Conference 2009

64th National Conference Pulls Strong

Turnout to Consider The New Reality

Click Here to Download Conference 2009 Materials!

More than 1,000 professionals and volunteers from across the orchestra field met in Chicago to explore creative approaches to changing environments and to collect practical ideas at the League of American Orchestras’ 64th National Conference June 9-12.  Attendance at the Conference, titled “The New Reality: Economics and Public Value,” reached 1,050, or 93% of last year’s turnout, despite early concerns about reduced budgets. Nearly 150 delegates benefited from travel and lodging stipends generated by government, foundation, and private donors who responded to a call from the League.

jesse rosen“We knew that, with the tough economy, this was a particularly important year for our people to get to Conference,” noted League President and CEO Jesse Rosen. “Everyone benefits from connecting with colleagues around new perspectives and fresh thinking. It is also energizing to share exciting musical experiences that remind us of the power and resilience of our art form.” In addition to working sessions, the four-day event featured performances by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which hosted the conference; the Chicago Symphony Youth Orchestras; the Grant Park Music Festival; the Civic Orchestra of Chicago in the CSO’s multi-media program, Beyond the Score®; and performances of works by the CSO’s Mead Composers-in-Residence Osvaldo Golijov and Mark-Anthony Turnage in a special presentation of the Orchestra’s MusicNOW series. 

The delegates—administrators, musicians, trustees, volunteers, and business partners—examined developments in financial management, artistic programming, community partnerships, social networking, and innovative approaches to leadership and problem-solving during meetings large and small. In a special peer round-table session called Solutions for Our Time, participants gathered around more than 25 presenters offering specific strategies and tactics such as Planning and Communications Strategies; Tactics for Increasing Attendance and Income in a Tough Economy; and Expansion of Regional Programs. [For a full list of Solutions for Our Time presenters and projects, click pdf here.]

Keynote speaker Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, called on orchestras to reflect creatively about their missions at a time when delivery and communications systems are in rapid flux. “Is the digital experience creating a different consumer mindset for music?” he asked. Pointing out the parallels between newsrooms and orchestras, the former newspaper publisher went on to observe, “For us the question is not ‘how can we save newspapers,’ but ‘how can we save journalism?’”

Several delegates and League staff members serving as “Conference bloggers” recorded their impressions leading up to and during the Conference; their comments can be found at

The Conference marked a “graduation” for the members of the 2008-09 Orchestra Management Fellowship Program: Naimah Bilal, Elizabeth Mahler, David Nischwitz, Rachel Sepulveda, and Nicholas Weege. The 30-year-old leadership training program launches promising orchestra management leaders with a year of League-organized training and residencies with host orchestras. [For more information on the Orchestra Management Fellowship Program, click here.]
The League also presents a variety of awards honoring innovation and achievement at the annual Conference.  The Gold Baton, given since 1948 for distinguished service to music and the arts, was presented by League Board member Albert K. “Nick” Webster to Henry Fogel, incoming Dean of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and former president and CEO of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and of the League of American Orchestras.  The Helen M. Thompson Award, given to promising young managers and music directors in alternate years, went to Graham Parker, Executive Director of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Robert Hanson, Music Director of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra in Elgin, IL, was honored for his 35 years of service in that post. Twenty-six ensembles received 2008-2009 ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming. [For a complete listing, clck pdf here.] Nine outstanding orchestra volunteer projects received Gold Book Online awards of excellence form the League’s Volunteer Council. 

Further details about the League’s 64th National Conference may be found here.



Carolyn Nishon, former Orchestra Management Fellow and current Artistic Administrator and Orchestra Manager, Portland Symphony Orchestra, sums up the 2009 Conference on the League Conference blog:

Early flight and a forty-seven pound suitcase--massive overpack. Monroe street, please. Back-to-back-to-back in the lobby. That ceiling. Suits and heels and nametags and business cards. Itineraries and blackberries. Awkwardly staring at peoples stomachs to get a glimpse at their names. Faces to accompany phone voices. Three days will feel like three weeks. Corner Bakery. Waiting for the elevator. Getting on the wrong elevator. Getting lost in the hallways. Starbucks. Starbucks again. Friends and Fellows. Remember when. Wabash street exit umbrellas. Two trumpets sounding like one. Event and experience. Cheese and crackers and pointillism. Gin and tonics. Laughter. Lack of internet. Spirituals and bird songs, Hiawatha, bohemia, and the B9 scherzo. Standing ovations. Everyone move up closer--this should be a discussion. Cutting costs and sympathizing. Constantly asking. Questioning habit. Churn. Humanizing. Booths and pamphlets and discs and folders. 2010. 2011. 2012. 2013. Lack of sleep and blurry eyes. Seven-thirty croissants and community, rolls and relationships. Booked myself through lunch. Beyond the beyond. Bernstein and the Bean. Shaking hands and embracing arms.