Philly Orchestra’s new CEO ready to lead in the concert hall — and the community

Matías Tarnopolsky is the new president and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia Orchestra, succeeding Allison Vulgamore.

Matías Tarnopolsky is the new president and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia Orchestra, succeeding Allison Vulgamore. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Philadelphia Orchestra will begin its new season of concerts Thursday under the guidance of a new chief executive.

Matias Tarnopolsky, who has signed a five-year contract with the orchestra, replaces Alison Vulgamore, who stepped down at the end of last year.

It wasn’t so long ago that the Philadelphia Orchestra’s future was in question. In 2011, Vulgamore navigated the organization through a bankruptcy filing, the first major American orchestra to do so. Emerging 15 months later, it has remained a reasonably healthy organization.

Vulgamore also hired the extremely popular Yannick Nézet-Séguin as music director.

“The organization is in very good shape — crucially, artistically,” said Tarnopolsky. “We have Alison to thank for the appointment of Yannick Nézet-Séguin. That really helps position the orchestra with the most important aspect of what it is: the artistic aspect.”

The Buenos Aires-born Tarnopolsky got his start working for the BBC on classical music projects. He went on to work for orchestras in London, New York, and Chicago. Most recently, he was director of Cal Performances, a presenting organization at the University of California, Berkeley.

He used to play clarinet — seriously but not professionally.

“I never aspired to be a performer, but it was always an important part of my life,” said Tarnopolsky, who gave his instrument to his now 13-year-old son.

Having cleared its financial straits, the Philadelphia Orchestra is in a creatively expansive mode, said Tarnopolsky. He said he is eager to widen audiences and repertoire.

“I’m governed by a few principles,” he said. “Leading the audience and following the audience — opening new doors into the way they think about music and the world,” he said. “Also, how can we be both a museum for the great works of our day and a laboratory for the future?”

And, finally: “How can an organization like ours respond to important issues of our day, in the concert hall and the community.”

A week before the opening of the 2018-2019 season, the orchestra musicians did a “reading” of six new works by six composers — all of them women — wherein the new works were performed so that musicians and composers could swap notes on the pieces. On the day of the invitation-only performances, the orchestra announced it has commissioned new compositions from all six women.

“That’s exactly what the Philadelphia Orchestra should be doing,” said Tarnopolsky. “It’s building the future. It’s taking a chance on composers who are still in the early stages of their careers.”

Tarnopolsky is looking forward to planning the orchestra’s 125th anniversary season, seven years from now. After signing a five-year contract, he said he has every intention of still being in the director’s chair in 2025.

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