Jenny Bilfield, the artistic and executive director of Stanford Live at Stanford University, has been named president and chief executive officer of the Washington Performing Arts Society, the organization announced Tuesday.
Bilfield, who transformed Stanford Live (formerly Lively Arts at Stanford) from a simple university presenter to a full-fledged producing organization and oversaw the planning and construction of the new Bing Concert Hall, which opened earlier this month, will become only the fourth leader in WPAS’s 47-year history.
“This is such a remarkable organization with such a sense of place and history and a real spirit of inclusion,” Bilfield said. “The role excites me because of where WPAS exists: within the nation’s capital, a very vibrant community for the arts . . . I’ve been really keeping an eye on what’s going on in D.C. and have just been very impressed with the way the organizations here in the city have grown over the years.”
She added, “What I love about this community is that there’s a density of arts that’s very exciting to me. There’s an energy that comes when many different art forms work alongside each other . . . I love that this is a community of people from all over the world, which is exciting for me as a programmer, a thinker, a community member. It really informs a broader approach to programming and to engaging audiences.”
Her 12-year-old daughter is excited, too, but mostly because she’s looking forward to “the tall buildings and busy streets,” not to mention the Washington weather, which might get her a few snow days.
Bilfield’s appointment is a big step for WPAS, which is known for presenting blue-chip performers in the region’s leading concert halls. Its programs include jazz, gospel, world music and dance, but it predominantly concentrates on classical music. Its biggest advances in recent years have been in education: It tripled its education budget and started a number of new student initiatives under its outgoing president, Neale Perl, who has been in the post since 2002. But in terms of innovations, the organization has mainly limited itself to finding venues beyond the Kennedy Center; what’s on stage tends not to push the envelope.
Bilfield, by contrast, has spent most of her career championing contemporary music and artists. Before taking over at Stanford in 2006, she was president of the music publisher Boosey and Hawkes, expanding the company’s operations and spearheading composer initiatives including the notable feat of getting Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic and the Brooklyn Academy of Music to collaborate on a festival honoring the 70th birthday of the composer Steve Reich.
At Stanford, her programming was mentioned in the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the 10 notable classical music developments of the decade. “There’s no mistaking the organization’s dynamic new role as a central player in the Bay Area’s cultural life,” wrote the Chronicle’s classical music critic, Joshua Kosman, in 2009.
“I could not be more delighted that we found a new leader for the organization who really embodies what our new strategic plan requires,” says Reginald Van Lee, executive vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton and chairman of the WPAS board of directors. He says WPAS’s focus on renewal, educational outreach, nurturing young artists and a “groundbreaking approach to reaching the demographics of Washington, DC,” something that was very much part of the vision of WPAS’s founder, Patrick Hayes, needed a “shot in the arm.”
Bilfield represents “a return to the tenets that were always a part of WPAS’s initial creation,” Van Lee says.
Bilfield will start April 1.
Jessica Goldstein contributed.