Ravinia Festival Names New President And CEO
photo by Dan Rast
The Ravinia Festival has named Welz Kauffman its new president and CEO, succeeding Zarin Mehta, who leaves at the end of the current season after ten years to become executive director of the New York Philharmonic. Kauffman starts in his new post Oct. 1.
Kauffman served as General Manager of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra from 1994 to 1995, when he was named Artistic Administrator of the New York Philharmonic. Kauffman he left the Philharmonic late last spring to become director of artistic planning for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a post he has held for only seven weeks.
In his statement about the Kauffman appointment, Ravinia board chairman David Weinberg commented that Kauffman was “regarded as one of the most innovative, intelligent, knowledgeable, hardest-working managers in the world of music,” and said he was expecting “imaginative programming and artistic risk-taking” from his new CEO.
In an interview at the beginning of September, Kauffman expressed enthusiasm for the possibilities for varied programming at Ravinia, but admitted that due to the swift and recent nature of the appointment, he had not yet had time to make any specific plans. Kauffman has some ideas about audience development, however, which he calls “the single biggest question facing all of us.” Kauffman considers “introducing young people to classical music [as] a big part of [his] mission.” He thinks that the sheer beauty of the grounds will initially attract young audiences to Ravinia. “If you have a venue, a place to go, to sit on the lawn, to have some social time, that is a great way to bring people in,” Kauffman commented.
In his post at the New York Philharmonic, Kauffman acted as an advocate for twentieth-century repertoire, planning Copland, Gershwin, and Weill “mini-festivals.” These festivals encompassed a wide array of activities, including full orchestra concerts, cabaret evenings, new music and chamber performances, seminars and symposia. Kauffman feels that these events helped to encourage a more general interest in new music by “giving people a context, a personal connection.” One aspect of the Copland Festival he cited as particularly effective was the use of technology: audience members were greeted by a video of Copland and Bernstein as they entered the hall, and they were also given access to individual listening stations in the lobby. Kauffman claims that this “added such a terrific element” that Philharmonic staff “had to scoot people out the door” at the end of the show so the stagehands could go home to bed!
While at the Philharmonic, Kauffman also started the “American Classics” initiative that surveyed 40 years (1930s-’70s) of classic American music, and oversaw the entire production of the Philharmonic’s performance and recording of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.
As Director of Artistic Planning at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Kauffman supervised all of the orchestra’s programming, including its 12-week summer festival at the Hollywood Bowl. Like Ravinia, that festival features wide-ranging musical presentations of jazz and world music in addition to visiting classical artists.
Prior to his posts in St. Paul, New York and Los Angeles, Kauffman, a native Californian, was artistic administrator for the Atlanta Symphony, and general manager of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. He attended Occidental College, where he studied music and political science.