On March 18, Gary Ginstling took the reins as the new CEO of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, over a year since Simon Crookall surreptitiously resigned that position. Ginstling comes from the Cleveland Orchestra where he has served as general manager since 2008. After finishing the current indoor season, he was ready to talk about his experience to date--the very day the orchestra's Symphony on the Prairie series began.
NUVO: How do you compare the change from the Cleveland Orchestra--considered by many to be in the top ten in the world--to the ISO, classed as a major orchestra in America?
Gary Ginstling: Every orchestra has its own, unique assets. What attracted me to the ISO was the combination of all the great assets that were here: Krzysztof [Urbański], Jack [Everly], the quality of the musicians, Time for Three, the venue right here in the heart of the city--which it isn't in Cleveland.
NUVO: You've talked about four areas of focus for the organization: unity, accessibility, innovation and excellence at the heart of everything the orchestra does. Could you expand on these, with some context?
Ginstling: Sure. I'll start with excellence. It starts from what happens on the stage, from our music director and our musicians and the performances they give at a high level. That's what musicians strive for, spending so many hours practicing. That's why it's so competitive--to win a position in the ISO. I just want to make sure that excellence permeates everything we do in the organization, off the stage as well. So it's how the ushers greet you in the concert hall, the treatment you get at our box office, the communications you get with our staff. All that has to be at the highest level; that's what I'm striving for, for excellence.
Then there's unity. Another word for it is transparency. I've heard a lot of people say--of course over the past year--"Gosh, I didn't even know that the ISO was in trouble financially." I want everyone to understand where we are, that we're on the same page. For a great orchestra it takes a lot of money, a lot of ticket sales, a lot of donations from the community in order to support us. We raised a lot of money in the campaign last fall, but we have a lot more to raise to keep the operation going. We have a chance to balance our budget this year; we'll be close, and we'll do so with a much more reasonable draw from our endowment than we have in past years. Being transparent and clear will allow us to be unified as an organization and as a community.
Another critical factor is that the ISO be more accessible. I mean giving more people opportunities to come into the concert hall, in the Hilbert Circle Theatre. A great example of that is our recently concluded ticket-price reduction, where we put all our remaining seats on sale for $20. We had full houses which everyone responded to, and great audiences, great energy. We want to break down whatever barriers there are price wise. At the same time, we want the orchestra to be more accessible outside the theater and in the community--in the largest sense of the word community--all corners of Indianapolis. You'll hear us make some announcements soon about some new programs. We're going to get the orchestra out into neighborhoods and parks. That's what I mean by accessible.
Finally we need to be more innovative, even though I think the ISO has innovation in its DNA. Looking at the collaboration we have with Time for Three and the work we've one with New AM. All these things are pushing the boundaries of what a symphony orchestra can be. The innovation needs to extend beyond just what happens on the stage. We need to be creative about how we put our programs together, our concerts together, start times, length of concerts, pricing--all those things we need to experiment with and find models that the public responds to. I want to extend features like our Happy Hour further and give young people more opportunity to hear the orchestra regularly.
NUVO: What's being done about current high-level staff vacancies?
Ginstling: We do have a number of vacancies in the senior management team. We have announced a new vice president of development; Holly Johnson will be starting in a few weeks. We're closing in on announcing a new vice president of operations and a general manager--Tom Ramsey's old position--and then in search for a VP of finances. I think these three key positions, and once those are filled, that means we have a new looking senior management team that will allow us to look at all of these questions and come together with a long-term plan for the ISO.
NUVO: What fundraising strategies have you been involved with since you've been here to support the orchestra's new five-year contract, given what happened last fall?
Ginstling: It was certainly a difficult year, and I think the most important strategy I've been focusing on is communication, and making sure that it ties back to what I said earlier about transparency, making sure that people understand the full extent of the financial picture of the organization--how much it costs to have a great orchestra and how much we need at a given time in order to support it. We need to be really hitting high goals on ticket sales. We have major fundraising goals. I can't repeat it too many times that the board has made a commitment to be absolutely vigilant about finances and to be a proper steward of the organization's assets by reducing its draw on the endowment to a reasonable level, and as a result the year-to-year fundraising need goes up. The community is going to be hearing us more and more asking it to support this organization philanthropically. It's our burden to make the case for why we're worthy of that support.
NUVO: How are the all-new Circle Theatre seats scheduled for this fall coming along?
Ginstling: We're beginning the process of replacing the seats which will occur over the course of the summer. Starting next week the orchestra will be rehearsing outside of the theater as we begin the project. And the plan does call for the seats to be ready for our opening Gala in the fall. There will be a slight reduction in the total number of seats in the hall; they will be slightly larger than the current seats, so the people will have more space and be more comfortable. There will be some renumbering, and I know that our patron-services staff are working to make sure that all subscribers understand what's happening with the seats. We're confident that it's going to be an experience that our existing patrons--plus the new ones--will recognize that their symphony experience will be a lot more comfortable.
NUVO: What artistic vision of the future do you have with the performances you've seen and the assets we currently have in place?
Ginstling: I think that's probably my biggest observation so far is the extraordinary artistic level of the concerts with Krzysztof. You mentioned the Brahms [the Lasić recasting of his Violin Concerto to a "piano" concerto], the Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra was incredibly well played. At the same time you have these terrific pops shows with Jack that are really entertaining and energizing. Jack is, you know, one of the best in the business. We're fortunate to have him, and the orchestra plays so well for him as well. It's amazing that the orchestra can be so at home artistically in both genres. That's, to me, a highlight of my first three months.