and advisor. She was most recently President and CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Culture. During her eight-year tenure, she initiated the New Jewish Culture Network, a commissioning and touring program that focused on new Jewish music. A recipient of the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture, Ms. Bernhardt was instrumental in the creation of the American Academy in Jerusalem, for which she remain­s an advisor.

“I am excited to be partnering with Elise as she has the winning combination of extensive professional experience and great artistic instincts,” said Dianne Berkun-Menaker. “Together I am confident that we will lead Brooklyn Youth Chorus to a bright future, engaging more students and larger audiences with our distinctive sound and programming.”

Before joining the Foundation for Jewish Culture, Ms. Bernhardt was the Artistic Advisor for the first three years of NY City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival. From 1998–2004, she was Executive Director of The Kitchen, one of the country’s leading presenting organizations and media centers for contemporary arts. Under her leadership, The Kitchen doubled its funding and attendance, diversified its constituency, and brought together university research centers and arts institutions to initiate the first National Arts and Technology Network. Previously, from 1983–1998, Ms. Bernhardt was the Founder and Executive Producer of Dancing in the Streets. Known for its groundbreaking public performances, Dancing in the Streets commissions artists and produces site-specific performances around New York City, the United States, and internationally.

Ms. Bernhardt says, “I am thrilled to be working with this extraordinary organization whose community engagement and artistic sophistication are second to none—and in my hometown borough. Dianne’s vision is remarkable, and I’m delighted to be part of the coming season, as audiences get to experience Black Mountain Songs, Brooklyn Youth Chorus’s landmark co-commission with BAM. ”

Joe Melillo, Executive Producer of BAM, says, “Elise Bernhardt is a dynamic New York City professional who has distinguished herself in many artistic and cultural capacities throughout the years and with each assignment she has made a decisive contribution to the artists and organizations she supported. I anticipate that this imaginative and creative manager will be a profound positive force for this latest endeavor as Executive Director of Brooklyn Youth Chorus.”

Ms. Bernhardt joins the Chorus at the outset of the 2014-15 season, whose centerpiece is Black Mountain Songs, an evening-length work co-commissioned and co-produced by Brooklyn Youth Chorus and BAM.Black Mountain Songs, the recipient of this year’s Richard B. Fisher Next Wave Award, is created by Bryce Dessner, curated by Dessner and Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, and directed by Maureen Towey. The work features the Chorus throughout, conducted by Berkun-Menaker and performing music written for them by Dessner, Parry, Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw, Nico Muhly, Aleksandra Vrebalov, John King and Jherek Bischoff. Black Mountain Songs makes its world premiere November 20-23 at the BAM Harvey Theater as part of the 2014 BAM Next Wave Festival.



About Brooklyn Youth Chorus

Now entering its 23rd season, the GRAMMY® Award-winning Brooklyn Youth Chorus is one of the country’s leading youth choruses and the ensemble of choice for internationally renowned orchestras and artists. The New York Times has called the Chorus’ members “remarkable young singers,” and recently described the Chorus as “a consistently bold organization that regularly commissions works from composers representing an unusually broad stylistic range.” The Times also noted “The Brooklyn Youth Chorus has adopted an innovative approach to training young singers, one that preserves classic repertory and absorbs new sounds. The group is as comfortable singing the music of Mahler, Puccini and Tchaikovsky as it is collaborating with a range of contemporary artists that includes Grizzly Bear, the rapper Talib Kweli and the composer John Adams.”

The Chorus studies and performs a vast repertoire of music—classical and contemporary—and has an active commissioning program, New Voices, to develop works for young voices across a variety of genres. Composers commissioned to date include Pulitzer Prize winners Caroline Shaw, David Lang, and Paul Moravec; and Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, Missy Mazzoli, Julia Wolfe, Aleksandra Vrebalov, Shara Worden, John King, Colin Stetson and others.

Brooklyn Youth Chorus has appeared with acclaimed orchestras and conductors, including Alan Gilbert, Marin Alsop, James Levine, Robert Spano, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Reinbert de Leeuw as well as celebrated recording artists such as Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Lou Reed, Grizzly Bear and John Legend. The Chorus won a GRAMMY® Award for the world premiere live recording of John Adams’s On the Transmigration of Soulswith the New York Philharmonic in 2005.

Known for its polished performances, the Chorus frequently appears at such important music festivals as BAM’sNext Wave and Crossing Brooklyn Ferry festivals, the Ecstatic Music Festival, the MusicNOW Festival, and Park Avenue Armory’s Tune-In Festival. The Chorus has also garnered a strong reputation as an arts presenter with such major collaborative projects as Brooklyn Village, co-produced with the Brooklyn Philharmonic and Roulette in 2012 and Tell the Way, co-produced with St. Ann’s Warehouse and curated by composer Nico Muhly in 2011.

Brooklyn Youth Chorus singers are trained using Berkun-Menaker’s trademarked Cross-Choral Training® method, which prepares them to sing in a wide variety of styles at a professional level. Rehearsals occur at Brooklyn Youth Chorus headquarters in Cobble Hill and locations in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Red Hook and serve more than 500 singers annually. The choristers, who range from seven to 18 years old, hail from 67 different zip codes, reflecting the broad diversity of the Metropolitan area.


For more information, please contact Marketing & Communications Manager Frank Impelluso at