Under Pressure
Naples Philharmonic's New CEO & President,
Kathleen van Bergen

by Julie Clay

ON SEPTEMBER 1st, 2011, the Naples Philharmonic welcomed Kathleen van Bergen as CEO & President, succeeding founder Myra Janco Daniels. Her qualifications speak for themselves. Immediately prior to the Phil, Ms. Van Bergen served as artistic and executive director at the acclaimed Shubert Club in St. Paul, Minnesota. Previously, she worked for two of the country’s leading orchestras: the Philadelphia Orchestra as vice president of artistic planning, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, where she was vice president and director of artistic administration. It was during her tenure in St. Louis that the orchestra received and matched a $40 million endowment gift. A native of Andover, New Jersey, van Bergen holds a bachelor’s degree in violin performance from the Eastman School of Music and an executive master of business administration degree from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

I spoke with Kathleen shortly after she joined the Naples Philharmonic.

What was it that attracted you to Naples when you’ve worked with some of the most illustrious orchestras in the country?

We have the chance to have multidisciplinary projects here. I was here with the St. Louis symphony orchestra and Philadelphia. I saw the generosity of spirit and was stimulated by the arts center here.

What kind of pressure are you feeling to fill Myra Janco Daniels’ shoes?

I love pressure. I thrive under pressure. I think some of that comes from my performing background. What Myra has built is not only an incredible facility, but there’s a terrific group of people that makes this happen. On the cheeky side I had someone say to me, “You have some huge shoes to fill but you’re tall, so it’s OK.” I appreciate everyone’s sensitivity toward this pressure, it’s good. (Board Chairman) Alan Hilfiker and I have been having an open exchange of ideas. There’s a wonderful resource of ideas and people on the Board and they all center around the arts.

The Philadelphia orchestra is one of the greatest orchestras in the country and it’s almost out of business. The Syracuse symphony orchestra closed down this past year, and Louisville is struggling too. What are some of your plans for making sure the Phil stays fiscally healthy?

American orchestras are in a state of flux. I’m glad there are colleagues willing to share what’s working and what’s not working. I hope to work with them for what can happen in Naples. It’s also good that this is an arts organization. We’re celebrating our 30th anniversary This year and it’s also Jorge Mester’s 10th and final year, so we’re looking for our next Music Director and experimenting with what’s going to work here in the future.

Do you oversee just the music end of the Phil, or the entire organization, arts included?

The CEO position is for the entire center. It’s my job to see the larger artistic message for the organization as well as maintain the finance and administration. I very much respect the art/finance balance. I think that’s a critical yin-yang with the arts ecology. I feel that if I can articulate a vision that is relevant to the community that they will support it financially. I find that creative people work better with boundaries. I feel strongly in the value of relationships and good stewardship of donors, audience members and supporters. Deepening and broadening of the base will be a priority.

What was your part in the $40 million gift to the orchestra in St. Louis?

The orchestra was going through a very difficult financial time. The Taylor family of Enterprise Rent a Car believed in the orchestra and made a $40 million matching gift. The late CEO Andy Adams was responsible for the gift and I was VP at the time. It was an organization and community-wide commitment to match it. The goal was to really preserve the St. Louis Symphony as well as to have that base for the future. At that time (1999) the gift was the largest made to an orchestra. I’m happy to say there have been bigger gifts since.

Much of the classical audience has been cultivated with education. What are some of your ideas for bringing in younger people, both as fans and orchestra members?

We’re absolutely committed to the next generation. We have a wonderful youth orchestra and youth chorale program, and they have been performing for schools. There is nothing more inspiring than watching kids walking into the Phil and seeing them say “Wow!” You hear them applauding and cheering during the performance! I am also a product of public school performances. I remember going to the New Jersey Symphony and having musicians come to our schools. The tradition of a youth orchestra is equally important as an adult orchestra. You usually see young artists who blossom. Some of them go off to music school, some of them study the arts. You get it instilled in their DNA. We have a great scholarship program for members of the youth orchestra. I just want to foster more and more the relationship between the professional and youth orchestras. We do a concert called the ”Major/minor” concert with both orchestras onstage playing together. It’s terrific to watch.

Do you have a dream artist you’d want to bring to town who hasn‘t been here yet?

One of my favorite jazz artists is Esperanza Spalding. Most people know her because she won Best Artist at the Grammys. She has not been to Naples yet and I hope we can bring her here. I am focused on finding the greatest talent on stage that can relate to our community and wants to be here. I believe this region has the capacity and the diversity and the desire to have relationships with the artists.

Any new programs you’d like to initiate?

We have started a ‘rush ticket’ program this season. We are setting aside 50 tickets for $15 for any concert involving the orchestra and 15 tickets for $15 for concerts in the Daniels Pavillion. These tickets are available only two hours before the concert. It is a way for us to reach out to a community that likes to plan last minute. It’s all in celebration of 30 years of The Phil.

I would love to see the Naples Museum of Art and Philharmonic have an artist and composer be a part of this team. There’s tremendous chemistry that happens when the audience can talk to them about the process and influence, and discuss what their inspirations are. I also believe in the power of what artists do in their community. I would like to find a way to support having those resident energies here. Wouldn’t that be an inspiration to know someone can create week in and week out, and to see how they can create for the space specifically? I think we have a lot of inspiration for an artist. •

from the November-December 2011 issue

“What Myra has built is not
only an incredible facility
but there’s a terrific group
of people that makes
this happen.”