Nancy Evans to head Symphony search committee for new conductor

Meanwhile, SSO Board chair Susan Hutchison departs to run for County Executive
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Susan Hutchison, a fresh face in politics but a familiar face to voters.

Meanwhile, SSO Board chair Susan Hutchison departs to run for County Executive

The Seattle Symphony has lost a board chair and gained a search committee, all in one day. Susan Hutchison, the current board chair, has decided to run for King County Executive, which means she will step down from the key Symphony post in June. And the slow-starting seach committee to find a successor to Music Director Gerard Schwarz, who retires in 2011, has come into existence. Nancy Evans, longtime boardmember and wife of Dan Evans, will be chair of the nine-person committee.

Evans is not yet ready to announce members of the search group. Four of the nine members will be from the Orchestra; the players have chosen their representatives but no names announced yet. (One can imagine one reason for the delay in forming the committee has been orchestral faction in-fighting.) Of the remaining five members, Evans said, the majority will be from the Symphony board, and the other(s) from the community at large. Executive Director Tom Phillion and the new Board chair will serve, ex-officio. Elena Dubinets, director of artistic administration, will staff the search effort.

The search committee's late start — Schwarz announced his retirement last September — means that only for the 2010-11 season will the committee be able to pick guest conductors, a normal form of auditioning top candidates. That makes it unlikely the Symphony will have a replacement ready for when Schwarz steps down, after 26 years as conductor, in June 2011, leaving open the possibility of an interim conductor or Schwarz himself staying on in that capacity. Evans says "our hope" is to have a new conductor ready to take the job in 2011.

As to what the committee might be looking for, Evans said guidelines had been put together, but not yet shared with the committee, and than an unnamed consultant will be engaged to help in the search. She said the "Symphony has been spoiled by having a conductor who lives in Seattle and so we would hope for the next conductor also to be involved in the community and in fundraising." She adds her desire to have a conductor who is a leader and has good relations with the players, and a cooperative spirit with board and staff.

Evans was a piano music major at Whitman who became a music teacher in the Shoreline School District. She first went on the Symphony board in 1968, but has been off it for some years when she lived in D.C., when husband Dan was a U.S. Senator, and by normal rotation. She's currently on the board, but not an officer. She played an active role in building Benaroya Hall. She has served on numerous search committees but not been a chair of one before.

Susan Hutchison has chaired the board in the past few years, inheriting an organization that had lost its executive director and was rather leaderless. She redirected the Board toward fundraising, and away from endless debates about succession planning, encouraged dissenters to leave, and made a few efforts toward restoring harmony with the musicians. She is executive director of the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Science, which made her a key link with a generous benefactor. She is regarded as forceful if rather inexperienced with symphony matters.

Predictions about Hutchison the candidate are very premature, since she is such a novice in politics. She is said to be unhappy, if not bitter, about the way her hopes to run for U.S. Senate were brushed aside by party elders who thought Mike McGavick would be the better choice. She emerged suspicious of the establishment and political consultants. On the other hand she would be the sole Republican and sole woman against three pretty liberal Democratic men in the (nonpartisan) race; and she knows where a lot of wealthy donors live. (Hutchison did not return phone calls asking for comment.)

Interesting irony: the woman who came in to quell the politics on the Symphony board now goes out into the tough world of courthouse politics. Further: we'll probably have a renewed outbreak of Symphony politics, deciding on her successor.


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