Neale Perl hadn’t even finished up his final year before the Washington Performing Arts Society named its new President and CEO. The official announcement comes today: it will be Jenny Bilfield, who, after a long stint as president of the music publisher Boosey and Hawkes, has for the last six years been heading Lively Arts at Stanford (now “Stanford Live”), helping convert that institution into an organization the San Francisco Chronicle called “a central player in the Bay Area’s cultural life,” and overseeing the construction of a new hall that opened earlier this month.
The apppointment leaves me at something of a loss for words, and not only because I am delighted by it, but also becuase Jenny Bilfield and I are personal friends. In the media world as recently as ten or fifteen years ago, I might have tried to draw a curtain over this fact, and simply keep my distance. In the current climate, it’s pretty hard to conceal; anyone can see, for instance, that we’ve traded personal messages on Facebook. As for remaining silent: after all the times I’ve complained about the stodginess of WPAS, it would look rather odd if on my blog, I were to avoid commenting about a development that’s so important to classical music in Washington, particularly when it makes it clear that the organization is committed to shaking off the “stodginess” label with a vengeance.
I’ve often said that critical objectivity is neither possible nor desirable; but that doesn’t mean one should make a practice of writing about one’s friends. And obviously, when I say I think this appointment is a wonderful thing for WPAS and Washington, readers can take my statement as a reflection of my personal bias.
This is actually a shame, because I’m pretty sure that I would have been surprised and delighted to see WPAS pick someone with a reputation for innovation, vision, and curiosity about the new whether or not I happened to know the person in question. And I am certainly not speaking as a friend when I say that I am eager to see what Bilfield is going to do in Washington. She starts work here on April 1. This gives us time to figure out exactly how the Washington Post is going to approach writing about it.
Above: a preview of an upcoming concert in the new hall of Stanford Live (formerly Lively Arts), the organization Jenny Bilfield has headed for six years and will now depart for WPAS.