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New CEO ready to tackle symphony's challenges

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Gary Ginstling acknowledges the heap of work that awaits him when he begins as CEO of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra on March 18.

The group has operated at a deficit for years. Its endowment has shrunk. Its musicians had to take steep pay cuts to end a lockout last year, and the management team has multiple vacancies.

ISO CEO Gary Gistling mug shotGinstling

He sees it all as an opportunity to resurrect a group the community showed its support for after former CEO Simon Crookall abruptly departed in February 2012.

“I think it’s important for the organization to really create a vision in how … it fits into the community,” Ginstling said Wednesday, shortly after the ISO announced his hiring.

Ginstling, 46, now is general manager for the Cleveland Orchestra. Before arriving there in 2008, he was the executive director of communications and external affairs for the San Francisco Symphony, and before that was executive director of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra.

ISO also needs to think about broadening its programming beyond symphonic music, he said, boasting of successes the Cleveland Orchestra had performing ballets, operas, pop music and other genres that tapped new audience members.

While the Cleveland Orchestra’s main season attendance remained flat, it reported a one-third increase in patronage at its summer shows.

A clarinetist and New Jersey native, Ginstling earned an MBA at the Anderson School of Business at UCLA. He also has a master's of music degree from the Juilliard School and a bachelor of arts, with magna cum laude honors, from Yale University.

“As a senior manager in two major American orchestras, Gary is a passionate champion of orchestral music and has all the necessary artistic and business skills to lead our Indianapolis Symphony,” ISO Board Chairwoman Martha Lamkin said in a prepared statement. “Even more importantly, he is the ideal leader to bring us to the next level in patron engagement, artistic innovation, and annual support and donor cultivation through a broader approach to our musical footprint, at home and all across the state.”

Ginstling will take charge of an organization that has revamped its business model after years of financial difficulties.

The organization finished its 2011-2012 fiscal year with a $900,000 deficit, which was down from the previous year only after a steep $11.4 million draw from its endowment.

ISO management, citing concerns about its reliance on the investment fund after it took hard hits in 2008 and 2009, scaled back the number of shows the full-time musicians will play over the next five years as a way to cut costs.

Musicians were locked out in September and October after contract negotiations stalled. The 70 performers went back to work after agreeing to cut entry-level pay from $78,000 to $53,000, then gradually restoring it to $70,000 by 2017.

One of the most prominent provisions of the contract talks was the emergence of plans to step up donations as a way to reduce drawing down the endowment.

The ISO currently raises about $6.5 million a year, but it wants to pull in $12.6 million by the end of 2017.

To ignite the effort, an October bridge contract between management and the union mandated that the organization raise $5 million from new donors by Feb. 3 or risk resuming contract talks.

The group blew past its goal, collecting $5.4 million from new donors and another $3.1 million from existing donors. Lilly Endowment will contribute another $2 million because the ISO hit its $5 million goal.

That’s momentum Ginstling wants to tap.

“Fundraising is obviously a big part of it,” he said. “And it all really comes together. The strategy is to do more for more people. [That] makes the case of why it is such an important part of the community.”

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