The Louisville Orchestra has a new executive director. Andrew Kipe will step into the leadership position November 11. Kipe comes to Louisville from the Phoenix Symphony, where he was general manager.
The Phoenix Symphony didn’t escape the woes that plagued many American orchestras during the Great Recession, and when he came to Arizona, Kipe faced some of the same industry-wide financial and labor issues that led the Louisville Orchestra to file chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010 and created a prolonged labor dispute that resulted in a canceled 2011-12 season.
But Kipe says his experience helping to rebrand and rebuild the Phoenix Symphony – the organization finished the last fiscal year with a budget surplus – will help him do the same in Louisville, where he says much of the groundwork has been laid.
“The board, management, and musicians have to come together to create a unique vision,” says Kipe. “What is the orchestra we want to build for the community of Louisville in 2013? It’s going to look different than maybe it did 20 years ago.”
Kipe says he feels the orchestra board, management and musicians are ready to work together to agree on that vision and help strengthen the orchestra’s relationship with the community. One of his passions is outreach, like the wellness initiatives he helped implement in Phoenix.
“We have musicians in hospitals. We have a homeless shelter program where we take the orchestra to folks there. We have an Alzheimer’s program we’re working on. There’s a number of different things that don’t necessarily lead to ticket sales, but it leads to the community as a whole embracing the orchestra,” he says.
“The hope is the wider community has great ownership of the institution,” he adds.
And even inside the concert hall, Kipe says there’s room – especially after a new music director is named to succeed Jorge Mester, whose contract runs through 2016 – for the company to re-imagine parts of the orchestra experience. One thing he says the industry as a whole needs to improve on is reaching adult audiences in their twenties, thirties and forties, not simply waiting until they retire to engage them.
“Maybe it’s not your traditional overture-concerto symphony at every single concert. Maybe you look at different ways to present the great masterworks that people love to hear but in a way that’s going to be different and engaging,” says Kipe.
“Maybe you have a series of shorter, thirty-minute pieces to introduce folks, with someone speaking from the stage and a cocktail party afterwards,” he adds. “But artistic quality has to be the top of everything we do. I’m really excited about working with this great group of musicians.”
One way Kipe is looking forward is looking to the past. He says it's too early to say for sure, but he might be interested in reviving a version of the new music commissioning program, which put the Louisville Orchestra on the map in the 1950s.
“I think that it could be something very exciting we could offer the community that is both unique and a way to draw people back to the orchestra. New music is a harder sell from a ticketing standpoint than Beethoven and Brahms, but with the right artistic leadership in place and the right focus on the importance of a long-term commitment to commissioning, it could be a way to really excite people around their orchestra again,” says Kipe. “There are so many great composers out there writing very accessible, very exciting works that audiences can get excited about if we present it in the right way.”
The orchestra has been under interim leadership by consultant David Hyslop since former CEO Robert Birman stepped down in January.