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Keith Cerny, Fort Worth Symphony CEO/President

Keith Cerny, Fort Worth Symphony CEO/President 

Keith Cerny, Fort Worth Symphony CEO/President joins Fortitude. Keith shares his impressive life and musical education with us. From age 10 playing the piano, to conducting, singing, earning a Fulbright Fellowship, a Harvard MBA, and a PhD at Open Univ. to name a few of his accomplishments. This visionary understands what it takes to run one of the city’s most important institutions, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and all its working parts. Take your seats! This podcast is fascinating. You will learn something. Then go see the FWSO!

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Episode Transcription:

roxo media house welcome back to 42 folks JW Wilson your
host with my co-host Brinton Payne to the uh far left the man in the middle is a man by the name of Dr Keith Cerny the
president CEO of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra uh we are brought to you by cap Tech’s Bank our friends over at
capex Brinton thank you Mike Thomas as always uh we got a good one today this guy here does quite a bit of things he’s
been quite a bit of place quite a bit of places as well uh thank you for joining us Keith we’re honored to have you here in our presence I’m glad to be here so
before we get into the Fort Worth Symphony specifically you you come from a long ways away and been along with
places like I said uh you were playing music at an early age when did music
find you so I actually grew up and taught myself how to sing listening to my parents
Beatles records it’s pretty much the only records we had in the house and it’s kind of fun actually because tonight with the forward Symphony we
have a Beatles tribute concert so it was bringing back some of those memories but I had a music teacher in school
suggested I auditioned for the San Francisco boys chorus which I did and got in and had a chance to sing with the the symphony and the Opera in San
Francisco and then also was able to start taking piano lessons and within a
couple years after starting on piano lessons I played my first piano concerto with the
Berkeley Youth Orchestra are you better at one than the other would you say singing versus piano so I have a song
and I’ve studied voice because I’ve coached opera singers but my primary instrument is piano and I’m also a conductor did your parents make you take
lessons like did they see something in you when you were singing These Beatles dudes they’re like my goodness cute you
have something right there well usually it was the exact opposite so I had begged my parents to buy me a piano
since the age of seven and they said nah you’ll just quit yeah which is kind of
unusual now that I’ve been a parent but nonetheless uh that was their view but after I got into the boys course and started progressing through the ranks
there my mom said well maybe this gets worth buying a piano and she bought me piano and I found my own music teacher
and just from the day I started taking lessons was playing two hours a day without any kind of prompting just
because I loved it so much what kind of piano oh this was an old upright I don’t even remember it was but Alder upright was
with Ivory keys that were sort of falling off I mean it was playable but it was stay in tune a kind of yeah
reasonably yeah in San Francisco that’s where you grew up I should grew up in Berkeley my father was a professor at UC Berkeley
and that so we lived in Berkeley what kind of Professor he was a professor of chemistry and
Nuclear Physics oh wow so so education has always been pretty Paramount in your
family growing up and even to this day correct very much yeah I was uh we
my parents took education very seriously and my father was a professor his father had been a professor my mother had an
EDD I mean it was a it was a very academic family and I enjoyed that side of my background as well but the the
music really took hold at about age 10. did you did you think you maybe go into the same thing and just teach music uh
like throughout your life actually in my teens I wanted to be a concert pianist and when I got into my 20s I wanted to
be an Opera coach and conductor and was gearing up to that before I decided to focus on Arts Administration so I I knew
I wanted to be a performer as opposed to a teacher or an academic amazing okay yeah you ended up at Cal Berkeley where
you’re from obviously which is part of the story but any what are your you have some fond memories of the period of
childhood up to Cal Berkeley High school-ish what are some of the memories you that you have we could share well I
remember just doing an enormous amount of Music which I really loved I played
this concerto I mentioned I studied intensively I played in the California Bach Festival
I sang with San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera as a boy soprano played a lot with the Berkeley
contemporary chamber players so I I was really heavily heavily immersed in music as a as a team and Performing and
Performing performance performance as well and that’s really what I what I knew I loved to do incredible So Cal
Berkeley hits you yeah you’re studying there this is a pretty wild time at Cal Berkeley I think a lot of things are
happening there right including the big play yes yes so I was there that day please tell us so that was this is the
famous Stanford play where the band went on the field and Cal managed to win so
this is Brinton I thought you were going to talk about some uh kind of like um some kind of 60s there I don’t know
Brinton has no idea what we’re talking about zero idea I’m thinking so like Berkeley is just like a calm you know
like a hippie thing or some something like that and then you say your dad with chemistry I’m thinking of another guest we had on psychedelics I’m going crazy
places well there was some of that too I have to say having been in Berkeley but um no I was just referring specifically
to the big play and it’s a big TCU football guy JW I know you’ll know exactly what I mean right maybe you
should tell the audience of course I believe Stanford was ahead in the last play of the game it was just the most
crazy the band ran on the field Brinton just so you’re aware it’s probably one of the most famous players in the history of college football I think I’ve
seen Cal Berkeley lateral it several times and ran through the crowd through the through the band to score and win it
was it was ridiculous actually are you there I was there at that day for the game yeah it’s uh and everyone had
thought that uh Berkeley would you know would would lose and so the the play was
called there were too many men on the field the men being the Stanford band but of course Berkeley declined the penalty because they just won the game
and they used this very uh clever rugby style play where they kept doing reverse laterals up the field yeah it’s one of
the it’s you can find it on YouTube it’s pretty amazing so I was at Berkeley there I think that was well that’s great that was one of the big moments are you
a fan of sports do you follow any sports just since we’re on that topic a little bit not not a lot I find it takes most
of my time just keeping tabs of what musicians are up to but I have sports I have been to Cal Brooks several times just on business with family and stuff
uh there’s one place that I we always try to find it in this Founder’s Rock are you familiar with this rock it’s basically where the the school was
initiated like in 1860 or something and I don’t know why I even bring this up but I didn’t know if you knew what a
Founders Rock was if you ever saw it but it’s where the school was started it’s right basically it’s hidden by trees and some shrubs and stuff and it’s a it’s a
