Violinist Patricia Van Winkle first played for San Francisco Ballet in 1973, for the premiere of a SF Ballet Cinderella by Lew Christensen and Michael Smuin. More than 40 years later, her last performance before retiring will be Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella©. “It’s a nice way to go out,” she says with a smile.
A Berkeley native, Patricia (known as Patty) studied music at San Francisco State University and in 1970 joined Oakland Symphony. In 1975, she joined the pick-up orchestra that played for SF Ballet and became its orchestra librarian. Later that year, SF Ballet Orchestra was founded, with Patty as a charter member. Patty, who plays second violin in the Orchestra, is now its longest-serving member.
Her early years as Orchestra librarian required resourcefulness. “There were two old wooden travel crates, and that was the library,” she remembers. “I’d schlep boxes of music in my car.” To rearrange music for the Ballet, Patty had to literally cut and paste. “For Don Juan I photocopied it, cut it up, put it in the right order, photocopied it again, taped the pages together, and bound it.”
She gave up the librarian post a few years later, choosing to focus on her role as a musician. “There have been a lot of nice musical moments,” she says. “Romeo & Juliet, of course, is gorgeous. Swan Lake is beautiful. And I love Nutcracker.” This affinity is fortunate, as Patty has played more Nutcracker than anything else. “It holds up amazingly well,” she says. “It’s beautiful music.” SF Ballet’s Nutcracker includes a special tradition for Orchestra members. “One of the things I’ll miss most is the Christmas carols we play on Christmas eve,” says Patty, who has played that performance dressed as Santa. “The Orchestra plays with so much emotion. My older daughter has told me I’ll be coming back for Christmas eve.”
Patty will finish her career on a metaphorical high note, playing a ballet she loves with an Orchestra that she’s convinced is playing better than ever. “We have so many young people coming in who are amazing musicians,” she says. “The Orchestra is very proud of what we do. And Cinderella—it’s gorgeous music and everyone goes out smiling.”