Sunday, September 28, 2003

New executive says orchestra must find niche

Jennifer Nagel was laughing about wearing the same black suit for the umpteenth time. Her clothes and furniture were on a van somewhere between New York, her last home, and Cincinnati, where she started her new job of executive director of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra last week.

The 32-year-old executive grew up in the Chicago suburb of Glendale Heights, and had lived in New York since graduating from the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music. (She's a bassoonist.)

What: Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, Mischa Santora, conductor; Michael Chertock, pianist
When: 3 p.m. today in Corbett Auditorium, University of Cincinnati; 7:30 p.m. Monday in Greaves Hall, Northern Kentucky University
Tickets: $25 today; $20 Monday; $10 students; 723-1182 or Web site
She comes to her job from the position of director of operations for the New York Youth Symphony. Before that, she spent six years with a boutique firm, Artemis Capital Group, which specialized in fixed municipal bonds.

She spoke over lunch at Aioli.

"I started last Wednesday. I am actually living right across the street in the old Shillito building. I'm a typical New Yorker - I have not driven in 10 years; I haven't had a license forever. I walk to the office - it's great.

"It was an obvious next step in my career to come to a city, run my own organization and work with an artistic director. I think that the Chamber Orchestra has so much going for it. I thought I could come in and make a difference.

"Like everybody else, we're looking closely at the money we're spending. Right now there's a debate in this country about the relevance of orchestras. I think what the CCO is going through is finding their niche.

"Our mission is to provide music that's not generally performed by the larger orchestras. We've done that, and now we need to do that in an exciting new way.

"Right now there is a trend away from subscriptions and toward single tickets. I think it calls for targeted marketing - and really thinking about when you're running spots. Something the Chamber Orchestra will have to think about soon is how we can feed into the technology stream and move with the times.

"There's a lot of discussion about how applicable Internet marketing and online ticket sales are for the classical audience. But you sort of gotta take that risk to find out what the reward is.

"Subscription numbers are down. We're hoping that by getting the word out, we can make up for that in our single ticket sales.

"One of the things high on my priority list is to take a look at our board, and see how together we can take the chamber orchestra in the right direction.

"You have to cultivate people on the board. ... Just as you're going to hire an employee and make sure it's a good fit for your company, you want to make sure it's a good fit for your board.

"Our board is a hands-on board, coming into the office, lending their expertise and advice. Right now, that seems to be working.

"Mischa (Santora, music director) is always thinking forward, thinking about what's best for the audience, for the musicians. I think together, we'll be able to figure out a way to take this orchestra in a direction that he sees it going, artistically. He's almost 32, but for being a young conductor, he is very aware of how the organization works and is involved in decision-making.

"Our belief is if we can get them in the door and hear this fantastic orchestra, they'll come back."

Janelle Gelfand

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