chore to actually find the rock I don’t know if you were from did you find it we never found it we were obviously searching and this is back before the
internet was very helpful years and years ago so interesting I mean it’s ringing a vague Bell but I never saw it
there there is a nuclear power plant that’s used under or a react test student reactor under the engineering
building so I know that’s still there they let students run around the actor well this is from years ago it’s boss now but apparently there is if you know
the right basement to go down to who there is you’re clearing up a lot of loose ends with him discovering the
nuclear reactor and being around that rather than the wrong indeed so from Cal Berkeley you ended up in London on a
Fulbright scholar Fulbright Fellowship excuse me that’s right what was that like Fulbright fellows fellowship and
then an Alfred Hertz Memorial Fellowship from Berkeley I spent four years in London studying music and Performing I
studied at the Guild Hall School of Music and drama also attended the Opera accompanying course at the English
national Opera which was uh very exciting to have the chance to work with them and study with some really tremendous conductors and a really
fabulous pianist so very nice spent four years doing that but primarily gearing up to getting a job as a opera companies
in a German opera house and taking the Intensive German and doing all those things and then
when I was about 24 I thought I think I’m going to focus on the Arts Administration side I was engaged at the time and my wife
was willing to go to Germany and and you know launch that particular Adventure but I decided Arts management probably
was going to be the long-term play how long in Germany were you well I I didn’t live there I was gearing up to audition
but it’s interesting uh Italy has the reputation for Opera but if you look at where the jobs are there are far far
more jobs in Austria and Germany than there are in Italy sure it’s also funny
what marriage can do to a musician’s dreams isn’t it well please tell us
my wife has always been very supportive mine as well but it’s it’s a hard way to raise a family right it is a hard way to
raise a family indeed uh that led you to some place called Harvard you know we
call TCU the Harvard of the South because you’re probably aware but that led you to Harvard Business School correct that’s right so after I came
back from London I actually worked for a couple years in a big at eight accounting firm which really dates me but in those days there were eight so I
worked for a couple years in tax on Corporate Finance at touchross a company and
because my thought was before I went to business school I really wanted to at least have some experience in in business
so I did that for a couple years and yeah I went to enjoyable time yeah I learned an incredible amount I was there
a couple years and it’s it’s really extraordinary is I think back in my entire career how much I rely on those
two years really yeah just work everything from working on Auditors know how to read financial statements just
feeling really comfortable with with financials yeah I was really learned more than I realized at the time it’s amazing how many musicians are
numerically oriented or have a kind of a math it’s odd you would think that it would be more of the writing side and
the creative side but you find a lot of musicians that have um a real numbers background or a real
you know mathematical and and computer science is there what do you think the reason for that is or you think it’s
well it’s not Universal I certainly know some musicians who are really much more focused on music and the verbal side but
yeah they’re they’re quite quite a few musicians who do both including myself because my undergraduate degrees were music and physics and uh so a lot of
mathematics and then I wound up doing a PhD later in my career through the open University in the UK in option pricing
Theory which is heavy math so for my whole career I’ve enjoyed the interplay between the math side and and the music
side do you look at music in a kind of almost a numerical formatter methodology
like does it translate into you like that I think for certain kind of repertoire it’s it’s very helpful right now I’m
preparing the Bartok Sonata for two pianos and percussion which I’ll be performing on our chamber music series
this fall with our wonderful keep artist buddy Bray and our percussion players and that particular piece yeah it’s
almost like a switch Swiss watch I mean there’s so many rhythmic elements built into it and it takes just a real precise
approach to practicing so for some kind of repertoire that has a absolutely
almost numerical kind of feel big romantic piano concerity not so much but certainly some more contemporary
repertoire absolutely and over the years I’ve really enjoyed learning and performing a lot of contemporary repertoire so I think that that helps
them yeah yeah almost get lost in the shuffle when music Talk takes over us not being a musician well what’s
interesting is you said contemporary more kind of numbers oriented and you think about how technology has taken us
into a I mean computers are based on numbers right like so it’s almost like is there something behind that right you
know but from where we’re going we’re just moving into the numbers more it seems like any notable memories from the
time at Harvard anything uh notable worth we could mention so I did a big field study with a
classmate named Andrew bartmas for a very famous Professor Stephen Will Wright on helping Kodak improve its
manufacturing and talking about some of the Perils of offshoring so bear in mind this was published in 1991 and it’s
still being referenced in the literature so that’s pretty cool like it pings every actually week or two from
researchgate saying someone’s requested a copy of your article so we think of we were ahead of the times in the sense
that we were pointed out that if you move your manufacturing overseas it can cost you a lot more money than you think
and then we’ve sort of Gone full circle from say the 90s when lots of companies were offshoring to different parts of
Asia and then a lot of companies now of course bringing it back bringing it back so and this is Kodak though right this
was this was Kodak business images business Imaging systems Division and we
wrote a Harvard case about it and published this article and so that was pretty cool yeah I’d say that was the highlighted academically of this and
then from there you go back to the UK to open University and that was a part-time thing I went
back to the UK actually to be associate with McKinsey and Company the consulting firm and I did the PHD in my in my spare
time and yeah no that’s well actually the way I did it
uh I think back to that a lot so my wife and I didn’t have kids quite yet uh but
I took a lot of taxes because my clients were all over London and yeah I worked very very long hours at McKinsey like
everyone does and what I did though is I dedicated one taxi ride per day to work
on my PhD and you know with the passage of time and just I had my laptop in there running my simulations writing my
stuff and that allowed me to generate enough material that I could then actually finish it when we moved to and
who says you’re a numbers guy breaking it down to one taxi ride a day I’m sure you had the amount of time too in a
non-uber or you know cell phone shows you how long it’s going to take you world well this I was writing this in
the early 90s and cell phones were you know about the size of a building brick right they’re those huge heavy things
yeah so there really was not sort of broadly used commercial cell phones yet so in a Taxis I would either be writing
