Charlotte Symphony’s executive director heads to Dallas

07/23/2012 12:00 AM

07/23/2012 10:19 PM

After four years of leading the Charlotte Symphony’s struggle to overcome its financial troubles, executive director Jonathan Martin is stepping down to become the chief executive of the Dallas Symphony.

The move will put Martin, who came to Charlotte from the one of the country’s most acclaimed ensembles – the Cleveland Orchestra – back into the top level of U.S. orchestras.

“While the choice professionally was clear, it was still hard,” Martin said Monday. “This city and this orchestra have gotten in my blood. We’ve all been through so much together in the past four years. Relationships get forged through fire.”

Martin, 55, will step down from the orchestra Aug. 19. He’ll go to work in Dallas in September.

When Martin arrived in Charlotte in May 2008, the orchestra was putting into action a turnaround plan aimed at overcoming financial troubles that began several years earlier. That autumn, Martin’s job got even harder when the financial crisis hit, clobbering Charlotte’s banking-centered economy.

Banks canceled six-figure pledges. In 2009, the Arts & Science Council cut its support by $1 million.

“He had more challenges than anyone could have imagined,” said Richard Osborne, a board member and former chairman of the orchestra. “I think we were very lucky to have him.”

Martin renegotiated the orchestra’s contract with the players, saving money. After the ASC cut, he helped lead an emergency fund drive that raised more than $5 million.

Martin helped spearhead a new concert series, the more-casual KnightSounds, that has attracted new listeners to the orchestra, noted ASC president Scott Provancher, who joined the ASC after the funding cut.

And Martin’s openness about the orchestra’s financial situation persuaded people to support it, Provancher said.

“Being honest about what it’s going to take to put the orchestra back on track is not easy to do,” said Provancher, who once led a struggling orchestra himself. “But it’s something Jonathan did do.”

In Dallas, Martin will lead an orchestra with a $32 million budget – nearly four times the Charlotte Symphony’s. It also has an endowment of more than $100 million. The orchestra just ended its season with a balanced budget, Martin said. Dallas’ musicians are employed year-round, compared to about 40 weeks for their colleagues in Charlotte.

Martin was the Dallas orchestra’s “clear choice,” interim president David Hyslop said in a statement.

“He is a great fit for the Dallas community, soft-spoken and thoughtful, and possessing a strong set of guiding principles for the creation of the new American orchestra that has been honed through 33 years of experience in the field.”

Dallas is “a city with a tremendous capacity for supporting things philanthropically,” Martin said. “There’s a lot of potential there. I’m excited.”

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