Born in Forest Hills, Queens, to musical parents—his mother studied piano at Juilliard, and his father was a gigging jazz saxophonist—Gary Ginstling has always known of the New York Philharmonic. Perhaps it was inevitable that the veteran arts administrator would become the NY Phil’s President & CEO. Let’s speak with the man who will be steering the Orchestra into the future
When did you first become aware of the New York Philharmonic?
Gary Ginstling: It seems like the NY Phil was always part of my life. My parents were subscribers for decades, and I started coming to concerts with them at age 10 or 11.
You yourself were a musician.
I started clarinet in fourth grade. I absolutely loved it—I loved music and loved playing. In high school I studied with Peter Simenauer, who was the Philharmonic’s Associate Principal Clarinet, and played in the New York Youth Symphony. After majoring in music at Yale I went to Juilliard for my Master’s, even playing in a side-by-side concert with the Philharmonic! I also played under Leonard Bernstein in the Tanglewood Music Festival Orchestra and with the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra on tours of Germany and the Soviet Union. After Juilliard, I played in the New World Symphony for four seasons. Being able to work with Michael Tilson Thomas had a huge impact; he instilled in me a fierce commitment to tirelessly seek out what a composer is trying to say in every phrase of every piece of music. MTT was a very important mentor to me, not only when I was a player but also later, when I worked at the San Francisco Symphony as director of communications and external affairs. After that, I played with professional orchestras, including 12 years as principal clarinet of the New West Symphony, a regional orchestra in southern California.
Why did you decide to move to orchestra management?
I was always convinced I wanted to spend my professional life around orchestras, and after playing professionally for a number of years I became interested in the business of orchestras. I decided to change tracks, and got an MBA from UCLA for a foundation in business.
In addition to San Francisco, you worked as general manager at The Cleveland Orchestra and as CEO at the Indianapolis Symphony and the National Symphony. How has your background as a professional musician informed your work as an administrator?
I understand what it means for every one of our musicians to have earned their place in the NY Phil, and all they need to do to maintain their extraordinary level of performance. I believe that has allowed me to have productive relationships with my colleagues.
Your arrival as CEO here was unusual, beginning as Executive Director last November before taking on the top job over the summer.
It was enormously helpful to work alongside Deborah Borda in that pivotal year—learning how the organization works in the new hall, how the audience had changed, and being by her side throughout the closing chapter in engaging Gustavo Dudamel as our next Music and Artistic Director. I have to take a moment to express my gratitude to our Co-Chairmen, Peter May and Oscar Tang, for the health and vitality of the New York Philharmonic today, the vibrant new hall that is our home, and for devising this unusual succession plan. The benefits will inform my approach as the NY Phil moves forward.
I know it’s early days yet, but can you share some of your thoughts for the future?
First, this season, we are celebrating all that Jaap van Zweden has achieved during his tenure. He was Music Director during a monumental period, in which the incredible low of the pandemic gave way to incredible highs. Beyond being the Music Director who opened the transformed David Geffen Hall, he has had a remarkable track record in terms of commissioning new works, including the Project 19 initiative—one work created for it has already received a Pulitzer Prize—and two multimedia oratorios by Julia Wolfe. We intend to send him off on the high note he deserves!
Looking further ahead, we are preparing for an exciting new era with Gustavo Dudamel. From my standpoint there’s never been a more optimistic time to be at the NY Phil. When Gustavo arrives in a few years, everything will reflect the electricity of his performances, his commitment to broadening the definition of what orchestras are, and the way he connects with musicians and communities. It is a profound honor to be able to work with him and the Philharmonic Musicians, Board, and staff as we dream about what the future will be, and how we will reach and excite more people than ever before, here in New York and around the world.