“The work of orchestras takes place in the ever-changing public sphere, where we enjoy the benefits of public policy that affords us indispensable economic rewards, in exchange for providing public benefit. What is that public benefit, or impact, and how do we describe it? How do we achieve the greatest impact?” asked League of American Orchestras President and CEO Jesse Rosen at the opening session of the League’s 2018 National Conference. Rosen’s probing comments set the tone for Conference while expanding on the event’s overarching theme: “Creating the Greatest Impact.” Held in Chicago from June 13 to 15 and hosted by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the League’s 73rd Conference drew high praise for its timeliness and relevance.

Issues of pressing concern were at the forefront, with sessions addressing the urgency of diversity, equity, and inclusion; the evolving roles of orchestras in shifting societal ecosystems; increasing the representation of women and people of color as composers; orchestras’ groundbreaking approaches to community engagement; confronting sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era; and much more. Musicians offered their perspectives in often deeply personal ways. Vijay Gupta, a violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and an advocate for artistic voices in social justice, spoke about his work with communities experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and incarceration. Violinist Jennifer Koh movingly evoked her experiences as a young musician and challenged orchestras to work toward true representation of our diverse country. After performing the world premiere of a double concerto by Michael Abels with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras, Anthony McGill (principal clarinet, New York Philharmonic) and Demarre McGill (principal flute, Seattle Symphony) discussed equity and inclusion at orchestras with Jeri Lynne Johnson, founder and artistic director of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra. At the Conference’s closing session, Yo-Yo Ma advocated for the central value of culture during a period of sweeping social upheaval—and urged orchestras to help find new ways ahead. Ma also received the Gold Baton, the League’s highest honor, given annually for distinguished service to America’s orchestras. 

The League gave the Ford Musician Awards for Excellence in Community Service to Jeffrey Barker, associate principal flute, Seattle Symphony; John R. Beck, principal percussionist, Winston-Salem Symphony; Jody Chaffee, community engagement director, flute, Firelands Symphony Orchestra; Erin Hannigan, principal oboe, Dallas Symphony Orchestra; and Juan R. Ramírez Hernández, violin, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. 

Innovative thinking and essential information about highly specific topics were offered at sessions including Crisis Communications for Orchestras, Tactics for Building and Sustaining a Diverse Board, Project Inclusion: Leadership Pipelines on Stage and in Management, Trends in Arts Grantmaking, and The Post-Tax Reform Philanthropic Landscape.

Music occupied pride of place at the Conference. Led by Music Director Riccardo Muti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed works of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, with Yo-Yo Ma the soloist in Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2. A perfect Midwestern summer night was the backdrop when the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, led by Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar, performed works by Sean Shepherd, Haydn, and Walton in Millennium Park. At the closing session, Music Director Mei-Ann Chen conducted Chicago Sinfonietta’s Project Inclusion Ensemble, a talent development program for musicians, conductors, and administrators of color, in scores by Jennifer Higdon and Vivian Fung. 

For more on the 2018 Conference, including highlights, videos, and handouts, visit https://americanorchestras.org/conference-2018-highlights/ (member login required).