my presentations or I’d be working on this but I found that worked really well and and actually that’s how I tend to
organize my life still so like I mentioned I’m preparing this this Bartok piece for our chamber music
series I have to be very just meticulous with my practice time because my day job keeps me pretty busy so every time I sit
down at the piano I really have to know what I’m trying to accomplish in that particular hour right I mean it’s it’s
great fun to sort of sit at the piano and and be leisurely about it but I just don’t have that kind of time at the moment so I have to be very very focused
about what I’m trying to get out of it yeah so we can fast forward a little bit in your career because you’ve done quite a few things but obviously I think we’re
our Point here is get to the Fort Worth Symphony but you had to stop down at the for the San Francisco Opera for three or
four years you’re the executive director or the CFO the San Francisco Opera so you’re now you’re now in the upper
echelon of the of the of the musical uh and this is a big one too the San Francisco Opera I’m Vaguely Familiar but
that in itself is a substantial deal how was that for you well that was fantastic
experience I had already been a full partner at Accenture for four years and was looking to make my move into Arts
Administration and they had to evade see at the number two level with the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial
Officer and so I was delighted to have that off and work for them for three years and then you went to another spot
where we were we were talking before you got here when I used to try to learn the guitar I wanted to play the guitar I go
to tablature for a company called sheets music plus uh you know idiots that can’t play go there for the easy way to play
song on the guitar come to find out you were running this company for the period of two three years correct that’s right
I also was CEO of Sheet Music Plus and worked very closely with the founder and the venture capitalist who had were
carrying it up for sale and it actually has since been sold my two years there I spent really virtually all my time
working on modernizing the the data infrastructure so we we actually built a whole new data
center 365 Main from the ground up and we’re able to compress the data center from
essentially a big floor and a basement an office building to a rack and a half so that was less non-musicians thank you
very much for the help there because is that are those sheets being used somewhere still sorry potato yeah that
business they sold it to one of the big music Publishers I don’t remember which one but uh yeah the business is very
successful we had when I was there about a million titles you could have buy online and it was an interesting example
of how the internet is very powerful because we could compete against much
larger organizations say on Amazon because Amazon wanted to sell high volume music that everybody wants
to buy so packable’s Canon or fake books for beetles or or those kinds
of things but we could be on the long tail of the distribution and sell things that people only bought once or twice a
year all over the world and still be able to make money on that and so I didn’t found this business so Nick
babstroke did it was a very clever business and very successful that niche market of the niche market and it’s
really would make a textbook example of how a business can compete against companies you know thousand ten thousand
times their size if they’re focused on just the right kind of Niche and there there you go on to the uh this General
director and CEO of the Dallas Opera for eight years eight years there yep so
which led you further on to the Calgary Opera uh it’s one of the largest operas
in the whole world I’m familiar with these guys why what is it about the Opera business on obviously your musical
background I believe is that answer but you you seem to have a thing for the operas and you obviously successful
offers in that what’s going on there so one of the things I enjoy about Opera is it Blends together the
orchestral playing the singing and also adds all the theatrical elements on stage and in fact in our work together
Robert spanner and I the four Symphonies music director we both enjoy that theatrical side on some of our
Productions and we’ve been introducing more of those kinds of elements in what we do whether it’s through evenings of
Wagner or ballet or using projections so these are all elements that we’ve we’re
bringing into the symphonic experience and what about Canada because we’ve got you know like the vancleiber there’s a
lot of Canada arts and and that Humanity stuff and then we’re getting that here
how what do you think the reason for that is Canada is a very vibrant art scene and Calgary in particular is home
to the honens international piano competition and Alberta ballet so of
course here in Fort Worth we have the very very famous Clyburn International piano competition honens would say
they’re of that same you know exalted level from a piano point of view there’s a lot of interest
in the Arts in Canada one of the reasons is that a typical Canadian Arts
organization is funded about a third by the three levels of government whereas apart from the pandemic years in the U.S
environment I mean it is typically maybe one percent comes from government sources so that’s one
difference and it definitely makes it easier to know you have that solid base of support are you learning along these
these director lines things that work don’t work which obviously LED you to the Fort Worth Symphony but are you
learning the the methods in which they build audiences build funds all the things that you now utilize the
Symphonies it’s fair to say that’s where all this came from yes I’ve been working in arts management
either as a consultant or line exec for about 25 years and although I’ll say one
of the fun things about what I do is I have to learn new things every day I’ve certainly had a lot of experience you
seem like quite the learning learning man I have guests based on your resume so it it’s interesting what what trends are
new what trends are are different um or I should say what trends are new what are what are the same so 25 years
ago people were complaining about audiences disappearing and people have been actually complaining about that since the time of Mozart so that’s not
to say we don’t have to work hard to develop new audiences because we do but that same theme has been around for 200
years more probably what really has been new since I worked with the forward Symphony Of course is managing a
symphony through a global pandemic and that forced us just to rethink absolutely everything absolutely that we
do to get through that period of time and we did it very successfully and are now working to pull out but it it really
required just a total rethink um sort of a disrupter mentality to the
business although in this case the disrupter was coming from the office and I know he’ll have some questions further on the pandemic but so we arrive at the
fourth Symphony where you were you president and CEO now so you’re in Fort Worth Texas I know you’re happy to be
here I’ve known you for quite some time now tell us what it means or first let me start at the beginning what exactly
is is a symphony what’s the purpose of a symphony in in the world of music just so the people who don’t understand quite
what’s going on sure so we have about 65 musicians in our core Orchestra and our our service
our mission really is around community service and that has different kinds of elements of providing great orchestral
playing of different kinds maybe a Summer Festival we have a very very large education program and
pre-pandemic we used to reach about 200 000 people a year that broke down very
