That rare being‹an arts administrator who knows music from the inside out‹perfectly describes Clive Gillinson. For more than a decade, he played in the cello section of the London Symphony Orchestra‹one of the world's most distinguished ensembles‹before being tapped for the position of the orchestra's managing director. And music was an early obsession: Gillinson began playing the cello at age 11, performed in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and eventually attended the prestigious Royal Academy of Music. After a short stint as a cellist in the Philharmonia Orchestra, in 1970 he moved to the London Symphony Orchestra, which had been his lifetime dream as a musician.
He was a member of the board of the self-governing orchestra from 1976 to 1979 and again in 1983, and the very next year he was invited to become the LSO's managing director. So Gillinson traded sheet music for spreadsheets and engineered a financial turnaround for an orchestra that despite an illustrious past was on the verge of collapse. By launching a host of new programs and educational initiatives, he put the LSO in the vanguard with innovative projects, thematic festivals, and international tours. Through it all, Gillinson kept the music foremost in mind. And heart.
Gillinson brings that same artistic insight and entrepreneurial energy to his new role as Carnegie Hall's Executive and Artistic Director. He knows Carnegie Hall from the inside out, too: he brought the LSO there several times and earlier played as an LSO cellist on the Carnegie Hall stage. Gillinson arrived in New York City, and at Carnegie Hall, this July.
Playbill: When you were starting out as a cellist, did you ever imagine becoming an arts administrator?
Clive Gillinson: My becoming an arts administrator is one of those ironies of life. I had never thought of going into administration. It happened because, two years after we had moved into London's Barbican Centre, the London Symphony Orchestra, then with serious financial problems, couldn't find a manager. The thinking was, well, if we can't find a manager, let's get someone from the orchestra to look after the shop for a few months. As it would turn out, the day I went into the office, I stopped playing the cello. And after three months they offered me the job.
Playbill: Do you miss playing the cello?
Gillinson: I loved being a musician. I have always adored music. But being a musician and adoring music are not necessarily the same as playing in a symphony orchestra. I loved playing in the orchestra. There's a fantastic collegiality and you work with great artists. On the other hand, when I went from the orchestra to the administration, I found that suddenly I was operating as an individual, engaging my personal creativity. The job requires a completely different part of you.
Playbill: To many, Carnegie Hall represents the classical tradition. But historically, it has also had jazz artists, Gershwin premieres, the Beatles. And Zankel Hall presents wildly diverse artists. How does one balance the range of performances?
Gillinson: I have never been one for creating barriers between music. Yes, it so happens that most of my life has been involved with classical music, but the fact is, I love many different sorts of music. At the LSO we tried to break down barriers, so that has always been part of my background. And that was another thing that was really appealing to me about Carnegie Hall. It is the home of all great music. That means that we at Carnegie Hall are continually looking around the world for the finest artists to bring here.
Playbill: You've spoken openly about the need to make music accessible to everyone. What are your plans along those lines for Carnegie Hall?
Gillinson: Bringing great music to the largest audience possible is at the core of my beliefs. Great art has the ability to transform people, enabling them to fulfill their potential as individuals. And that's why we have an obligation to make sure everybody has that opportunity. So one of the greatest attractions of Carnegie Hall for me is The Weill Music Institute, which operates a comprehensive array of music-education programs. Carnegie Hall has a genuine commitment to everybody's right to have access to music.
Our education mission has many facets, and it is carried out through a wide variety of programs. We have school-based initiatives, family- and community-centered events, and an impressive slate of workshops for professional musicians at the beginning of their careers. But it's not just for kids, either. Education can reach all the way from kindergarten right through to senior citizens, and touch every level of society. Lots of people have never had the opportunity to encounter great music, so it's just as important to give the opportunity to adults of all ages as to children. And it isn't just education; it's looking at every aspect of how we bring music to people's lives.
Playbill: Now that you have assumed responsibility for Carnegie Hall, do you have any big dreams for its future?
Gillinson: The big dreams will be what we all develop together; it won't be my coming along saying, "This is what we are going to do." Dreams will come out of what Carnegie Hall is, from its remarkable history, from its strengths. How are we going to grow into the future? What is Carnegie Hall's role in the 21st century going to be? What you do in the future grows partly out of what you are and what your history is, but it's got to be dynamic and forward-looking. It's using the strengths of your past, allied to a vision for the future. That's something we will all be working on and developing together.
I think Carnegie Hall has the world's greatest concert hall and all the opportunities imaginable. If we bring the most extraordinary music here all the time, there won't ever be a question about the future of great music. One must always aspire to the extraordinary. If people put on concerts just to put on concerts, then there's a question mark about the future of music. If we put on extraordinary concerts, then, I believe, there can be no question mark.
Robert Sandla writes frequently about the arts.