The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra's loss is Houston's gain as it was announced this afternoon that Mark C. Hanson will leave his position as president and executive director of that organization to take the reins as executive director and CEO of the Houston Symphony, beginning May 1.
He will replace Matthew VanBesien, who resigned to become managing director of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The announcement was made by Bobby Tudor, Houston Symphony Society president.
At a time when symphonies across the country are experiencing shrinking audiences and decreasing budgets, Hanson's arrival bodes well for Houston—if his performance in Milwaukee is any indication of what he can accomplish here.
Working with symphony administrative staff and a strong board of directors in that city, Hanson helped increase average capacity sold from 58 percent in 2004 to 70 percent in 2009. During his tenure, annual income contributed from individuals, foundations and corporations more than doubled.
Under his leadership, artistic projects expanded as well with the Milwaukee symphony performing Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand, Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle with sets designed by famed glass artist Dale Chihuly and a Naxos recording of Roberto Sierra's Missa Latina with the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus. Hanson negotiated two four-year orchestra contracts and directed an unprecedented local Internet agreement that allowed the MSO to become the first American orchestra to release live recordings on iTunes.
In a prepared statement, Tudor said, "We feel that his energy and experience, especially his successes in Milwaukee, will be instrumental in continuing the forward progress at the Houston Symphony." Hans Graf, symphony music director, expressed similar praise.
Hanson, 36, is familiar with the Houston landscape and the Houston Symphony, where he trained for a stint during the 1997-98 season as part of a year-long leadership program sponsored by the League of American Orchestras' Orchestra Management Fellowship Program. His wife, Christina Hanson, is a graduate of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University.
A Boston native, Hanson began his undergraduate studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., where he majored in cello performance. He later transferred to Harvard University where he earned a bachelor's degree in Social Studies.