roughly as about 65 000 in our education program 35 000 through our Summer Festival and then the rest through our
symphonic and Pops programming historically Fort Worth Symphony has had one of the largest education programs in
the country and that predates me by a long time that’s great work for my predecessors but it’s an important part
of what we do we bring all those elements together we’re really here to be of the community but also serve the community absolutely
is it something that makes a city you know uh better than another city by oh we have a symphony orchestra right like
is there like some Echelon that it reaches that for I mean obviously larger cities have these but what’s your take
on that so the it’s incredibly important for cities to
have the Arts in my view and in fact I’ve done some work in my Consulting days non-music Consulting days on
corporate relocations and so what are the things that really draws or companies to cities is the quality of
life do they have sports teams what are they do they have the also performing arts and museums and this is a really
central part of Civic life and I think many many cities of all different sizes recognize that and you know you take a
smaller Community like Wichita Falls that I’ve done some work in you know they’re very proud of all the things
they do there and they’re constantly striving to bring more or exhibits to their Museum more music
more kinds of entertainment and quality of life to their residents and that’s a
city of you know about a hundred thousand when you get to a very large city like Fort Worth or Dallas it’s all about
that that cultural excitement and that’s really important I think for any City to have really really of any size is there
competitive nature to like us with Dallas like look what we we do this Beatles do and like we’re better here
like kind of ouch out showing the other so we really think of ourselves as being
one of two top tier symphonies in the the Metroplex so Metroplex now has about 8 million
people and that’s plenty big to support to International calibers of Symphonies so we don’t really think of it as
head-to-head competition we we do strive to be the best we can be artistically and with the appointment of our new
music director Robert spanner we’ve really made a big step forward he just brings such a wealth of experience and
knowledge and context and musicians that he wants to work with so that’s really elevated what we do considerably yeah
nice I’ve always believed the symphony and this is these are my words but it’s one of the grandest most complex uh
methods of Performing music is that fair to say there’s more goes into a symphony than probably anything musically I know
there’s a lot of practice but it’s the amount of members you mentioned 65 there’s just so much going on conducting
the practicing all the choosing of the pieces all the things that go into it makes it got to be most complex performance there is right it’s a very
complicated business and budget size is deceptive in the sense that our budget
is much smaller than some of the largest orchestras in the US which might have budgets of 100
million or more but often we do 80 or more percent of the many performances so
one of our challenges is how do we with a staff of 28 people produce 200
concerts a year and the answer is we have to be incredibly efficient to be able to make that happen
Symphonies are you know very complex organizations we have a work group of
musicians that we need to keep working well together our work group is unionized most
Symphonies are that adds other elements that we need to make sure we’re following the contract very precisely
and and everybody is really working well together and then do those performers then have other they don’t have like
full-time job they’re musicians but do they get to go to other places and perform and things like that so our
musicians are on a 46 week contract so they have six weeks of preparation time
in the summer but in that time they are able to go work in other festivals if they choose many of them teach they
teach at TCU they teach at UNT so they’ll they’ll teach at universities they’ll teach privately they’ll do gigs
on the side and that’s something that we encourage and we set the schedule each week
typically at least a month in advance although we give advanced warning and beyond that how they organize their preparation time and other activities is
very much up to them but it’s expected that they will do that average salary of
uh symphonic cellist let’s I mean do some instruments
uh get paid more than others so we pay more to the principles than we do to
section players so in an or in a section like cello is the the principal will earn more than than the section player
and we do everything we can for them uh you know it’s a tough tough economic environment short moment so we’re
average salary just ballpark ballpark I mean it doesn’t even have to be the cellist so those are consistent I mean
the I don’t have the exact numbers to to mine but the the section musicians
will earn I think this year’s contract is in the high 50s before
doubling fees or overtime or some of those other kinds of things and then principals will earn typically 25 more
than that something like that but still in this day and age that’s a real love for music if you’re
going and doing this kind of work right I mean you’re doing it for the music aspect not
for the going to vacation on Hawaii this summer all right I mean we are very fortunate to have many dedicated
musicians that uh you know they focus their whole life often since a very young age on this and we’re just
thrilled they want to be part of the Fort Worth community and be part of the forward Symphony since we’re on money Keith could you tell us about how what
does it cost to run a symphony per year is it you mentioned a hundred million dollars for some of these world-class
our budget this year is about 15 million dollars the the biggest driver of the
cost truck service symphony is how many musicians they have in the corps and what they pay core members
um so sure in that 15 million dollar called budget where’s that money coming from so people understand how money is
made so we have earned Revenue which is split roughly evenly between ticket sales and
some of our Partnerships with organizations like Fort Worth Opera and Texas Valley Theater the Clyburn when
they’re having their competition the afw who manages basketball engages us for their education programs so we have
earned Revenue that does not come directly from ticket sales and that produces a good chunk of what we do we
typically have an endowment draw which covers about 10 percent of our operating expenses and then the remaining which is
you know is more than 50 percent is from fundraising so fundraising is a big part
of most simple if not all Symphonies I mean fundraising is an extraordinary important part of what we do and in fact
having worked as you mentioned earlier JW and Opera for quite a few years I mean opera companies
have been planning for years to for a world where tickets only cover 10 to 15
percent of the budget I mean many aren’t there yet but every year typically the that pie chart shifts so that ticket
sales become a lower part of the percentage a lower percentage of the total and the fundraising becomes is it
still true Keith since since the I think you made a comment about Mozart that people are getting people to come back
to the symphony or come to the symphony in general is that you said that’s still a thing what are we what are you doing
what is the symphony doing to entice people to come to the symphony if that’s the right word
sure we think a lot about what is what is going to sell when we program especially in our Pops pop special
series we’re dramatically expanding our movies because a lot of Symphonies will do movies with full Orchestra and that
