ASO Names Stanley E. Romanstein New Chief
4/7/2010The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
April 6, 2010
By Pierre Ruhe
Choice seen as possible shift in priorities for the 65-year-old orchestra.
The heavy odds were for an insider — a career symphonic administrator who’d already led one of the nation’s top orchestras and was looking for a lateral move.
Instead, the board of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is naming Stanley E. Romanstein, 54, as its new president. For the past nine years he has been president and CEO of the Minnesota Humanities Center in St. Paul and has never led a performing arts organization. He starts with the ASO on May 3.
It might mark a radical shift in priorities for the 65-year-old orchestra. “There’s an awareness in the orchestral world that what’s needed are new ideas and new perspectives,” Romanstein told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution during an interview Tuesday morning in the ASO offices. “The [orchestral] business has tended to replicate its mistakes. I don’t come with preconceived notions of the industry.”
Romanstein replaces Allison Vulgamore, who left Atlanta in December after serving 16 years as the ASO president. She is now boss of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which has been mired in deep financial, artistic and management troubles. (Since her departure, Donald Fox, the ASO’s vice president for finances, has served as the symphony’s interim chief.)
The son of two grade-school teachers in South Carolina, where he grew up, Romanstein is married to a teacher and puts education, along with building the orchestra’s profile in the community, at the top of his to-do list.
“Our artistic mission is strong and secure as it is,” he said. “But even internally, the ASO doesn’t have a strong brand. The essence of fund-raising is connecting your values with the values of the community. We’re a nonprofit, but we have to think like a revenue-generating organization.”
He continued: “It should be an ongoing concern of this orchestra to boost its presence in the region’s schools. Our name should be synonymous with music education across the Southeast.”
The most glaring piece of unfinished business left by Vulgamore’s departure was a planned, state-of-the-art concert hall. Romanstein said: “It’s not an immediate priority. Can a hall increase our artistry and financial stability? That’s an old model of thinking."
“We need to first fill the seats we have. We need to say clearly and concisely to the community what our values are. We have a great orchestra; now we need to fill in the infrastructure.”
Ben Johnson, chairman of the ASO board, said Romanstein was identified by Spencer Stuart, a national firm assisting with the search of Vulgamore’s replacement, and quickly gained the approval of the nine-member search committee.
“Our senior management staff is strong, and it gave us the freedom to look beyond the orchestra world,” Johnson said.
Romanstein’s background is music and education, with conducting experience and a doctorate in musicology (studying late Renaissance Italian composers). He was a tenured professor at St. Lawrence University and has led the Baltimore School for the Arts.
His starting salary was not announced, although it will be revealed when the Woodruff Arts Center, the ASO’s nonprofit parent organization, files its 2010 tax forms, which are public. (Vulgamore’s salary in the 2007-08 season, the most recent figure available, was $628,593, among the highest of all U.S. arts managers.)
Drew McManus, an orchestral consultant based in Chicago, said Romanstein’s appointment comes as a surprise in the close-knit orchestral community. “The talent pool isn’t especially deep in the field nationally,” McManus said, “and it’s a for-better-or-worse situation to bring in someone who hasn’t been indoctrinated in the old mind-set.
“The question Atlanta should watch is whether the organization is preparing to ramp up the core mission of presenting the best concerts possible or step back from it and onto something else.”
Photo by Jeff Roffman. Photo courtesy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.