The Dallas Symphony Orchestra named Kim Noltemy as their new president and CEO.
She’ll be the first woman in that position.
In this week’s State of the Arts discussion, Art&Seek’s Jerome Weeks speaks with Noltemy about her hopes and ambitions for the future of the Dallas Symphony.
Here’s the extended conversation:
Jerome: You’re coming to the DSO at what may be a major and pivotal moment. Both of the leaders who’ve transformed the symphony over the past several years – Jonathan Martin (CEO) and Jaap van Zweden (conductor) – will be gone at the end of the season. And that looks like a quite the opportunity, but it’s also sort of a gamble, because you don’t know who the next conductor will be. How much input will you have in the DSO’s choice? And what are you looking for?
Well I would say that the DSO is already somewhat down the road in the process. That means I’m jumping in later than I would have preferred. I would have loved to have been involved from the very beginning, but who knew? So I will do my best to be helpful and part of the process. But it seems as the the board and everyone involved is going to defer to the musicians, because they’re the ones who are working with the music director on a day to day basis.
On the other hand, we’d love someone who can really be a great figure in the community. Someone who can work on the development side and with marketing and public relations too. I mean, that’s the ideal world. We’d love to have someone who has all of those components as part of the interest and personality of a music director, because we need that in today’s world. We need that to get the attention of the general public and because the fact is that classical music isn’t always 100 percent popular with the masses. We have to understand that we have an education job to do for the public when it comes to classical music.
Learn what the Dallas Opera is doing to change the total number of women conductors and leaders at major classical music orgs.
Jerome: It’s well-known that there are very few female conductors in classical music. One reason may be because there are are also very few women running American orchestras. You’re now part of that small, but growing group. What has that meant for you? Has gender bias been a factor in your career?
No. I have been very fortunate. At the Boston Symphony Orchestra I’ve never felt that my gender had anything to do with my work. It was more about getting the job done. We have a wonderful team here. We all have the greatest respect for one another’s work ethic, ideas, and general approach to being part of the institution.
It is obviously visible that in the industry there are limited numbers of women in leadership roles. And I would say that it’s a huge commitment to be in a president and CEO role. You know? The amount of hours you have to work, the level of dedication — really any woman could do it. But I think it’s a choice. It’s a choice of do you want to give up family time and time with friends? I think that’s probably more of the challenge than anything else. If you’re a woman who’s going to have a family and I’m one of those women – I have two children, both are almost done with their college careers – you have to wait till you feel like you’re in a position where can devote yourself to the task at 110 percent. When you’re the CEO, you don’t have time to take personal time. Now, I won’t have to.
Jerome: We know your history is in marketing and fundraising. You’ve even administered TV productions. But the press announcement that informed North Texas of your hire said nothing about music. Do you have a music background?
Well, I played the flute for a number of years when I was young. I would never in a million years call myself a musician though. But I would say that I am a huge fan. I go to about 140 concerts per year. And I have been doing that for the past 10 or 15 years. Working at the BSO, I’ve had the opportunity to go to a lot of concerts and I have to say that being able to see a symphony orchestra is simply a privilege.
Jerome: Is there any particular music or area that’s close to your heart?
You know, probably because I’m not a musician, my tastes are all over the map. I remember that when I first started going to concerts that I was very interested in hearing the masters like Mozart. Whereas now, I much prefer to hear the new works or something that is lesser-known. That probably has to do with the fact that I see more than 100 shows per year.
Jerome: In my first question, I mentioned that this may be a pivotal moment for the DSO. Over the past few years, the orchestra has been pumped up with super talents and the kinds of concerts that are put on have been expanded. What do you hope to do? What’s next?
Well, Jonathan Martin and Jaap van Zweden have done wonderful things in the past few years. And I hope to be able to elevate the awareness of all great work that they’ve done and engage the community at an even higher level. And I want to have everyone in Dallas feel like ‘this is my orchestra.’
The hope is to use everything that’s been done and expand upon it in order to open up the idea of going to concerts to many more people.
Jerome: Perhaps the most significant expertise that you bring to Dallas is in new media – digital downloads, podcasts and internet TV. The DSO has only made sporadic efforts in that area. And the Boston Symphony has the most visited website of any American orchestra. So what’s the secret formula?
It’s a multi-prong effort and you have to think about your different target audiences. That means there’s content that needs to be generated for the regular attendees – the real devotees – and then you need to have a significant amount of content that brings new people in. It has to make people feel like this is something for them. It has to be something that they have to want to try. And the mix of both of those is so important.
Meanwhile, you have to make sure that you’re not dumbing it down, that you’re representing the appropriate quality of musicianship of the orchestra. And these are all factors that come into it. And every market is different, so when I start in Dallas I will be looking at a lot of data to determine what would be a good strategy for the city.
On top of all of that, there’s just a little bit of research and development. We have to kind of try somethings and play with some other stuff to see what’ll have a good response. It’s an iterative process.
Jerome: That has been a issue for the DSO. They’ve had a conductor who has received national attention and praise. Their CEO was renovating and reviving things within the administration. And yet, they still weren’t getting big crowds. But the problem they face is one that is faced around the nation – an aging audience.
It’s true. But it’s not so much about the aging audience. It’s that we as an industry haven’t really found a way to regularly engage with the younger audiences and to build loyalty with them. And that’s a really critical component.
There has to be a feeder system that is robust and ongoing. And it can’t be that one season you get a lot of new people coming to shows. Then the next season, they don’t come back. That will not solve long-term problems.
There’s a lot of work going into the concert experience, the expectations and with the education of potential audiences. It has become our job as an industry to teach people about what we do, why it matters, what they need to know before they go to a concert and we need to have some of the extra bells and whistles that will make the concert experience extra special. And all of that needs to happen so that they are raving when they leave the hall. That’s how we get buzz and excitement. More importantly, it gets them to return.
And this is not an easy job. So yes, you do need a great conductor and a great venue and great musicians. But you have to do these extra things to get people to come back.
Interview questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.