sells really well we had a big success with that with Star Wars last fall our first time for Star Wars uh program in
the upcoming season the 2324 will be doing our first ever Harry Potter film typically these sell very well explain
that real quick what the Harry Potter film you’re showing the film on a screen in this in in Bass Hall with the
symphony playing along at all the musical pieces right so this this is licensed to the owner and in Star Wars
case it’s through Disney so we negotiate with Disney on what the fee will be for if we do three performances what those
three performances are and then there’s a screen above the orchestra the orchestra that’s on stage and then cut
conductor then hits various tools to keep the playing synchronized doors and say they’re conducting synchronized with the
movie and very popular tracks or other methods these are these are very popular these pop series these are very popular
so we’re doing more with that because every dollar of margin we could generate on that means a dollar less that we
should have to fundraise we also had a big success in the last couple years with some video game projects and we’re
doing more of those and then in 2324 we’re also doing our first immersive art experience with Orchestra oh nice to to
tap into the interest and immersive Van Gogh and so forth so we hope those will will sell really well and bring the
younger audience I was thinking about it you know with technology I can pull up a sample of any Orchestra I mean it’s not
the same but this is what you’re competing against is this instantaneous uh I don’t have to go somewhere get
dressed up go sit down there’s nothing that matches the live like symphonic
experience right right but um explaining that to my 14 or 15 year old who’s just
scrolling and just it’s just I don’t understand how you you bridge that Gap
um it’s got to be Brinton he has four he has four boys so he probably knows a thing or two about that well we we had
them all start play instruments so that that definitely helps but getting people to come to a theater yes take some take
some attention and we find these movies video games immersive experiences
we think are very strong tribute bands are very strong and one of the things that I do chuckle about pretty often is
that all the bands that were you know hot and new when I was in high school and college right were cutting edge and
now they’re the focus of our tribute series sure um sure yeah so you know I
remember Freddie Mercury right with Queen was for its time very edgy and he certainly
was a very edgy person and now it’s this very tame you know calm Comfort evening
entertainment and it’s you know it’s the same with the Eagles the same with the Beatles well when I was thinking when
you’re talking about doing the the films um I was thinking we used to do this thing in college where we would on the
second Roar of the lion play The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd uh while watching
um The Wizard of Oz you could do that I mean I would come and see that just just
a little idea there and uh I think JW would join me at that for sure before I
forget to ask you I know we were talking about the music now but you mentioned the union the the symphony is unionized
I think in this part of the world some people around here probably have a bad interpretation of what a union is that’s
a bigger thing up the Northeast I think uh why is the union important for the symphony and how does that how does that
go for you in in negotiations so we work very closely with the American
Federation positions at a local and National level and they were an
absolutely fabulous partner through the pandemic because we had to come up with
work rules that kept everyone safe that the musicians were comfortable with so
we could perform for live audiences in fact the Fort Worth Symphony was one of the first symphonies in the the US to resume live
performances we were performing to live audiences with live musicians in September of 2020 and that was that was
a really big deal so the we work very closely with the players committee that represents the musicians and artistic
advisory committee and also the union the agreement is
70 80 pages long and every paragraph there is for a reason so that we can
take care of our people and also produce a great artistic result I’m particularly
pleased with the close collaboration that we have here in in Fort Worth between the
the administrative staff and the musicians and in fact looking at my past jobs this has always been a priority for
me it wasn’t Dallas it was in San Francisco it wasn’t Calgary I think those relationships are incredibly just
incredibly important Let’s uh kind of flip yours now back to you and the music could you tell us an audience what is
your daily life your daily job look like for someone who’s running a symphony
well I I often start the day by getting up and playing the piano because I’m always working on some new piece of
music or for some sort of side project and it does get me in in the mood first does Jennifer appreciate this well it
depends so I have a lovely grand piano that we’ve owned for years but I also have a high-end keyboard okay with
headphones so that if she’s heard the same piece a lot she gets up she gets a break so I I do alternate between do you
have one at the office too I don’t have one at the office just because during the work day it would be hard to sort of find the concentrated
time given just all the things that that happened but I have I have one
well he’s practicing it for his thing I mean he’s not doing the work of the deal yeah okay so you do that you start so I
do that and we have it one of the things I think is
distinctive about running a symphony is it’s a very much a real-time operation
and stuff happens all the time we do plan several years ahead in fact I’m working right now with our wonderful
music director I’m planning the 24-25 season and we had various calls and conferences uh
about that earlier but a lot of what we do is I mean this week’s a great example how do we
readjust the rehearsal schedule because of all the weather issues and how do we make sure that we have enough time to get the Beatles show on how is that
affecting ticket sales how can we encourage people to come because in fact by tonight hopefully everything will be pretty much
back to normal this is a very real time aspect to that and I work very closely with just this amazing team that I’ve
been able to put in place with our chief marketing officer head of development and uh
head of operations head of human resources which is a very important job for us and then of course our CFO so
I have a lot of a lot of meetings and a lot of discussions one of the sides of the job that I most enjoy is working
with our music director of programming and also because basshole is so close to our offices like this afternoon I can
pop over listen to a bit of rehearsal make sure I feel comfortable everything’s coming together for tonight and then go back to you know more the
sort of planning and administrative side of things what about the other side what are some struggles that you are
constantly on in your purview so raising money I mean the reality of
any Arts organization in the U.S is that we have to raise an enormous amount of money and working with my board and
development teams I added up once upon worked on raising well over 100 million dollars
in my time in Texas alone for operations and endowment and other kinds of capital projects so the raising money side is
with me I mean literally 24 7 365. I’m I had one year in a 20-year line exact
career in arts management I had one year where my development and director and I had raised so much money in advance
