Thursday, September 6, 2012

New DSO president introduced on Meyerson Symphony Center's 23rd birthday - Dallas Morning News (blog)

Several dozen people gathered this afternoon in the shimmering bright lobby of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center to see and hear from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s new president for the first time.

Jonathan Martin comes here from, most recently, the Charlotte Symphony, and before that, the elite Cleveland Orchestra, where he was GM for nine years. Today happens to be the Meyerson’s 23rd anniversary of its grand opening. Board chairman Blaine Nelson introduced Martin as kind of a birthday present.

Here are excerpts of Martin’s remarks:

“When I was first contacted about this opportunity, I was pretty excited, and now that I’m here and have experienced what this city is all about, this orchestra is all about, I am thoroughly energized. And I am particularly excited to begin working with Jaap van Zweden. It’s not often that you get a chance to work with truly one of the world’s great conductors.

“I will tell you that when the announcement was made in the orchestra field in the United States, almost all of the phone calls I got from my peers in this business were, ‘You get to work with Jaap?’” …

“As I said to our musicians yesterday, at our introduction, my job at its essence is pretty simple, and it’s pretty straightforward. It’s not easy, but it’s simple and straightforward. It’s to run and lead this organization at the same high level of execution that our musicians perform at every single day. By run, I mean how we operate, how we fund this organization, what we present, how we educate, and, ultimately, how much value we deliver back to this community, that every day has to make a choice whether to support the Dallas Symphony.

“And if we do that, if we can really do that, then we will achieve the ultimate goal, and that is long-term stability and financial success. The artistic success is there. My job is to create long-term stability and financial success.”

Martin was highly complimentary to interim president David Hyslop and DSO board chairman Blaine Nelson for bringing the orchestra back from the brink of insolvency last year and righting its finances, at least for now. He mentioned the season ending with a balanced budget, an expanded donor base, stronger corporate support, more aggressive marketing and audience development, and new initiatives to play to new audiences outside of the orchestra’s home in the Meyerson.

Martin also had this to say, in closing on an inspirational note:

“I have to say that as I look around this extraordinary concert hall, and the artists, patrons and community leaders here today, beyond these walls and the unbelievable collection theaters, museums and venues around us, I’m compelled to stop and sort of pull back.

“As volunteers and paid leaders of these arts organizations, we by necessity spend our days with numbers and budgets, trying to raise more money and sell more tickets, trying to keep moving parts of a complex organization like the DSO, well, moving.

“Why do this? Why do we go through that? Why do we build these buildings, why do we create these complex, sometimes unwieldy structures of boards and staffs and armies of volunteers â€" and, ultimately, the army of artists we call the orchestra?

“I believe, and I expect you do, too, because you’re here, that it’s because what we create is essential to our life. It’s a necessity. It’s not a convenience. It’s not a luxury. Because I believe, and I expect you do, too, in the power of music to nourish, to enrich, and, yes, to change our lives, and the lives of our children.

“In 33 years in this business, I’ve come to realize that in a world that seems increasingly filled with dehumanizing forces, there are only a handful of things that can keep us connected. What we’ve come together to create, to support, is nothing short of mystical, and I think, honestly, magical, and I’m a lucky man to be asked to be part of this great endeavor.”

My impression: Martin is an engaging personality and big-league talent. He brings stability and legitimacy to the front office of an organization to match the star power in the concert hall.

That’s been the missing ingredient at the DSO since Fred Bronstein left for St. Louis in 2008. An American orchestra can’t exist on box office alone; more than half the revenue is going to come from community gifts, and corporate Dallas â€" as opposed to individual givers â€" has been slow to open up its checkbooks to arts groups. This is Martin’s challenge.

While GM of the Cleveland Orchestra â€" one of the nation’s Big Five â€" Martin was one of the architects of a bold strategy to extend the orchestra’s reach by establishing a permanent annual residency in Miami. It opened up new sources of donor revenue.

I asked Martin this afternoon if we should expect anything that aggressive in Dallas, and he demurred, saying he needs to become more familiar with the community and potential audiences, especially those the DSO has already begin to reach with the DSO on the Go initiative that began last season with a first-ever concert in Allen.

Martin did say he thinks there’s a lot of “headroom” between the audiences the DSO has reached and the potential audiences.

Overall, my gut says the orchestra has new executive star power.

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