Joana Carneiro: enjoying Berkeley's quirkiness.

Joana Carneiro is about to start her second season as the music director for the Berkeley Symphony and she told an attentive audience at the Berkeley Breakfast Club Friday morning that she has found Berkeley to be a place where people are “open to innovation.”

The presence of the university and heterogeneous community creates a sophisticated audience that is not afraid to hear new music, said Carneiro.

“When I think of Berkeley, I think of its academic excellence and its community of investigation and inquiry,” said the 33-year old conductor. “I think the Berkeley Symphony is a reflection of that spirit – open-minded, where people are open to innovation.”

The first concert in the Berkeley Symphony’s upcoming season is on September 23 at Zellerbach Hall. It is called “The Forward-Looking Violin” and features renowned violinist Jennifer Koh, who will play both a traditional piece – Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major — and John Adams’ Violin Concerto.

In another city, Carneiro would have had to have a heavier emphasis on traditional music, she said.

“To have such an open-minded community as Berkeley is such a privilege,” she said.

Carneiro was born in Portugal in 1976, shortly after the end of a right-wing dictatorship. As one of nine children, she grew up in a society that was “discreet in its temperament,”  religious and homogenous. She was selected as the Berkeley Symphony’s third music director in January 2009, replacing Kent Nagano, who led the symphony for 30 years.

Carneiro said she has enjoyed Berkeley’s quirkiness. Just the other day she was astounded to see a man jogging up a hill – backwards.  She followed him for a mile in her car because she just couldn’t believe it, she said.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...