News: ASO hires Cleveland Orchestra GM Jennifer Barlament as executive director

Jennifer Barlament begins her job in January. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)
Jennifer Barlament begins her job in January. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)
Jennifer Barlament begins her job in January. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)
Jennifer Barlament begins her job in January. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, coming off its strongest financial year in more than a decade, has hired a new executive director.

The symphony announced yesterday that Jennifer Barlament, currently general manager of the renowned Cleveland Orchestra, will assume her duties in January.

It will be a homecoming for Barlament, 42, who graduated from Emory University with a degree in music, followed by a master’s degree in clarinet performance at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York. 

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra,” Barlament said in a press release. “It is especially poignant for me to come home to Georgia to serve a city and an orchestra that I love, working with Robert Spano, one of the great original thinkers in American classical music.”

Barlament said she wants to build on Atlanta’s legacy and carry it forward.

The Cleveland Orchestra is considered one of the “Big Five” in the United States, along with symphonies in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Barlament has worked in Cleveland since 2013, where she is responsible for all facilities, orchestra operations, touring, media, front of the house operations and collective bargaining. Before that, she was the general manager of the Omaha Symphony in Nebraska and then the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.

She was hired in Atlanta following an international search to replace Stanley Romanstein, who resigned last October during the lockout. The ASO has since been led on an interim basis by Terry Neal, a retired Coca-Cola executive who stabilized the orchestra and gained the confidence of the musicians.

Kirk Jamieson, chairman of the ASO’s board of directors, said Barlament is charged with taking the orchestra to the next level. “Jennifer’s demonstrated success at the Cleveland Orchestra … along with her ability to innovate and develop connections within the community, made her the ideal candidate for this position,” he said.

Daniel Laufer, the ASO’s associated principal cellist and president of the Players Association, was one of four musicians on the search committee.

“We look forward to welcoming Jennifer to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra as she transitions to us from one of the most respected orchestras in our field,” Laufer told ArtsATL last night. “The musicians of the ASO are grateful for and invigorated by the leadership of Terry Neal as our interim CEO and the ongoing leadership of Robert Spano. With the exciting announcement of our new executive director, all of us look forward to returning to a brighter and stronger future worthy of this great orchestra and this great city.”

The past few years have been among the darkest in the ASO’s history. There were lockouts that delayed the seasons in 2012 and 2014, and those followed 11 years of deficits.

In 2012, the musicians accepted a contract that reduced the number of musicians from 95 to 88 players. In 2014, that number had dipped to 77, and the lockout prompted music director Robert Spano and principal guest conductor Donald Runnicles to say the integrity of the orchestra was at stake. 

The contract ratified in November calls for the number of musicians to be restored to 88 by the end of the four-year deal.

In July, the Woodruff Arts Center — the ASO’s parent organization — announced that the orchestra closed out the abbreviated 2014-15 concert season with a six-figure surplus. Additionally, the WAC kicked off a fundraising effort that has so far raised $14.3 million — more than half of its $25 million goal — for the Musicians’ Endowment Campaign, which will pay for the additional 11 musicians.

The ASO’s 2015-16 season kicks off Thursday on the high notes of new financial stability and the promise of new leadership.

The season is dedicated to the memory of Robert Shaw, who served as music director and conductor of the ASO for more than two decades. From 1967 to 1988, Shaw oversaw the ascendancy of the ASO and the ASO Chorus and Chamber Chorus; both garnered widespread critical acclaim and popularity around the globe. 

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