The leader of the Philadelphia Orchestra has announced she will step down.
Allison Vulgamore, who has been the president and CEO for eight years, will not renew her contract when it expires in December.
There have been highs and lows during Vulgamore’s leadership of the Fabulous Philadelphians: she brought in Yannick Nezet-Seguin as the music director, one of the most dynamic conductors in the world right now. She revived the Orchestra’s presence in China with new artistic and diplomatic partnerships, and launched the local community outreach program, HEAR, using music to promote health and education.
But also on her watch, repercussions from the 2008 recession hit hard and the Philadelphia Orchestra became the first major U.S. ensemble to declare bankruptcy. The musicians took a pay cut in order for the organization to stay solvent. Some left for better opportunities.
Later, at the 2016-2017 season opening gala, the musicians went on strike just minutes before they were supposed to perform, leaving bejeweled and bewildered patrons sitting in their seats. The strike lasted less than two days.
Through it all, Vulgamore kept the lights on.
“Yes, this has been a time where we have had to make some challenging choices,” she said. “But look: the orchestra never stopped performing in these eight years. It always brought itself fully to the stage, and I am so grateful to our musicians for constantly delivering great music.”
Perhaps Vulgamore’s biggest accomplishment during her eight-year stay in Philadelphia was to turn around the Orchestra’s finances. Major capital campaigns have increased the endowment, and earned income has risen 28 percent.
“Allison was the CEO of the Orchestra in the most difficult time in its history and she is leaving the Orchestra in a much better place than when she arrived,” said board chair Richard Worley, in a statement. “She made some courageous decisions that other people couldn’t and she cleared a path for the Orchestra’s renewal.”
Vulgamor came into the Orchestra at a time when the organization lacked leadership — for a period there was no permanent CEO, music director, or board chair in place. She played a critical role navigating the Orchestra through a turbulent period.
“That’s an important time to pass the baton and let someone else run the next chapter of the orchestra’s story,” she said.
The next CEO will need to raise the endowment further, to cement the organization’s stability.
As for her, she does not yet have anything lined up.
“I don’t know what’s next,” said Vulgamore. “I’ve never done this in my career. I’m casting myself out to the universe.”
For the next six months, she said she will prepare her staff to transition to different leadership.