Chicago Symphony Orchestra Names Jeff Alexander of Vancouver as New President

By Louise Burton on Sep 05, 2014 06:29 PM EDT

Jeff Alexander of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra will become the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association's next president, the CSO announced earlier this week. He will begin his tenure on January 12, 2015.

Alexander will succeed former CSO president Deborah Rutter, who stepped down from her position in June. Earlier this week, Rutter began her new post as president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Alexander, 57, is the president and CEO of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, a position he has held for the past 14 years. The VSO is Western Canada's largest performing arts organization and Canada's third largest symphony orchestra, with an annual operating budget of more than $14.5 million.

Prior to his VSO post, Alexander was the general manager of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for 12 years. He also served as general manager of the Laredo Philharmonic Orchestra in Texas from 1982-84. Alexander majored in French horn performance at the New England Conservatory of Music, and has experienced orchestral music from both a musician's and an administrator's perspective.

Although he has extensive orchestral management experience, Alexander is not well-known in U.S. orchestral circles. Many observers considered him to be a dark-horse candidate for the top position at the CSO.

Nevertheless, Alexander was one of two finalists, and the clear choice of music director Riccardo Muti, music critic John von Rhein reported in the Chicago Tribune on Sept. 3.

Muti said in a statement released by the CSO: "I am happy that Jeff Alexander has accepted the position of President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. He is a person with many fine qualities, and his sincerity and genuine enthusiasm for the music and for the Orchestra are evident. He brings a new perspective that in working with the musicians and the Music Director will allow the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to reach even greater levels of achievement."

Jay Henderson, chairman of the board of trustees, said "Jeff Alexander brings a unique leadership combination to the CSOA: passion for and knowledge of symphonic music, a strong track record of leading orchestral organizations, a proven commitment to community engagement and the ability to develop effective long-term relationships with the key stakeholders of orchestras."

During his 14 years in Vancouver, Alexander presided over an impressive list of accomplishments, not least of which was achieving a budget surplus for 10 of the past 11 years. In an era where many symphony orchestras are struggling financially, having solid financials is a noteworthy accomplishment.

He also presided over an unusual initiative, which may turn out to be the wave of the future as more schools cut their music programs: Alexander launched the VSO School of Music, a $25 million, 25,000-square-foot community music school that opened in Vancouver in 2011. It now houses 1,300 students and 90 faculty members.

In 2012, Alexander established a summer residency for the VSO in the Coast Mountains north of Vancouver. The residency will soon be augmented by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestral Institute, which will open in summer, 2015. This new orchestral residence program is designed for music students ages 15 - 22, and will include private lessons, masterclasses, chamber music, and orchestral rehearsals and performances, with instruction from members of the VSO.

Many commentators have pointed to the addition of two large video screens in the VSO's concert hall as evidence of Alexander's openness to new ideas. The addition of the screens created some controversy, but Alexander viewed it as a necessary step forward for the orchestra.

In a recent interview with Crain's Chicago Business, Alexander said "Orchestras in the 21st century need to think about what they can do to retain and grow our audiences. It's gone well in Chicago and well here (in Vancouver). In both cases, we've decided not to be stagnant, to keep our eyes open and to be flexible and innovative. I want to add to that."

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TagsChicago Symphony Orchestra, Jeff Alexander, President, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Deborah Rutter, Riccardo Muti

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