Veteran hired as CEO of N.C. Symphony

Executive hails from Cleveland

Staff writerApril 13, 2011 

— The N.C. Symphony has hired a seasoned executive from one of the nation's most famed orchestras to guide the symphony as it emerges from the financial problems caused by the deep economic recession.

The symphony's board announced this morning that it had hired Sandi Macdonald as president and CEO of the orchestra. She is currently Miami residency director for The Cleveland Orchestra.

"We were absolutely thrilled to have someone of her caliber interested in us," said Catharine Arrowood, a Raleigh lawyer who is chairwoman of the symphony board.

Macdonald replaces David Chambless Worters, who stepped down in September after 11 years with the symphony to head the Van Cliburn Foundation in Fort Worth, Texas. Don Davis, a retired Progress Energy executive, had filled in as interim president since last fall.

Macdonald will run one of North Carolina's most important cultural institutions, which, while based in Raleigh, holds concerts throughout the state. It is one of the few orchestras in the country with a statewide mission to bring musical education to public schools.

While the position is not as high profile as that of symphony music director Grant Llewellyn, Macdonald will oversee most of the orchestra's operations.

"Sandi Macdonald brings to North Carolina a wealth of experience gained from positions with a number of North America's finest orchestras," Llewellyn said in a statement, adding that he was looking forward to working with her.

Macdonald, a native of Canada, has spent 20 years in orchestra management, beginning in management training at the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada, before moving on to executive positions with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Michigan Opera Theatre and the Seattle Symphony.

Since 2003, she has been with the Cleveland Orchestra, which is regarded as one of the "Big Five" of American orchestras along with orchestras in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Because Cleveland is by far the smallest city with an elite orchestra - Raleigh passed Cleveland in population in the last census - it created a residency program in Miami in 2007, expanding its support base by playing a three-week season there every year.

Arrowood said she was particularly impressed with Macdonald's efforts to extend The Cleveland Orchestra's educational outreach in the Miami area.

"One of the things that really attracted us is the education program they built from the ground up," Arrowood said.

Macdonald and her husband Henry Grzes, an international tax accountant, live in Cleveland, although Macdonald keeps an apartment in Miami. The couple plan to move to Raleigh after she starts work in June.

"It's a privilege to join the North Carolina Symphony and I look forward to being part of the special relationship the symphony has with the people of this state, and engage and inspire as many people as possible with the symphony's music making," Macdonald said in a statement.

A symphony spokeswoman did not know what Macdonald's salary would be, but said that it would be less than the $224,175 that Worters was last paid.

The six-month search brought a large amount of interest in the post, Arrowood said. She said that Macdonald had the credentials to take the symphony to "the next level." Before accepting the job, Macdonald attended an N.C. Symphony concert at Meymandi Concert Hall and was impressed, Arrowood said.

But before symphony can get to the next level, it will have to recover from the recession.

While symphony officials have been enthusiastic about the improving quality of the orchestra and the continuing rave reviews of its concert hall, it has struggled financially.

The symphony has a $2.7 million debt, and has shrunk its annual budget from $14.1 million to $11.4 million. Last year, its musicians agreed to take a 19 percent salary cut. The symphony has cut programming, canceled a recording and eliminated a trip to Europe.

But by nearly every measure, the financial situation has improved from a year ago.

"We have started getting the debt retired," Arrowood said. "We are marching in the right direction."

Rob.Christensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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