that we had a year where you know we knew where them exactly where the money was coming from and nice we focused on
producing uh you know great works on stage and they didn’t have that pressure but that was once um and I think
typically if you talk to any Arts CEO they’re going to say say this same thing I mean it’s just we’re very dependent on
fundraising we need to make sure we have the relationships in place that we can talk to people about the giving we need
to have an artistic product that we’re really proud of and I also find having a
very tight and lean operation impresses a lot of potential donors to be more generous they really want to know that
if they give us any amount of money from a small amount to a very large amount that we’re going to use every dollar
really really carefully I love hearing that and that’s kind of my next question is why people obviously give to the
symphony but why should people give to the symphony what what is in it for them and why do maybe why do people give the
symphony more than why should they why do they this guy’s a Harvard PhD that’s one reason right there just what he just
said I mean I think that you can’t argue with that you know so many times with non sorry this question was for you but
all right but jump in but I’m promoting this because I think so many times with non-profits the compassion is there it’s
in you you wake up and play the piano but then you get to the office and it’s like I have no business you know a lot
of the folks just they don’t have the business sense they don’t know how to to do that and you’re very unique in the
sense that you you went and did the business thing and I can only imagine what that conversation with your now
wife was like because my grandfather was a musician and had the same with my grandmother of okay you’re going to be a
performing musician but what are you going to do in the other time and if you look at your life it took a different
path then so I commend you for for that but sorry I didn’t mean to answer that either no
that’s that’s fine the the the business side is incredibly important and
working with our head of operation so I hired last summer uh John Clapp who was
a professional the soonest I mean you know in orchestras and then became uh head of operations I mean we We Now
understand our margins on everything in a way that we didn’t before and when we prove promote symphonic
works I mean everyone knows we have to fundraise for that right and they accept it I mean we’re never going to have a
program of a big mall or Symphony that’s going to pay for itself versus ticket sales just not gonna happen here or anywhere else but when we’re
doing a pop show we want to make something that’s high quality entertainment that draws people and we
and we make margin we never make a profit but we want to make margin on that and even on something like these
tribute bands there’s often multiple variants or video games there’s multiple options so we have to really understand
okay well this one will sell a little bit better but their costs of what they’re going to expect is actually
higher so when we look at that net margin we might go for something that doesn’t sell quite as well but is actually considerably less expensive so
building all that into our our thought process is is super important from a fundraising point of view what I’ve
found various things get people excited uh education is is always something people
are really interested in bringing on the Next Generation and serving you know underserved communities that’s one area
uh projects that combine unique elements for example so if we’re doing a symphonic program and we’re partnering
with a ballet where the orchestra and the dance company share the stage that’s the kind of project that gets people
intrigued because they don’t see that very often getting someone to underwrite a sort of bread and butter
soloist with the orchestra I mean happens sometimes and if they’re a big name okay we may be able to do that but
generally people are looking for something where there’s it has a unique aspect this spring we’re going to be
presenting Haydn’s Creation with Robert conducting and we’ve engaged this very famous visual designer projection
designer named Elaine McCarthy who’s done a lot of work on Broadway and she is doing these really extraordinary
immersive visual designs yeah for the solo assistant chorus in that particular
case the orchestra will be in the pit but these are the kind of projects that personally I found have been you know easier to to fundraise for than than
some others well and think about it you have EX in all of the things you just named you have experience in each of
them I mean as a performer the technology aspect with the sheet music the discussion I mean it’s it’s like
when you were going through those I was thinking about your experience it lends
itself to each of that so I think we’re very lucky to have a guy like you here yeah most would agree with you Renton
yeah thank you well you’ve had the privilege of working with a couple conductors originally Miguel Hearth bedoya and now
the Robert Spano that you speak of uh what what a gift this must be for someone in your position but tell us we
know about Miguel from previous discussions uh outside of you but tell us a bit about Robert spanner if you
don’t mind sure so when I joined the symphony in January of 2019 I knew that
one of my big abilities would be to work with the board chair and the music director search committee to recruit a new music
director because Miguel had by that point announced that he was wrapping up his tenure after 20 years and we had a
committee which included our chairman of course myself one other staff person and
musicians and another board member but a total Committee of six and we brought in
a number of candidates to to work with the orchestra and just see
see whether that chemistry was there everyone who was brought in cleared the bar in terms of their
experience and resume but there is a lot of chemistry with a with orchestras and some orchestras will spawn really well
to a particular conductor and others not so much so about that same time I was negotiating with Robert spanner to be
our principal guest conductor and we did complete that in in Spring of 19
and then of course before very long we’re in February 20 when covet hit and
that just upended the entire music business and Robert svano had been in
Atlanta for 20 years and was wrapping up to focus more on Opera and composition and then of course covid was especially
hard on opera companies because not impossible but it’s much harder to sing on a mask and operate such a
theatrical experience so our board chair Mercedes bass talked with Robert I talked with Robert we were
able to sort of control persuade him to to become part
of our of our organization and we are amazingly lucky to have a conductor of
his purely not only his stature because yeah he has a big career but he is also one of the absolute best colleagues I’ve
ever worked with and that is just so rewarding for me and my team to be able to support someone who’s as talented as
he is but is also just so gracious and understanding and flexible about all of the other elements that wrap
around a musical performance and so that’s that’s just really I think a huge win for the Fort Worth Symphony to have
him here miss canafax please forgive me for asking this question the the what is the name of this that was our uh music
teacher she’s listening from upstairs now so it’s the stick what is the name of the the Baton the Baton yes how many
batons would somebody like uh this this yes that’s on average that’s a great
question I’ll have to ask him I would I would guess he has a favorite few and he probably has another 10 in the drawer
somewhere yeah do they care are they kept in cases do we bring them in uh some type of sock you know like uh so
