Paul Meecham, who became president and CEO of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra a decade ago after a period of high deficits and rocky morale, and quickly corrected its course, is stepping down at the end of June to take a similar position with the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera.
"If you had asked me a year ago if I would leave Baltimore, I would have said, 'Are you out of your mind,' but these Utah people are very, quietly persuasive," Meecham said Tuesday from Salt Lake City. "It's an intriguing prospect."
Meecham was first approached about the job last summer.
"I first said, 'No, thank you,' but as I started to talk with them more it started to coalesce," Meecham said. "The Utah Symphony is an orchestra definitely on the rise. And I am intrigued by the combination of orchestra and opera, an art form I've always loved."
Like the BSO, the Utah Symphony is a 52-week orchestra (one of 15 in the country). In addition to its regular season at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City, it holds an annual summer festival in Park City, Utah. The orchestra, which is coming up on its 75th anniversary, merged in 2002 with the Utah Opera; the opera company, founded in 1978, stages four productions annually.
"Ten years in these jobs is a long time," Meecham said. Taking the new job "seems to feel right. And with the BSO having its centennial, it can benefit from a new lens as it enters its next phase."
BSO board chair Barbara Bozzuto said that Meecham "made a huge impact on the orchestra" and was "the architect of the centennial season."
"It's mixed feelings when these things happen," Bozzuto said of Meecham's decision to take the Utah post. "We're very happy for him. It's a great opportunity fo him. But we'll miss him."
Bozzuto has appointed a search committee. A search firm will be engaged as well.
"We're in a very different place today than we were 10 years ago," Bozzuto said. "This can be a very creative and inspiring time for an organization, a chance to ask where we are going, what kind of person we are looking for."
BSO music director Marin Alsop, currently in London, provided a statement calling Meecham "a great collaborator on programming, especially for our 100th Anniversary season which kicks off next week." The conductor said Meecham "shares my commitment to making classical music accessible to the widest possible audience."
In addition to balancing budgets and restoring professionalism in staffing, Meecham worked closely with Alsop on such initiatives as OrchKids, the widely praised musical education project in inner-city schools, and various annual events that bring amateur musicians and the BSO together.
The orchestra has also offered new programming approaches, including the Pulse series launched this season that has the BSO and indie bands sharing the stage.
The British-born Meecham, who previously held posts with the London Sinfonietta, New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and Seattle Symphony, will remain at the helm for the remainder of the BSO's centennial season.
The closing weeks of that season will include the orchestra's hosting of the 2016 National Conference of the League of American Orchestras conference in Baltimore, June 9-11.
Dave Petersen, chair of the Utah Symphony/Utah Opera board of trustees, said "the entire search committee agreed that [Meecham] was the right leader for our organization and community at this time," offering "a wonderful blend of experience, innovation, vision and leadership."
Meecham starts his new job July 1.
Utah Symphony music director Thierry Fischer said in a statement that Meecham "was exactly the kind of partner I've been hoping for as we continue to grow as an institution."
Utah Opera artistic director Christopher McBeth concurred, saying that, "with his extensive experience and personal love of both art forms, our board has found the exact right person for our organization's future."