VSO President Kelly Tweeddale, soon to be executive director of San Francisco Ballet, talks about her time with Vancouver orchestra.
VSO President Kelly Tweeddale is off to San Francisco to take up one of the most important cultural sector jobs on the West Coast: executive director of San Francisco Ballet.
She came to the VSO from Seattle Opera in 2015, a crucial time for the organization. Then long-serving music director Bramwell Tovey had announced his departure, and the orchestra’s CEO Jeff Alexander had been chosen for the post of President of the Chicago Symphony.
Tweeddale hit the ground running, taking over responsibility for the orchestra’s exhaustive search for a new music director, which ultimately resulted in the appointment of conductor Otto Tausk. She set in motion staff and artistic renewal while preparing for the orchestra’s centennial season.
Postmedia News talked to Tweeddale about her time with the VSO:
Q. How hard was it to step in at the VSO, an organization facing major changes plus a big milestone?
A: I like challenges, and in one way that was the attraction — in periods of change you can put your own stamp on things. What gave me pause was the 100th anniversary of an organization I had no history with. But Bramwell and the staff gave me their perspectives, so I could focus on what needed to be done now. Other things came very organically.
Q. What were the three most important things you were able to accomplish?
A: I think the first was the transition from Bramwell to Otto, which had every opportunity to go wrong! Every symphony has done it wrong at least once. Now, in year one, we all think Otto was the right person.
Next came integrating the VSO School of Music closer to the VSO, and bringing our guest artists closer to the school.
Number three was re-establishing our footprint in the classical community, and what really demonstrated that was our Day of Music and the free concert on Sunset Beach — huge audiences saying yes! Our aim was to take away the perceived barriers between the public and classical music.
Q. What were the biggest frustrations you faced?
A: In order to create momentum, you have to be able to work at a certain pace. The enormous changes going on in the artistic community meant a lot of second guessing, and things taking much longer than I would have liked. There is so much unrealized potential in Vancouver. A particular frustration here is the phenomenon of the last-minute audience, people who won’t commit to events in advance, so organizations can’t plan properly.
Q. We all love the old Orpheum, but it’s not an ideal symphony space. What does your successor need to do to give it a much needed upgrade? Or do we need an entirely new venue?
A: A series of studies were made during my tenure in co-operation with the City of Vancouver, which showed it is feasible to make the Orpheum a superb acoustic space. Of course, a brand new state-of-the-art facility in the heart of the city would be great — if somebody wants to write a big cheque.
Q. You’ve done opera and orchestras, but ballet is something new. What challenges do you anticipate?
A. Actually, I started out as a dancer for an improvisational troupe. Producing new works which require sets and costumes are common to ballet and opera. I hope this new position will deepen my love for ballet, rather than being just a job. I think I am a skilled utility worker in this area.
Q. What did you learn at the VSO that is transferable to San Francisco?
A: I have learned a lot about living in communities plagued by insanely high real estate prices! But I will take with me a commitment to be an agent for audiences as well as artists. This has been really emotional for me, because I have put down roots in Vancouver. The only consolation I can offer is that my position is going to be a really plum job for the next person, because we’ve come a long way, and the symphony is in really great shape.
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