Jan Derecho

Jan DerechoBy Scott MacClelland

IN SPANISH, derecho means right, or straight. (It is also used to describe fast-moving wind storms with a ‘straight’ squall line.) All might apply to Jan Derecho—who pronounces it ‘derekho,’ as did her ex-husband.

With a background in banking and a love of music, Jan Derecho is uniquely qualified to serve the Santa Cruz Symphony as executive director—twice, from 1994 to 2001 then again from 2009 to the present. Her tenure on the symphony board goes back even further, meaning she was hands-on during the selection of both Danny Stewart and his predecessor John Larry Granger as the orchestra’s music directors. (She served as board president from 1994-95.)

It’s a testament to her talents in administration, finance, development, etc., that she was welcomed back in 2009 as the symphony—and many other non-profits—were struggling to gain new traction after the economic meltdown of 2007-8. In the period between 2001 and 2009, the symphony had two or three relatively short-lived executives.

Derecho has been arguably the most effective executive director since on her watch and under both Granger and Stewart—now in his third season—the orchestra has seen unprecedented artistic development. During her first term as ED, she successfully targeted a long-standing deficit that tallied in six figures. In a 2011 interview, she told journalist Ann Parker, “We were in financial crisis, and our then-conductor, Larry Granger, believed that increasing the quality of our orchestra would be a key part of attracting grants and other funding. After a lot of hard work, he submitted tapes to the California Arts Council and achieved a ‘4-rating’ for us, which is the highest ever given to any orchestra of our budget size. The community also came together to help us cure our deficit in a time when orchestras in major cities were closing down. It was a wonderful day when we had a party to celebrate burning the debt.”

Stewart was chosen from a field of five finalists during the 2012-13 season of conductor candidates while Granger looked on from the wings. Stewart has enjoyed much critical success and, as of just last week, signed on for five more years.

A native of Bakersfield, Derecho took a history degree at UC Santa Barbara and immediately went into banking. From Bank of America in Santa Clara, she was assigned to consumer and commercial banking in Santa Cruz. Soon she was romanced by Harvey Nicholson to join his team at Coast Commercial Bank.

From a music-loving family, and a choral singer in her youth and teens, she continues a long membership in Cheryl Anderson’s Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus. A lover of jazz, opera and musical theater, Derecho told Parker “The symphony is my passion.”

Derecho also loves to work out in some of the most challenging physical ways. She and partner Steve Whitelaw have bicycled the 129-mile Markleeville “Deathride Tour of the California Alps” that crosses high passes in the Sierra Nevada range, twice over Monitor Pass, twice over Ebbetts Pass (the highest at 8,730 feet) and once over Carson Pass. “We did it seven times,” she says. They’ve also bicycled in Europe several times. (In December 2010, the year after returning as symphony ED, she crashed her bike near Davenport and endured a rehab for several weeks as a result.)

In the hiatus between executive jobs with the symphony, she provided Whitelaw business management at his chiropractic clinic in Aptos. Later, “I was doing mortgage lending, before the crash, consumer, commercial, and even real estate,” she says. “Then the symphony talked me into coming back, at first as an interim.” It took little time for her passion and love of a challenge to take the upper hand.

Since Derecho has such an enviable record of meeting goals and with the symphony in excellent condition, what will be her next challenge? She may have something to say about that soon.