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7 Questions – Adrien C. Finlay (Alexandria Symphony Orchestra)

Let’s welcome … Adrien C. Finlay, Executive Director of the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra since the 07-08 Season. Committed to artistic excellence and dedicated to entertaining and educating a wide range of audience members, the ASO has been offering classical and inter-arts programming since 1954. Check them out!

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

Producing a new jazz orchestra series this season, with the most recent concert being a smashing success. We re-created Charlie Parker’s album, “Charlie Parker with Strings,” where he took some of the best songs of his colleagues (Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington) and arranged them for small orchestra, rhythm section, and alto saxophone soloist. The concert allowed us to branch out into new repertoire, pull in new audiences who were either jazz fans or fans of our saxophone soloist (Vaughn Ambrose), and present ourselves at Artisphere, Arlington’s new cultural center. Vaughn Ambrose is the band director of Hammond Middle School in Alexandria and it was such a joy to see so many of his students and their parents at the concert supporting him, and the ASO.

2. What else are you up to?

May and June are insanely busy — end of fiscal year fundraising, special event planning for our final fundraiser of the year, and working on logistics and operation for our four remaining concerts between now and June 30, 2011. Two of these concerts feature the legendary pianist Garrick Ohlsson, one features pianist Carlos Rodriguez in “Rhapsody in Blue,” and the final one is part of the ASO’s community Children’s Arts Festival at TC Williams on June 12.

3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?

A few key individuals definitely inspired my career choice of classical music management — two former bosses, Jenny Elowitch of Portland, ME, and Mark Malkovich of Newport, RI. They both taught me an incredible amount regarding programming, handling professional musicians, and the relationship between artists and the organizations that employ them. Additionally I continue to be impressed with, and follow closely, certain leaders in the orchestra field: Deborah Borda of LA and Allison Vulgamore of Philadelphia. Both are geniuses and I’ve have the pleasure of listening to them both speak at conferences in recent years. Finally, the first board president with whom I had the great fortune of working at the Alexandria Symphony was Jim Singerling. He was, and continues to be, my mentor and his unfailing support has been crucial over the past four years.

4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?

My current hero is a board member of the ASO who is sponsoring our concerts this weekend and the appearance of pianist Garrick Ohlsson — Suzanne Brock. She is, simply put, one of the most incredible individuals I have ever met. Her generosity is quite boundless and she does so much behind the scenes of the organizations she is a part of that she really is an example for all nonprofit trustees and board members to emulate.

5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?

Managing people — without question. Like many groups in the music industry of the nonprofit sector, ASO needs highly skilled individuals in many areas — music librarians, musician contracting, stage management, marketing arts and culture, musicians at the top of their fields, trustees and board members who have successful careers in the corporate sector, etc. Balancing communications with such a range of constituents is absolutely one of the biggest challenges of my daily work. The same message (for example, a recent grant from the Wachovia Wells Fargo Foundation for the ASO’s 2011 Children’s Arts Festival) must be delivered in different ways to board members, potential ticket buyers, and current ASO donors. Even the delivery of good news must take five or six forms in the case of the ASO, depending on the recipient of the message.

6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in your field?

I would encourage anyone thinking of entering the arts management field to definitely start at the youngest age possible working in the field. My summer employment experiences while in college helped me immensely both in my subsequent academic work pursuing a Masters, but most importantly in my professional work to date after those summers. Getting first-hand experience as part of an organization (and for me that was box office experience at summer music festivals!) allows you to learn and receive real workplace lessons almost without knowing it at first. I would also encourage anyone going into the arts to at least try working in ticketing — it quickly forces you to tackle patron management head-on and is invaluable later on when one might be working in other departments of non-profits.

7. What’s next?

One big decision the ASO has before it is whether to boost a position that is currently part-time to full-time. While I am adamantly pushing for this (as you might expect), there’s so many questions involved and financial implications. On the programming front, the ASO has been selected as one of two orchestras in the USA to be awarded one of Midori?s 2012 Orchestra Residency Program, where she comes for a week and spends 50% of her time in local schools. She will be working with the high school orchestra students in Arlington and Alexandria Public Schools, and will be performing in two concerts with the ASO. While she doesn’t arrive until the last week of March 2012, we quickly realized that this will be the biggest project undertaken by the ASO in its 68 year history and we are taking steps to make sure we can benefit as much as possible from Midori’s visit.

EXTRA: If you could have a power breakfast with any three people (living, dead, or fictional) who would they be?

Gustav Mahler — we’re performing his Symphony No. 1 this weekend and his legend as a composer came decades after his death. I would love to have a sense from him personally of his style and technique and how he came to be such a visionary composer, well ahead of his time.

Leontyne Price — I am a huge fan of hers, and remain interested in reading about the politics and racism during the era when she became an operatic star.

Meryl Streep — the woman can do anything and I am always impressed with her work. I’m also fascinated by highly successful individuals who also manage to raise a family.

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