Arts / Performing Arts

A Musical Chairs Win — Houston Symphony Reveals Its New Leader, a Popular, Drama-Free Choice

In H-Town’s Current Performing Arts Climate, That’s No Small Feat

BY // 01.12.18

Here’s some music to symphony lovers’ ears.

The Houston Symphony has appointed its new executive director and CEO, John Mangum, with virtually no drama. The veteran arts administrator comes with 19 years of extensive artistic planning at major American orchestras. He will begin his post on April 16, 2018. He is succeeding the well-regarded Mark Hanson, who left to helm the San Francisco Symphony in July.

Mangum’s jazzed to start at the Houston Symphony, inspired by the dynamic energy that Houston’s diversity brings to the city. He believes that the Houston Symphony is committed to being relevant to audiences — a challenge, especially in the 21st century — and accessible to everyone.

“I think the commitment is about reflecting that energy and dynamism in our programming, and making sure everyone knows they’re welcome,” Mangum tells PaperCity. The Symphony’s dedication permeates all of its programs, he adds.

Mangum was mostly recently the president and artistic director for the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, a position he took over in 2014. Early in his tenure there, he launched a campaign to eliminate debt, build the endowment, and increase reserves. The campaign is expected to double its $10 million goal.

Today’s Houston Symphony new leader announcement comes after a six-month, nation-wide search, and a tumultuous week for the Houston arts community. Earlier this week, Alley Theatre artistic director Gregory Boyd suddenly “retired,” sending shock waves through the arts world. But the shocks didn’t stop there.

In the days following Boyd’s abrupt departure, allegations of misconduct began coming in from current and former Alley employees. The claims have included bullying, abusive behavior, and inappropriate touching of female actresses. Boyd may have to face the music, himself.

After news like that, no news from the arts community would be good news. But good news is even better.

The Mangum Choice

Mangum’s the pitch perfect choice to lead the Symphony into the future, according to Houston Symphony board president Janet F. Clark. “John has led some innovative artistic initiatives and has accomplished important milestones in some of the country’s largest markets,” Clark says in a statement.

Those markets include New York and California, in Orange County at his most recent post, and in the Bay Area, as the director of artistic planning of the San Francisco Symphony from 2011 to 2014.

The Houston Symphony “is certainly considered among the major orchestras here in the U.S.,” Mangum says. “The orchestra’s recordings and touring, including our upcoming European tour, underscore that perception.”

The Symphony’s new leader points to the distinguished series of music directors, from Leopold Stokowski on to Andrés Orozco-Estrada. The rapport between Orozco-Estrada and the orchestra musicians “is really something special,” Mangum says. Orozco-Estrada seems pleased to have Mangum on board.

“With John’s partnership, as well as his enthusiasm and wealth of knowledge he brings from his years of experience with other great orchestras, I know that together we will continue to raise the profile of the Houston Symphony,” the maestro says in a statement.

Mangum’s mission to raise the Houston Symphony’s profile centers on finding new audiences, identifying new support for artistic and audience development initiatives, and finding a way “to get the message out about the great work you’re doing in a rapidly evolving and changing media landscape.”

He’s facing these challenges head on. The Houston Symphony is facing a few obstacles of a different sort as well. Like many others in the art community, the Symphony suffered some setbacks from Hurricane Harvey. The damage to Jones Hall itself was relatively minor compared to some more catastrophic losses , but the Symphony was still forced to relocate during damage assessment and repairs. They were out for two months, and they canceled 17 concerts.

Another challenge goes back to hiring. The hunt is still on for a concertmaster to replace Frank Huang, who left to join the New York Philharmonic more than a year ago. The Symphony is also looking for an assistant conductor.

The Houston Symphony is getting a revamp with Mangum in command, and it’s due for a literal facelift as well. At 51 years old, it’s time for Jones Hall to get renovated. A renovation plan is expected to be revealed in March.

There will be some changes ahead, and it looks like the Symphony’s greeting them with bells on.

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