I’ve I mean I own made out of so you you have uh bat on sometimes in cases
there’s little tubes that they can travel in so they don’t break in your in your shoulder bag because they are quite
delicate uh so yeah you have to to take care of wooden ivory
wouldn’t maybe sometimes even plastic with cork base there’s a whole variety
of different Styles and approaches and it’s very personal what conductors like some like very long baton some like shorter batons
are we looking for the sound when we begin but the calling
everyone together on the on the sheet music or on the podium I don’t know well
you know that comes from the old Tuscany recordings I’m actually trying to think now that you mentioned if I ever in my career I’ve actually seen a conductor do
that I think it would probably be considered kind of rude to sort of tap the music stand oh really so typically
what happens is the the Personnel manager will announce you know end of
break or start time and contemporary orchestras are very disciplined so they
know just to kind of if they’re not already settled in to settle but it it’s interesting you raised that because I’m
trying to think I have if I have ever seen it I don’t think it would go down well because it would be can seen as kind of imperious and the orchestra
would feel like well we’re already here at attention just yeah get started right why why do you need to to do that but
what if you’d have a musician like me who just had to get that final bit of conversation right just a musician I
just had to tell you I think rehearsal it’ll work those Kinks out I’m just guessing what’s that maybe maybe a better
question for a conductor is how how hard is it most people see what they see but
how hard is it to be a conductor we know it’s not just waving a baton we there’s a lot more going on
there’s an enormous amount to what goes into conducting and some of it is very
tangible and specific around how what the conductor is doing interacts with the score and some of it is more
existential in that if the orchestra respects the conductor and thinks that have good musical ideas
they will display better right right out of the gate so the old saying is that half of how an orchestra sounds is
whether they respect the conductor or not really the other is about what the conductor conductor does the other
element that was we went through the music director search process that I looked for a lot because of course I’ve am a conductor to studied with some some
really wonderful conductors in the past is not only what they do in terms of communication through their gesture and
they use the bathroom but how they use the rehearsal time and there are some conductors who will get up and from the
orchestra and communicate very well and look spectacular and when they stop
they’re finding it more difficult to know really what to adjust now theoretically if they were absolutely
perfect as a conductor everything would be communicated so they’d never have to say anything in practice though
conductors do stop and they make adjustments and watching as they shift from more of the the Jukebox approach if
you will to what they actually say to an orchestra how they take charge and first few minutes is a really big factor and
as we went through the music director search process I mean all were very accomplished conductors but they had very different approaches to this right
and you knew your Orchestra and new I would imagine you were able to say
to the board or whomever that this one’s like I could tell there’s a chemistry
it’s just there’s a there’s a chemistry right yeah and we wanted someone who there’s the on
Podium of work work of course but music directors also have a big role in running additions and a lot of aspects
or programming and a lot of aspects working with me and the players committee that are off putting them and
then we also wanted someone who is donor friendly and can talk to people at
different kind of levels and Robert is very good at this too the the ideal particularly the community of this size
is to have someone who can talk at a very detailed level because Robert is such an accomplished
musician but someone who can talk to someone who is an enthusiastic amateur without making them feel self-conscious
right and some conductors are able to do that and some conductors just can’t
sort of simplify they what they do to a layman’s term and feel comfortable feel comfortable with that and Robert is very
he’s very personable and very good with people and then that’s a big Choice yeah you’re a musician obviously
um the people in the the performers in the symphony the symphony itself how good are these musicians Keith are these
we know they they have a talent there’s no question about that but how good of musicians are these people well we have
a really extraordinary group of musicians and just to give a little bit of a benchmark on you know how do we
know they’re really good nationally is when we hold additions by contract we advertise in a particular way we hold
National editions we will typically get 100 maybe 150 applicants for one
physician oh wow and so by the time we’ve gone through the whole process and we may hear 30 40 50 musicians in a live
Edition maybe more all behind screens all the way up to the the final round by
the time that process is at the end we pick spectacular players now as CEO I
have no direct role in that that’s the musicians and on the individual audition committees and the the music director do
all of that my role in this is to make sure that the process follows the contract and if there’s any
questions about the process to get involved but I don’t get involved directly in the addition process that’s
very much the music direction is that a very private thing like you wouldn’t allow us to come and watch that audition so auditions are are closed okay and so
I have come I’ve sat in final rounds for principles so when we’re hiring section
players they are behind screens when we hire principals they’re behind the screens till the final stage but you
mean you can’t see them you cannot see them oh you can’t see who they are you can’t see how old they are you can’t see
what gender they are you can’t see anything that’s interesting yeah we pad the floors so you can’t even hear the
high heels versus flat shoes so we go to we we go to a lot of lanes to to keep
that that process as confidential as possible now with principles we have a
situation where they do have to be visible because part of what they do is interact with their other principal
colleagues we do the same with our guests a similar thing so JW did that with you
and so I do sit in the principle of the final runs principle Edition so those are really has there ever been like a
really tough decision I mean we’re but say between two prints um it’s like between oh absolutely and we
we go through addition processes and we always hope that we’ll have a winner we will often have a backup so that if
the winner for whatever reason doesn’t accept the contract we will have a a backup as well I mean that’s that’s what
we would hope in in the outcome and these additions are are very competitive we draw amazing people you know with
with extraordinary pedigrees of of all different ages and backgrounds yeah that would be interesting to see something
like that no doubt that’s fascinating stuff to share with us um one of the questions I’ve always wondered personally uh Michael our first chair
violinist fantastic violinist we all know this I I know he plays a shred of
areas correct he does and how does because that you hear these stories uh every once in a while how does a
Stradivarius make his way into Michael’s hands for this bucket or some
music used music site yeah you can probably pick one off for 10 bucks maybe 12.
