CSO's Martha Gilmer leaving to take San Diego post

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Martha Gilmer

Martha Gilmer, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's vice president for artistic planning and audience development. (Todd Rosenberg Photography / April 28, 2011)

The San Diego Symphony's announcement Thursday that it has hired Martha Gilmer, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's vice president for artistic planning and audience development, as its new chief executive officer, steps up the pressure on the CSO Association to fill not one but two important administrative posts before very many more months elapse.

Gilmer's three-year appointment takes effect Sept. 24, a week after the start of the CSO's 2014-15 season. Music director Riccardo Muti is scheduled to lead the orchestra's European tour in October and November.

Still vacant here is the top job in the executive hierarchy below that of music director -- president of the CSO Association -- a post left vacant by the departure June 30 of Deborah F. Rutter, who will become president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington on Sept. 1.

Board Chairman Jay Henderson, in an internal memo several weeks ago, said he was taking over the responsibilities of Rutter's job on an interim basis. No timetable has been announced for the association's engaging a permanent successor to Rutter.

There has been speculation in the symphony field that Gilmer used the San Diego offer to improve her chances of securing Rutter's position at the CSO and that if she were passed over for the job here she could decide to keep or decline the offer.

Gilmer said "there has been no leverage whatsoever" and that she made clear to the trustees she was not interested in succeeding her former boss.

"I made it clear to the (CSO Association) leadership I didn't choose to be a candidate," said Gilmer. "In fact, when San Diego kind of precipitously called me, I wasn't looking for anything. A couple of people persuaded me to go hear the orchestra. I did and I was very impressed with the orchestra and the board leadership and what they wanted to do.

"But I made it very clear to the San Diego board that if I continued to talk to them it was because I wanted the position they were offering, not because I was using it to influence Chicago -- not at all.

"Chicago and I also were very clear with each other, about what they were looking for and what I was looking for. There's been no leverage whatsoever, I can assure you of that. I also made that promise to San Diego, because I don't think that's fair. I could never trade on that -- it's not part of my nature."

Gilmer's reputation as a symphony executive of original artistic vision and strong collaborative instincts with other arts organizations no doubt had a favorable effect on her appointment in San Diego.

Since December, the San Diego Symphony board had been searching for a replacement for CEO Edward "Ward" Gill, who is credited with greatly improving the orchestra's once-shaky fiscal situation over the past 10 years.

Until Gill arrived in 2003, the orchestra had a history of administrative and financial problems and had filed for liquidation bankruptcy in the 1990s. In short order following his arrival, the orchestra received $120 million in grants and bequests, hired Jahja Ling as music director and began balancing its budget.

Also recently, the orchestra played its first concert in New York's Carnegie Hall and made its first international tour, to China.

One of the first orders of business for Rutter's successor will be to work with the CSO Association executive committee to engage a new vice president for artistic planning and audience development with whom the new president can function as a strategic planning team, much as Rutter and Gilmer have successfully done over the past decade.

The ability of both administrators to forge a similarly close working relationship with the sometimes demanding Muti will, of course, be crucial as the orchestra works to implement various artistic, financial and audience development strategies. Muti's current contract runs through August 2020.

Gilmer's association with the CSO began in 1976 when she joined the staff as a student intern. She has served in various managerial capacities at the orchestra for the past 35 years and, as such, has earned widespread respect throughout the American symphony orchestra field.
In her evolving role at the CSO she oversaw the orchestra's programming, educational programs, chorus, Symphony Center Presents and Civic Orchestra, along with the creation of such series as Beyond the Score, Classic Encounters and MusicNOW. She also has overseen the CSO's annual three-week festivals..

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