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Philadelphia Orchestra's new president 'excited to be back at the heart of a super orchestra'

Philadelphia Orchestra president-to-be Matías Tarnopolsky, out of Berkeley, has had a foot in both the orchestra and arts-presenting worlds.

Matías Tarnopolsky, currently director of Cal Performances, is newly named president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Matías Tarnopolsky, currently director of Cal Performances, is newly named president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra.Read moreTodd Rosenberg

Matías Tarnopolsky, 48, executive and artistic director of Cal Performances at the University of California, Berkeley since 2009, is set to become the Philadelphia Orchestra's new president and CEO.

The orchestra's board voted to approve the decision Monday afternoon, and Tarnopolsky has accepted the offer of an initial five-year term, officials said.

Cal Performances is a presenting organization with a major season in several artistic genres, and Tarnopolsky also has previous experience in the orchestra world. He was formerly vice president of artistic planning for the New York Philharmonic and senior director of artistic planning for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

"I'm very excited about him," said orchestra board chairman Richard B. Worley. "He's smart and I like smart, and music is his passion. I think he will be just a terrific CEO for our orchestra."

Asked what set Tarnopolsky apart from the other candidates, Worley said: "His intelligence, his warmth, and his successful experience. And very, very strong references."

Tarnopolsky said he was "excited to be back at the heart of a super orchestra," and that one factor that compelled him to leave Cal Performances was hearing the orchestra with Yannick Nézet-Séguin recently in the program of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 and the Violin Concerto by Michel van der Aa.

"This is an incredible chance to work with an organization of great unbridled artistic excellence and aspiration for the future. In Yannick we have to my mind the ideal music director, a towering musical figure who is so in love with the orchestra and the community and is eager to do more and more. And that totally aligns with my ideas and values," he said.

Tarnopolsky said he expects to take up the post and move here along with a wife and 12-year-old twins sometime in August. He follows Allison B. Vulgamore, who stepped down at the end of 2017. He and the orchestra do not yet have a signed contract, but, Worley said, "we have agreed to terms and I don't suspect it will take very long to covert the terms into an actual contract."

Nézet-Séguin has weighed in on the decision and is "very positive about the choice," said Worley.

Born in Buenos Aires and raised in London, Tarnopolsky, a trained clarinetist, holds a bachelor's and master's degree in music and musicology from the University of London, King's College.

"He looks like he would be a breath of fresh air, and that he has a deep love for classical music," said orchestra cellist Gloria dePasquale. "It looks as though he really likes bringing all the art forms together and finding ways to bring the arts to different communities, and I think that is the way orchestras need to be looking at themselves these days. He seems to have a sense of innovation and integrity. I'm very excited."

He was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture, and has served on the Curtis Institute of Music's board of overseers, the boards of New Music USA, the Barenboim-Said Foundation USA, and the executive committee of the Avery Fisher Artist Program.

"I think he'll have a big impact on the Philadelphia cultural scene," said Christopher A. Gruits, executive and artistic director of Annenberg Center Live at the University of Pennsylvania. "He's done a really fantastic job in Berkeley, and has really taken Cal Performances to the next level managerially and artistically. He's got a unique and exciting range of expertise."

Worley said the search process looked seriously at about a dozen candidates, "including strong internal candidates," and that the growth under Tarnopolsky at Cal Performances was particularly impressive.

The organization presents about 120 concerts per year — touring orchestras and dance companies, chamber music, theater, jazz, lectures, and other events.

"When he went to Cal Performances, it was struggling," said Worley, "and they will raise in contributed revenue three times more this year than the year he came. They've increased their audience. They've doubled the percentage of young people in the audience, doubled the percentage of people coming from San Francisco, increased the scope and scale, and have done it around classical music."

He has built relationships with funders, audience, and board members, Worley said, "around ideas and an ability to engender enthusiasm and shared excitement about the vision that he has had."

Susan Graham, Cal Performances' board co-chair, said Tarnopolsky has a "wonderful artistic sensibility, and he's a good manager. He's great with people." She said that as the university's financial support of the arts-presenting program has declined somewhat, the organization has had to raise more money, and that Tarnopolsky has taken to the role naturally.

"He's very good at it, because he's very outgoing and personable, and because of his leadership there's a good story to tell. And it's always easier to raise money when you have a good story."