Music News & Reviews

SLO Symphony's new executive director aims to engage audiences

Edmund Feingold joined the San Luis Obispo Symphony as executive director in July 2014.
Edmund Feingold joined the San Luis Obispo Symphony as executive director in July 2014.

The San Luis Obispo Symphony’s new executive director is no stranger to the Central Coast.

During his recent stint as the executive director of the Monterey Symphony, Edmund Feingold watched the San Luis Obispo orchestra’s progress from afar. Now, he said, he’s eager to work with the symphony up close.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to mix with a community that has music and culture at its center,” said Feingold, who took over his new post Monday.

Feingold succeeds Jim Black, who stepped down in December 2013 after two years as executive director. Maryellen Simkins has led the nonprofit organization on an interim basis since then.

In a news release, symphony board President India D’Avignon called Feingold a “proven leader” in the performing arts field.

“Ed has created enthusiasm for symphonic music in each community he has served and … I am certain that the San Luis Obispo Symphony will flourish under his leadership for many years to come,” said D’Avignon, noting Feingold’s gifts for strategic thinking and collaboration.

“What excites me most about music is community engagement, (and) that is one thing this orchestra does in spades,” Feingold said.

Feingold, who grew up near Omaha, Neb., holds a bachelor’s degree in music and an MBA in public and nonprofit management from Boston University. He’s held management positions with organizations including the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras, Boston Musica Viva and the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra.

During his three-year tenure with the Monterey Symphony, Feingold strived to forge connections with other nonprofits by spearheading projects such as “Play Me, I’m Yours — Monterey 2013.”

Part of an internationally touring artwork devised by British artist Luke Jerram, the project placed 10 “street pianos” decorated by local artists and community groups in public places across Monterey County. Following the March 2013 installation, all but one of the instruments were donated to local organizations and individuals.

Feingold said he was later approached by a homeless man who learned to play piano by watching other community members tickle the ivories.

“It was the most touching experience to me, personally, in my professional life thus far,” he said.

Feingold hopes to reach San Luis Obispo County residents through similar collaborative efforts.

“I’m not just talking about single performances,” he said. “I’m taking about real lasting relationships where people decide to engage with music for life.”

This season, the symphony is offering a number of events aimed at engaging audiences.

On Aug. 31, former Yes frontman Jon Anderson and jazz chanteuse Inga Swearingen will headline the Pops by the Sea concert in Avila Beach.

Violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn will join the symphony Oct. 4 for a San Luis Obispo concert showcasing the 18th century instrument that inspired the Oscar-winning film “The Red Violin.” And the symphony is currently seeking suggestions for its first-ever “by request” concert in March 2015, which will feature works selected by members of the public.

Feingold, who will live in Los Osos, said he wants to preserve the symphony’s connection with concertgoers whose habits are shifting. “The challenge for the orchestra is to make sure what we do remains interesting to people,” he said.

The San Luis Obispo Symphony has an annual budget of $1.3 million, according to Lisa Nauful, the organization’s assistant executive director and communications director.

About 5,000 people attend classical and chamber concerts each year, she said, while music education programs reach 16,000 children and adults annually.