Memphis Symphony Orchestra's Ryan Fleur takes executive position with Philadelphia Orchestra

Posted by Chris Davis on Mon, Mar 19, 2012 at 11:32 AM

Ryan Fleur
  • Ryan Fleur
Ryan Fleur, the President and CEO of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra is leaving Memphis for an executive position with one of America's top five symphony orchestras. Fleur, who took over the helm of the MSO in 2003, has been named Executive Vice President of Orchestra Advancement with The Philadelphia Orchestra.

Paul Bert, chair of the MSO Board of Directors says an interim President/CEO will be named in the next three weeks and that the MSO will launch a national search this Spring.


"I leave Memphis with many fond memories of this city and its people," Fleur wrote in a prepared statement.

"The MSO today is a strong organization - one of America's most innovative orchestras - that is committed to its art but also to performing and working at the very heart of the community. I wish the musicians, the staff and board, and all the people of Memphis the very best for what I consider a bright future indeed."

Comments (10)

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What a shame. Ryan presided over nothing less than a metamorphosis of the MSO. The quality of the ensemble improved immeasurably under his tenure. He'll be hard to replace. Sadly, once again, Memphis serves as a stepping stone to the higher tiers of the cultural and performing arts world, which is not surprising since it seems to serve the same function in so many other areas of endeavor.

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Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 03/19/2012 at 1:01 PM

Couldn't have said it better Marty. At least up to the "sadly, once again" part. Things evolve. I'd rather think that Memphis is a brand that attracts world class talent and moves like this are ultimately positive things.

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Posted by Chris Davis on 03/19/2012 at 2:24 PM

Mei Ann Chen has reupped for 3 years. It's all good.

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Posted by B on 03/20/2012 at 2:52 PM

B: No, not "all good." While Ms. Chen was, indeed, a coup for the orchestra (in no small part due to Ryan's efforts to find her), the fact is, the artistic side of a performing arts organization is no better than its business side enables it to be. It does no good to have a stellar artistic product if you don't have patrons and contributors to support it, and that's where Ryan excelled. He helped the MSO buck a trend that saw many arts organizations struggle financially (including the one where he's going that had to declare bankruptcy last year) during the economic meltdown.

I suggest that a good CEO for an orchestra is harder to find (and probably more important) than a good conductor. So, while it's definitely good that the symphony will retain it's excellent conductor, we won't know whether the aftermath of Ryan's departure will be "all good" until we see whether Ryan's replacement is equally excellent.

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Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 03/20/2012 at 4:27 PM

How about this Marty: it's all natural. That's the nature of the Executive beast in this day and age. What we want is to catch good people-- like Ryan-- on their way up. The inovations that happened here now have an opportunity to spread. And opportunity creates opportunity. Given the state of Symphony Orchestras of late Memphis' survival, history of inovation, its talent, etc. should put us in a position to attract fresh, top-tier folks: Folks who will come here because our classical music culture is evolving in unprecedented ways. Ryan allowed that to happen, but what makes our symphony orchestra especially strong at the moment is the conversation happening between artists. I'm not short-selling Ryan at all btw. He's leaving a more plum position than he found. Allowing some caution, that should mean it's all good because what more could you ask for from an executive than they make their position into something more talent-attractive?

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Posted by Chris Davis on 03/20/2012 at 4:53 PM

To read Atrios, the Philly orchestra is a huge cluster... er, money hole.

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Posted by Jeff on 03/21/2012 at 7:38 AM

@Jeff: Atrios isn't the only one to note that. But that's not unique among American symphony orchestras. In fact it's tended to be rather normal. And a talent like Ryan Fleur who took the helm of an organization that had literally been wandering in the wilderness and helped to shape it into one of the country's most interesting models should be especially attractive to a top tier dinosaur. They need that kind of person. The professional culture of symphony orchestras is often dysfunctional with a tremendous disconnect between the artists and the administration. Those barriers have been coming down in Memphis. And people have been paying attention. Not necessarily Memphians, judging by the "dislikes" my comments are attracting. But the reality is this: In spite of clusterfucktacular Canon center construction that kept the MSO homeless for years, a difficult economy, and waning interest in expensive live classical performance we still managed to land Ryan Fleur in 2003. He leaves an orchestra that has reconnected with its community by wowing traditional audiences and making real connections with non-traditional audiences. He leaves an orchestra that has a world class conductor and a fantastic slate of deeply engaged artists. The loss is great but the MSO has seldom if ever been better positioned and since the opportunities in the classical world are increasingly limited I can't see this as anything but an opportunity to level up. If the dislikers would like to explain how and why I'm wrong I'd love to hear it.

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Posted by Chris Davis on 03/21/2012 at 8:56 AM

I agree, Chris. The upside of Memphis as a stepping stone for cultural arts administrators is that we've benefited, in the long term, from very talented people in the process who have transformed the organizations they ran. In addition to Ryan, I'm thinking of John Buchanan at the Dixon, Kaywin Feldman at the Brooks, and Michael Ching at Opera Memphis (who didn't leave for greener pastures). Dorothy Gunther Pugh is another example, only she has, thankfully, successfully resisted the temptation to parlay her success her onto a bigger stage.

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Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 03/21/2012 at 11:13 AM

Dorothy is different. She and Jackie Nichols are very deeply connected to the organizations they have basically created. Michael Ching's wife did get a greener offer, and in some ways I think it was like he'd gotten one too. He was a transformative administrator but also, I think, a conflicted one. He's an exceptional composer and it seemed like both he and Opera Memphis were ready to reinvent themselves. And, as with the Dixon and the Brooks, good transformative leaders leave their posts more attractive than they found them. Bad ones tear down the house when they exit. I can only think of one example where a large Memphis arts institution traded down (and continued to do so for years to come): Theatre Memphis after the retirement of Sherwood Lohrey. TM's gotten their stuff back together under current management, although the programming can be a little predictable. That's not a bad thing per se, it is what it is. You've got to balance institutional value with new blood and fresh ideas. Jackie and Dorothy have been wise in how they've shared so much creative control, and trusted and empowered their artists. I suspect New Ballet Ensemble will also endure because Katie Smythe has listened to, learned from, and ultimately employed and empowered her students. We could have a lot more in the way of cultural amenities. But what we have at the moment is interesting--- sometimes, I think, better than what this city of Doolittle cranks and complainers deserve. Ryan leaves an organization with a lot of positive momentum on every front. That's sad and spectacular all at the same time.

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Posted by Chris Davis on 03/21/2012 at 11:59 AM

I'll add Harriloo to the list. Ekundayo Bandele has never ruled out leaving but has committed to 10 years with his new theatre. He may stay. But he's already imagining a healthy organization that can exist without him. That's a good thing.

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Posted by Chris Davis on 03/21/2012 at 12:12 PM
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