Baltimore Symphony Names ‘Industry Giant’ Mark C. Hanson as Next President

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on Tuesday named Mark C. Hanson, the former conductor of the San Francisco Orchestra and a leading musician described as “an industry giant,” as its next president and chief executive officer. direction.

Hanson, 48, who has previously conducted two orchestras larger than the BSO, will take up his new role on April 21. He succeeds Peter Kjome, who announced his resignation as President and CEO of the BSO in the spring of 2021. His contract expired at the end of January.

“Mark is known as someone who has overseen remarkable turnarounds in the orchestras he has conducted,” said Brian Prechtl, orchestra percussionist, leader of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Players Committee and member of the search committee.

“He’s kind of a giant in the industry,” Prechtl said. “The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was well positioned for success before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has truly changed the landscape of the world of symphony orchestras. We need strong, experienced leadership right now, and Mark is the perfect person to provide it.

The BSO is also in the midst of a search to find the right candidate to succeed music director Marin Alsop, who stepped down last August. This process may not be complete until spring 2024.

Appointing a new orchestra president may seem less exciting, but symphony orchestra presidents take on a more public role than their counterparts in live theaters or dance troupes. In the summer of 2019, when symphonic musicians were barred from the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall for three months, it was Kjome who became a sometimes polarizing figure and made national headlines.

Alsop, who like many conductors has a demanding international career, has remained largely silent in the face of controversy.

Barry Rosen, chairman of the symphony orchestra’s board, estimated that around 150 candidates had applied for the top job. This list was narrowed down to five finalists before the search committee voted unanimously to offer the position to Hanson.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the BSO and for Mark,” Rosen said. “He obviously has the credentials, having previously conducted orchestras in Milwaukee, Houston and San Francisco. He was an agent of change every step of the way. We have made great progress at the BSO, but with COVID we still have a lot of work ahead of us. »

Not a typical career path

Rosen was referring to in-person attendance at concerts. Baltimore arts groups shut down abruptly in March 2020 after the pandemic reached Maryland, and live shows didn’t resume until last fall. Since then, the public has been slow to return as several waves of new infections caused by variants of the coronavirus have sent the number of cases nationwide skyrocketing.

Hanson’s appointment is likely to surprise classical music insiders as it reverses the typical career trajectory of a symphony orchestra president.

A 1997 Harvard University graduate, Hanson arrives in Baltimore after four years leading the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, which had an annual revenue of $93.6 million before the pandemic. BSO revenue before the pandemic was $28 million.

When Hanson stepped down last August as president and CEO of the California Orchestra, he was paid $974,040, according to tax forms. At BSO, Kjome earned a salary of $298,000 when he quit.

Rosen declined to reveal how much Hanson will be paid in Baltimore. But he said the BSO isn’t trying to match his California salary.

“We don’t have that kind of budget,” Rosen said. “But we are paying him a perfectly reasonable amount given the budget we have.”

When the San Francisco Symphony announced last summer that Hanson had quit, the news raised eyebrows.

The influential online classical music website Slipped Disc titled its article on the resignation, “Crisis at San Francisco Symphony as Chief Exec Quits.”

“It is impossible to conceal the depth of the crisis,” the article said. “The orchestra has a new music director who has just arrived and has just undergone a glitzy rebranding. For the CEO to go to this stage, and after only four years of work, shows an impossible situation.

In a virtual Zoom meeting, Hanson acknowledged that “it’s not the most obvious career progression.”

But he said his new job offers him the rare opportunity to help an orchestra at a pivotal time in its life.

“I’m very proud of what we accomplished in San Francisco,” he said. “But I thought I could have a greater personal impact in a different environment and with an orchestra that is pursuing a unique and vitally different vision of the future at a crucial time in its history.”

A chance to make a difference

As a student, Hanson studied cello at Eastman College of Music in New York for two years before transferring to Harvard University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies. During this time, he co-run a student-run homeless shelter, which he described as a formative experience.

“I experienced firsthand the power of a few people to make a difference,” he said. “I was delighted to later discover that I could accomplish the same thing working for orchestras.”

Hanson said he was drawn to Baltimore’s work in part because of OrchKids, a program created by Alsop that uses music education to achieve social change by offering free lessons, homework help and a meal to children from kindergarten to grade 12 who live in poor neighborhoods.

“OrchKids has already achieved so much,” he said. “It could have the potential to have an even greater impact in the city of Baltimore and beyond.”

Hanson has conducted five orchestras since receiving a League of American Orchestras Fellowship in 1998: the Rockford Symphony Orchestra in Illinois; the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra in Tennessee; the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in Wisconsin; the Houston Symphony in Texas; and finally, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. He is married with three sons, and his average tenure in each organization was 4.6 years.

In California, his accomplishments include increasing the size of in-person attendance from 10% before the pandemic and guiding a two-year research process that culminated in the widely acclaimed nomination of Esa-Pekka Salonen. as musical director of the orchestra.

Hanson increased contributions to the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra by 33%, Rosen said, and returned the organization to consecutive balanced budgets after years of deficits.

Rosen admitted that initially he had the same question about Hanson that others have asked: why would someone with Hanson’s background want to take on a job that, at least superficially, appears to be a step in back ?

“I had a long conversation with the former chairman of the board of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra,” Rosen said. “As a lawyer, I checked many, many references, and Mark got the best reference I’ve ever heard on anyone. It was brilliant.

“Everything about this decision seems fair to me. Everything falls into place, as if it were destined.


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