Tom Strini

MSO has a new president/CEO

By - Oct 27th, 2010 04:02 pm

Maryellen Gleason, the MSO’s new CEO/president.

Maryellen Gleason, currently president and CEO of the Phoenix Symphony, will leave Arizona and take the same posts with the Milwaukee Symphony on Jan. 4.

The MSO announced the hire Wednesday afternoon. In a press release, MSO board chairman Chris Abele and music director Edo de Waart expressed enthusiasm for the new executive. Abele noted, in particular, Gleason’s experience in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors. Gleason, 51, succeeds Mark Hanson, who left last spring to lead the Houston Symphony. In a phone interview Wednesday, Gleason said that she and Hanson are well-acquainted and that they had discussed his possible move to Houston about a year ago. But she did not move on the Milwaukee position until the MSO’s search firm invited her to apply, in August. This is a step up; the Phoenix budget is about $10 million, compared with the MSO’s $16.5 million.

Gleason started college as a violist and a music major at her hometown Boston University. She transferred to Harvard and as a student was development director for the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra. Upon graduation, she went to work with GTE in marketing for seven years, then spent three years as executive director of the GTE North Classic Senior PGA Golf Tour in Indianapolis. She moved to the Southwest to turn around a low-performing region for Qwest Communications, which she did, and earned an MBA from Northwestern University while she was at it.

In 1991, a search firm approached her about the executive position with the Phoenix Symphony, in which her husband, Kim Robert Ohlemeyer, is principal trombonist.

“At first, I thought, no way,” Gleason said Wednesday. “But I’d been to the concerts and saw how passionate people were about the music. I love business, and I love music.”

The Phoenix Symphony, professionalized in 1983, has struggled through most of its existence. Gleason came on the scene when she and the board felt a need to upgrade in every department.

“I learned a lot about what I didn’t know,” she said. “For example, on one of my first days, our whole ticket system failed and we found out it had been discontinued by the manufacturer. We didn’t have a lease for the building called Symphony Hall. I had to lay a lot of administrative cornerstones. Phoenix was a pioneering effort to establish a level of support.”

Gleason oversaw the installation of Michael Christie as music director. Christie pressed for personnel changes in the orchestra, which led to controversy and legal actions. Gleason believes that the stress had to be endured for artistic reasons and the long-term health of the orchestra. She can point to some good numbers to back that up: four straight years of balanced budgets, rising and record ticket and subscription sales, endowment expansion.

“I did that for eight years, which is longer than any CEO they’ve ever had,” Gleason said. “I feel I can’t do anything else there, and I’m ready for a new adventure. I’ve always been passionate about music and I want to do more. Milwaukee does more.”

She said that her husband will leave his PSO post and move to Milwaukee, along with their sons, 16 and 13. Gleason, by the way, still keeps up her viola playing and likes to play chamber music. So it’s possible that we’ll hear from her outside the office.

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