After the Dvorak trios were played, and after DSO chairman Blaine Nelson had given Jonathan Martin a new cowboy hat — Martin and his wife Amy have been in town for only five days — the Dallas Symphony‘s new CEO spoke. Martin (left, meeting Channel 8) acknowledged Nelson’s efforts in wrenching the orchestra back into the black the past two years:
“It was clearly evident to me as I began my candidacy that the journey toward sustainability and security had already begun. … And at the head of that, the person who was making great leadership choices was Blaine, and I will always be indebted to Blaine for his extraordinary leadership.”
The DSO finished its last season in the black but only because the orchestra cut its scheduled programming, extended a wage freeze for its musicians and drastically boosted its fundraising. All that averted a possible credit crunch and even insolvency. But it still left a multi-million dollar deficit to address.
And that was the theme of the early-afternoon press conference. When they spoke — Nelson, music director Jaap van Zweden, Martin — everyone hailed the Meyerson Symphony Center as an exceptional concert hall. Speakers repeatedly cited van Zweden’s national acclaim as a conductor, whipping this orchestra into top-notch shape over the past four years. There’s even a European tour coming in this, his fifth season.
So what’s needed now, several speakers offered — all the DSO needs now for greatness — (well, even for its continued existence) is long-term financial stability. It can’t keep lurching the way it did last season when the announcement that van Zweden was chosen “conductor of the year” by Musical America was followed a week later with Nelson’s prediction of insolvency, if things didn’t change by January. And that crisis came after two years of administrative turnover — in the midst of a candidate search for a new CEO that didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
So. The new boss. Jonathan Martin (right, with Nelson and van Zweden) has been the executive director of the Charlotte Symphony and before that, general manager for nine years of the renowned Cleveland Symphony. In Charlotte, he launched a $40 million “recapitalization” campaign. He’s an experienced hand.
And he doesn’t plan on looking for more cost-savings, he said. That’s not the answer.
MARTIN: “It’s easy when you’re trying to create a sustainable operation to cut, cut, cut, cut and in doing so, you can put yourself into a starvation cycle. So my job is to focus on the revenue side.”
Martin said he’d only been in his job for three days so he couldn’t offer specific plans for generating revenue. But he noted that a symphony orchestra is a 200-year-old art form. It must adapt to the 21st-century in the way it reaches its audiences. And Dallas certainly has the wealth capacity in it to support a first-rank orchestra. But the city’s cash capacity could be infinite, he said, and it wouldn’t help the DSO if individual donors aren’t convinced the symphony is a personal pleasure, a civic value and a sound investment.
Two-thirds of the symphony’s revenue comes from such patrons, not ticket-buyers — “and that’s not going to change,” Martin noted. “So our focus is going to have to align with where the funding ultimately comes from.”
At the same time, he said, he’s learned that patrons’ money goes into the art forms they consume. So increasing ticket sales can lead to … increasing donors.
It certainly helped the tenor of the occasion that Nelson could also announce that the the DSO opens its new season Saturday with its annual fundraising gala.
And currently, that gala has brought in more money than any previous one.