Some may think classical music and a young audience are incompatible, but for Dallas Symphony Orchestra Chief Executive Officer Kim Noltemy ‘86 - the DSO’s first female CEO - they’re a match made in musical heaven.
Noltemy, who worked for 21 years as Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the Boston Symphony Orchestra - and the BSO’s favorite offspring, the Boston Pops - is bringing her love of classical music, plus her managerial expertise and innovative ideas to fertile ground in Dallas. Dallas is a much larger city than Boston - roughly seven million to five million people in their respective metropolitan areas - but ironically, the Dallas institution is smaller: the DSO is about a $35 million organization, the BSO about $100 million. Working on growing the orchestra’s presence and audience are among the challenges that drew Noltemy to Dallas, where as a CEO for the first time, she has full fundraising and artistic responsibility for the orchestra.
“It’s a very vibrant place to be right now,” said Noltemy of her new home. “The city is in a big growth mode with a huge amount of development, low unemployment and a lot of new relocations by corporations.” Those corporations, she noted, have “many young and upcoming workers, people in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. Literally, where we’re located, we’re surrounded by huge high-rise towers where people are working and living in the city. They don’t want to have a car and commute so they live close by. When you add that all up, in some ways, there’s more potential here than many other cities in America because the people we are trying to attract are really close by.”
It’s not that younger people aren’t interested in classical music, Noltemy added. “That’s sort of a stereotype. Actually, people who are millennials have more classical music on their phones or devices than any other generation. It’s not that they are not aware of classical music or that they don’t like it, but they aren’t motivated to come to live concerts as much. A big part of that is pricing. Classical music tickets are not inexpensive.”
So how do you bring more younger people into the symphony? Start by meeting them where they are technology-wise, Noltemy said, “by making it easy to use their mobile devices to get information about the program - whether sound clips of the concert or interviews with conductors or performers – and make it easy to buy tickets. You just really have to be on top of that. They’re not going to do it any other way.”
Next is to make the concert a more engaging and interactive event. “I think you have to create a compelling experience so that people will want to spend their money on that,” Noltemy said. “There’s a social component that’s necessary for people that are younger. They want to know they’ll see other people their own age, that there are places they can gather, that they’ll get a chance to meet a musician at a post-concert reception. It’s the overall experience that matters a lot more than just the music part of it, so we have to work on all of that.”
And then there’s the benefit and attraction of multidimensional and multidisciplinary performances created in partnership with other music and arts organizations.
“One of the things that is so important for classical music in the present and the future, is to collaborate with other colleagues, not just in the arts world, but certainly museums, dance companies, opera, etc. That collaboration can take many forms. It can happen in the performance itself, in marketing and promotion, and in collaborating together for a theme. For example, if the theme is Romeo and Juliet, then there’s the Romeo and Juliet ballet, there’s the play, there’s the opera, there’s the symphony, and you can tie that all together and kind of add different components that will make people excited to see the various Romeo and Juliet interpretations. That’s just an example. Collaborating with sports events is another approach. When I was at the Boston Symphony, they did a baseball theme with the Red Sox. Sports has the heart and soul of America, so if we in the music world can partner with them, we can bring in new people and open their eyes to something they maybe wouldn’t have thought about, but then find out they like.”
Similar to the popular music the Boston Pops is so famous for, the DSO this spring performed a Broadway themed concert featuring Broadway singer Sutton Foster. “We have a number of other types of performances such as those with jazz musicians and people from other genres who come in, much like the Boston Pops, but just on a smaller scale,” said Noltemy. “Collaborating with appropriate artists that are still keeping that kind of programming makes sense. It’s all about connecting people with what they like and what they’re interested in and using that as an entry point for classical music. That involves partnerships and collaboration.”
The DSO anchors the most famous and innovative collaboration in Dallas, the Soluna International Music and Arts Festival held May 6-28. The DSO and other music and arts organizations, from the local to international scene, will provide a variety of performances, presentations and exhibitions for all ages. Some of the eclectic offerings include a sound sculpture, a discussion on music and the brain, a performance of the sounds created by shattered guitars strung with piano strings, a joint performance by rapper Nas and members of the DSO, a Mariachi Wagner concert, a live demonstration of calligraphy, and classical concerts, including a farewell concert by renowned DSO conductor Jaap van Zweden.
“Soluna’s an amazing thing because it’s really something that isn’t happening anywhere else in the country in the same way,” Noltemy said. “The whole thing is curated and created based on collaborating with different organizations so it’s not like taking something that you have and finding a way to have it to work for someone else. You create it so that it is really authentic and unique, and do it for three weeks with visual arts and family programming. For example, there’s a terrific figure skater doing a specific program on ice, juxtaposed with visual arts. Taking all of those elements and putting them all together, incubating that over a long period of time, is very unusual.”
The success of Soluna is facilitated by the logistics of the city’s official and well-defined Arts District. The largest in the nation, it encompasses a 68 acre site of 19 contiguous city blocks chock-full of musical, theatrical, and artistic venues. In addition to the Meyerson Symphony Center, the district encompasses the Dallas Museum of Art, the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Crow Collection of Asian Art Museum, the Moody Performance Hall, the Winspear Opera House, the Wyley Theatre, and many more, all in close proximity to each other and to a host of retailers, restaurants and hotels.
“One of the things I would like to do is to make sure Soluna becomes much more well known because it’s really one of the best kept secrets in the festival world at this point,” Noltemy said.
Looking back, Noltemy appreciates her journey to the top leadership position with the DSO. After graduating from high school, she attended Smith College where she earned a degree in East Asian Studies. After graduation, when she was fluent in Japanese, she lived in Japan, working in international real estate and then the tourism industry, which led her to a connection with the BSO.
At Archbishop Williams, Noltemy laid the foundation for a successful career. “I definitely had a lot of really great teachers who rewarded you for hard work and for being thorough, and for all of those other traits that helped me to succeed in college and the professional world. I think it’s good for people to know it’s a great quality education, and that’s really important for a high school.”