yeah so the former symphony is incredibly fortunate that we have not one two stratovari but two okay and you
know these are worth many many millions of dollars and we’re very fortunate that two donors uh
generously loan the instruments so with high-end string instruments
they actually they’re much better off being played than being in some locked fault somewhere because as they’re
played the the pores open up or stay open so the quality of sound is really better for them being played
of course if they’re then not in a vault other things can can happen right so that’s why insurance was was created but
we’re incredibly fortunate to have two different donors who have who have loaned uh for really many years these
extraordinary instruments but do they do they go back and forth or is it like I’ll use that at the
um the actual group uh rehearsals but I’m just gonna use my cheaper one here
you know what I mean do you allow for them to travel so so they this is all very carefully negotiated with the donors but they’re allowed to take them
home and practice with them at home um they if they go on an extended holiday they’ll go into a vault for
safety and if they need repair there’s very strict rules about who’s allowed to repair them and often the people who
repair them are not local so yeah they’ll go off to halfway across the U.S
because there’s the world expert on making repairs standard USPS shipping or
they carry them by hand you probably don’t think so we throw it in the trunk of the car and head off down the road you probably put it in a seat belt what
type of insurance would you like with this uh FedEx shipment today yeah no they they carry they transport them uh
literally by hand back type of deal right or I mean I think in extreme cases
even buy their own seat but that varies on kind of what the plan is that would make sense oh that would be interesting because you don’t want it being so I
mean sure we don’t want to get too into the Weeds on it but yeah any other musicians or instruments of that similar story are
they donated from donors like the cellists or any of that stuff so in terms of loans from donors those
are those are the main two I mean one of the ongoing challenge is always for orchestral
musicians is making sure that they can afford and buy you know very high
quality instruments we actually have an instrument Loan program so someone wants to borrow money from the association and
pay us back for buying instruments oh nice we can do that and we actually provide insurance now for the musicians
for their instruments up to certain most certain oh that’s nice but it’s uh yeah
I mean high-end instruments particularly string instruments can can cost a lot and there’s also for string instruments the
bow and everyone can spend a quarter of a billion dollars on a boat seriously horse here
or it’s here yeah because it’s all about the balance and precision and the pedigree and the number pedigree of the
horse pedigree of the the bow right so for that kind of money I mean it would be a named bow and you have a provenance and
you can you can check it but in addition to just the cost of violin uh there is also then bows can can set you back
where’s the best uh bow manufacturing facility in the world you know I don’t know the answer to that
question I mean finally we finally stumped him all right yes good job I will have so much to work on that one
that’s been a fascinating look Keith for sure thank you very much yeah what’s the future for the symphony look like in your in your eyes right now well
artistically we’re incredibly excited because not only do we have Robert but this uh extraordinary principal guest
conductor Kevin John I just say who’s making his debut with us later this month at TV debut is PGC he’s already
been here before so he’s he’s terrific I think artistically we’re in an extraordinary place and even since
Robert was named music director we filled nine vacancies in the orchestra with really extraordinary players so all of us are
coming together really really well we are focused on fundraising we’re still trying to bring audiences back
post covid we’re not there yet we haven’t been hit as badly as some Symphonies which have been just
absolutely clobbered but we’re definitely seeing declines of 20 25 on
ticket sales in that really right that does really hurt so we’re trying to bring them back inflation is a big factor it’s very high at the moment and
we are not able to pass along cost increases through ticket sales sure
right so if you go buy a dozen eggs the cost of a dozen eggs right now is definitely reflective inflation our
ticket prices essentially are virtually flat because we can’t pass those costs along but our costs right are growing
with them I think so this is a this is a we’re spending a lot of time thinking about this video game thing is huge I
see my son he’s able to play learning the Minecraft uh songs and on the piano
and and I think you go do that I mean you’re gonna get this guy with his kids there you know or
even composing music for video games I’m seeing a lot of artists that I listen to they’re entering that video game genre
as another Outlet of you know Distributing or Distributing their their music so I think you going into the
places and the visual thing that you’ve talked about too I think is awesome that you guys are going into kind of
Uncharted territories like that okay thank you for the time before we go
we like to ask our guests a final question it’s a tough one but aside from family Affairs
um wife children all the things and dealing with family do you have a best day of your entire life you could share
with us aside from families so and family and
anything with family to do music can be fine because everybody wants to answer my my marriage or my my birth of my kids
anything aside from that so musically I think uh I was sort of High Point or one
of the high handful of high points in my life was being at La Scala scene Baron boy conduct one of the big Wagner operas
and it just was an absolutely extraordinary performance in this
very very famous place so that that was really special unfortunately on that particular trip I wasn’t with Jennifer my wife but the uh the music was
absolutely absolutely memorable um so a lot of one of the the non-family
high points for me even music I also would love to be in New Mexico love to hike in New Mexico so that’s uh a thing
that’s always been part of what I enjoy so you’re very busy fella yes thank you that first memory you have the Baton
still the Baton I do I have a I have a few still at home that you had from that
performance so this was a performance that I attended but from I do have the bats on from some of the the orchestras
I’ve conducted yes I do I’m guessing you didn’t tap on the podium either no you know it’s it’s interesting we chatted about that that I don’t have to think
about that whether I think that went out quite a while ago since Looney Tunes right bugs you know Bugs Bunny can get
away with it I don’t know what anybody else yeah well thank you Dr Keith Cerny president CEO of the Fort Worth Symphony
thank you for watching fortitude and thank you cap Tech spank we appreciate your support until next time thank you [Music]
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