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Seattle Symphony's interim executive director is leaving

Mark McCampbell is moving to Bellingham and returning to the health care field. The Symphony expects to name a permanent occupant of the hot seat in a few months.

Mark McCampbell, the interim executive director of Seattle Symphony, is departing this week for a new job in his former field, raising money for health care. His last day at the SSO will be Friday (Oct. 8), and then he heads to Bellingham for his new position of running the foundation at PeaceHealth St. Joseph's Medical Center. The search continues for a permanent executive director, with the expectation of filling the job by the end of this year. Board chair Leslie Chihuly "will lead the organization during the final stages of the executive director search," according to Symphony spokesperson Rosalie Contreras. McCampbell's sudden departure is explained by "the timing of that opportunity" in Bellingham; he had informed the board of the possible job in August.

McCampbell had come over to the Symphony from a development (fundraising) post at Virginia Mason Medical Center and he was development director at the Symphony before being tapped in December, 2009, when the organization decided that Tom Philion was not the man for the ongoing leadership of the orchestra. Philion, who had come into the job with thin major orchestra experience, decided last December not to seek renewal of his three-year contract, and it was generally thought he would not have been extended. This decision came after a tumultuous period of contract negotiations with the players and more years of red ink.

That left the organization without a new music director (since filled with the appointment of Ludovic Morlot, a young French conductor, who takes over in September 2011), without an executive director, and with a new board chair, the wife and business partner of Dale Chihuly, also inexperienced in classical music. Chihuly replaced Susan Hutchison, the former television anchor, also with limited experience in major arts organizations.

A search committee was named early this year to find a new executive director. The committee is headed by board member Marco Abbruzzese, a senior banking official at Wells Fargo Private Bank. According to the Symphony spokesperson, McCampbell, with no previous experience with orchestras, was asked to consider being a candidate for the permanent position, and "he ultimately decided that this was not a role he wanted to pursue long-term." McCampbell was out of the office and not available for comment. He was credited with having an excellent, outgoing manner, good with donors.

The Symphony has had frequent turnover in this key position. Deborah F. Rutter, now president of the Chicago Symphony, departed in 2003 after a rancorous relationship with music director Gerard Schwarz. Her successor for a while was board president Mary Ann Champion, who was then replaced by Paul Meecham, who suddenly and without explanation quit that post in 2006 and is now president of the Baltimore Symphony. Meecham, a rising star in the field, was replaced by Philion, who had run a summer music festival in North Carolina where Schwarz is the conductor.

Despite all this rocking of the boat, the Symphony may now be entering a period of greater stability. It has signed a new contract with the musicians, narrowly avoiding a strike. The conductor search committee is widely praised for landing Morlot, a comer in the musical world. A new music director is always a good opportunity for raising new funds and building a stronger board. The widely admired Morlot appointment in turn may produce stronger candidates to lead the operations. Morlot will have input on the selection of the new executive director, the Symphony said.

Making the relationship of the music director and the executive director harmonious is always essential, and it has been the missing element at the Seattle orchestra for many years.

David Brewster is founder of Crosscut and editor-at-large. You can e-mail him at david.brewster@crosscut.com.


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