The Memphis Symphony Orchestra, long seeking an innovator with skills in community relations, partnerships, fundraising and strategic planning, has hired Roland Valliere as president and chief executive officer.
The MSO has been without a permanent CEO for a year and a half since Ryan Fleur left in April 2012 to go to the Philadelphia Orchestra. Meanwhile, three interim executives have run the organization. Valliere takes over on Monday.
Valliere, 59, is credited with preventing the Columbus (Ohio) Symphony Orchestra from collapsing. When he took over as president in 2009, the organization had gone through a work stoppage and was in a dire financial situation. He instituted austerity measures and forged a plan to share administrative and management functions with the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts.
His contract in Columbus was up in 2012. He earned $104,571 in the 2010 fiscal year, according to the Columbus Dispatch newspaper. He declined to disclose his salary with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, but according to tax documents, Fleur earned $135,000 in the 2011 fiscal year.
Valliere was executive director of the Kansas City (Mo.) Symphony from 1995-2002, a period of growth for that organization. He is also a music entrepreneur, having been involved in marketing and distribution ventures, including creating an application that could deliver information to concertgoers in real time on handheld devices.
In 1978, the Rhode Island native received a degree in percussion performance from the New England Conservatory, and later earned an MFA from Brandeis University.
The MSO’s situation is nowhere near the desperate levels of the Columbus Symphony a few years ago. In an interview earlier this month, Gayle S. Rose, Chairman of the MSO Board of Directors, said the financials of the orchestra have improved and the symphony ended the year in the black for the first time in years, although it still needs to achieve further financial sustainability. She said they were looking for someone who had been in a similar leadership position and had a proven track record.
“The key is the ability to adapt to rapid change,” Valliere said in an interview Tuesday. He said that in orchestral circles around the country, discussion of Memphis brings up innovation and community engagement. “Those are two things I’m deeply passionate about and I have a pedigree in those areas,” he said. “My desire is to connect people through music, including trying to attract and retain younger professionals to symphonic music.”
The recent establishment of a community engagement department in the MSO has underscored the importance the symphony’s leadership is giving to outreach. “If you look at orchestras over time, artistic excellence was the be-all and end-all. It’s still critically important, but in a competitive environment, it gets you to first base but not all the way around. It’s not the final definition of success.” Valliere says that the MSO under the artistic leadership of Mei-Ann Chen has achieved those artistic standards, “but it’s necessary to achieve the broader goals of music as a tool of engagement. Memphis is on the leading edge of not just making great music but having a fundamental place in the community.”
He is in the process of moving from Columbus to Memphis with his wife, Milisa Valliere. She is an artist — “a lyrical abstract painter who is the real talent in the family” he said — and has created artworks inspired by playlists that her husband has created. Her website is mvalliere.com.
Valliere said he has a broad taste in music and that he’s currently listening to British blues rock guitarist and Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green along with music from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”