The National Symphony Orchestra named its next executive director, Gary Ginstling, currently the chief executive of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, on Monday morning.
His official start date has not been determined, but he will begin working with the orchestra July 1, as he plans the timing of a move to Washington with his wife and two school-age children. His predecessor, Rita Shapiro, stepped down in January.
Ginstling, 51, offers a combination of relative youth, a wide range of experience in top-tier orchestras (including stints as director of communications for the San Francisco Symphony and as general manager of the Cleveland Orchestra), and more than 12 years of experience as an orchestral clarinetist.
“The mix he had of different positions in well-known orchestras was very impressive to us,” said Jeanne Ruesch, the chairman of the NSO board and leader of the search committee that selected Ginstling. She also cited “his musical experience as a performer. I think the [orchestra players] will have confidence in him to understand their perspective.”
Deborah Rutter, the Kennedy Center’s president, was not on the search committee but said that she had “an interviewing role.”
“We’re just thrilled to be landing with Gary. He’s an exceptional guy,” Rutter said.
Some of the field’s top executives speak of Ginstling in glowing terms. “He’s a true institutional leader,” says Gary Hanson, the former executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra. “There was no question that Gary was at some point going to run a major orchestra.” He added, “He has both managerial expertise and he has artistic knowledge and judgment.”
“He’s a problem solver,” says Brent Assink, recently retired as executive director of the San Francisco Symphony. “He gets at the crux of the problem and identifies exactly what’s behind it, and identifies really creative solutions to those problems.” In addition, he says, “you sense a deep intelligence at work. . . . He has great integrity. He’s always looking out for the best things for the organization. . . . He brings along with that a great love of music, and a great understanding of what goes into making an orchestra first-rate.”
Ginstling arrives at a time of significant transition for the NSO. He will start his tenure at the same time as Gianandrea Noseda, who will officially be welcomed as the NSO’s music director at a free concert on the Mall on July 29.
During the interview process, Ginstling said in a telephone interview, and after discussions with Noseda, “it became clear that this is a unique, a singular moment in time for this particular orchestra. There’s going to be a new era that I want to be a part of: artistically exciting, innovative, bold.”
Another perk, he said, was Rutter. “For me to have somebody who not only knows my job but has run one of the great orchestras of the world as a collaborator and resource and partner is at the top of the list of why I’m signing on.”
Ginstling holds an undergraduate degree from Yale, a master’s degree from Juilliard and a master’s degree in business administration from UCLA. He maintained his performing career even after moving into orchestral administration, remaining principal clarinet of the New West Symphony while heading the Berkeley Symphony (from 2003 to 2006) and then while in San Francisco until 2008. “Understanding what it means to sit in that chair, to be prepared, to learn vast amounts of repertoire, putting yourself out there day in and day out, even in rehearsals — it’s a unique thing,” he said. “Musicians are the most important part of what every orchestra offers.”
And he’s made it a goal to get more people to come and hear them. In Indianapolis, he helped increase ticket sales by more than 40 percent — partly by focusing on subscriptions, which many in the industry think are no longer sustainable.
“The younger generation is more open to a wide variety of music,” he adds. “We just have to find ways to find a setting and a package that appeals to them. . . . It’s pretty clear that there’s room to get the numbers up.”