Breaking: Big Five boss is stepping down

Breaking: Big Five boss is stepping down


norman lebrecht

November 04, 2014

Gary Hanson, executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra, has told his board to search for a successor. He’s taking early retirement a year from now, after 11 years as chief and 28 with the orchestra.

He recently renewed Franz Welser-Möst’s contract as music director to 2022, ensuring artistic continuity.

Hanson, a Canadian, is one of the most thoughtful and resourceful managers on a depleted US scene. He has kept the orchestra afloat in a troubled city economy by establishing residencies in Miami and several European festivals. Cleveland is in good shape, but it will need to search high and wide for a visionary leader for the next decades. No obvious names spring to mind.

Press release below:




CLEVELAND  – Gary Hanson, Executive Director of The Cleveland Orchestra, has announced his plans to retire in October, 2015.  At the time of his retirement, Mr. Hanson will have served the institution for almost 28  years, with more than 11 years in his current position.


In making the announcement, Gary Hanson said, “Leading our extraordinary staff in the service of this great Orchestra is a true privilege.  I’m proud of our accomplishments together in a time of immense change and challenge for orchestras.  At the same time, I look forward to turning over the reins late next year to the next executive leader who can pursue ever-greater institutional achievements.”


Mr. Hanson continued: “It is an honor for me to share in the stewardship of  this remarkable Orchestra, which means so much to me, especially the opportunity to work side-by-side with Franz Welser-Möst, whose artistic and institutional impact is without peer in the world today.  Likewise, I have been fortunate to serve the dedicated and generous Board of the Musical Arts Association under three visionary Presidents, James D Ireland III, Richard J. Bogomolny, and for the past five years,  Dennis W. LaBarre.”


Commenting on Mr. Hanson’s forthcoming retirement, Music Director Franz Welser-Möst said: “I have enjoyed a great partnership and warm relationship with Gary for more than a decade.  For me, the highlights of his many achievements are the innovations which he has pursued with incredible energy, wisdom, and intelligence.  I look forward to our final year working together as we seek to evolve this great and storied institution to be ready for the future.”


Board President, Dennis LaBarre, noted that “Gary Hanson’s plan to retire at the end of his current contract follows our ongoing consideration of well-planned and orderly leadership transitions. I am very grateful that Gary is providing ample time for the Board to identify the next Executive Director and ensure a seamless succession. I also appreciate Gary’s ongoing tireless efforts on behalf of The Cleveland Orchestra and look forward to his continuing contributions to our progress over the coming year.”


Gary Hanson joined the Orchestra’s staff in 1988 as Director of Marketing and Public Relations, a post he held until 1997 when he was appointed Associate Executive Director.  In that role, Mr. Hanson led the renovations of Severance Hall and Blossom Music Center.  He began his tenure as Executive Director in early 2004, as the eighth individual to serve as the Orchestra’s senior executive since its founding.


Under his executive leadership,  The Cleveland Orchestra has earned a reputation for innovation based on new initiatives and programs, including its annual residency in Miami, the addition of staged opera and ballet to the season in Cleveland, and the development of the nation’s youngest audience for a symphony orchestra.   In partnership with Franz Welser-Möst, Mr. Hanson has led the expansion of the Orchestra’s international presence and the redoubling of its commitment to education and community engagement.


Mr. Hanson plans to retire in Cleveland where he will devote time as a volunteer with civic organizations in addition to consulting in the music industry.



  • sdReader says:

    What is “Big Five”?

  • John Richmond says:

    I could be wrong (it’s happened before), but I suspect that the reference is to the “Big Five” orchestras in the U.S.: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Chicago.

    • sdReader says:

      What’s big about them? Their halls? Their payrolls? Their bankruptcies?

      • Matthew says:

        It’s an outdated term to be sure but I believe it originated in the 1950s to refer to the American orchestras with the most prestige, largest guaranteed wages, biggest recording contracts, longest seasons, etc. All these metrics were used at the time to determine which orchestras were best.

        Things have obviously changed since then. Nowadays, I don’t think any knowledgable person would make a list of the top US orchestras and not include San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis and more.

  • Mark says:

    I see this is a potentially positive development for the CO. The CO/FWM partnership is one that is heralded little outside of the CO’s publicity department, and Mr. Hanson appears to have been one of its most primary and vocal proponents. The recent announcement of Franz Welser-Möst staying in Cleveland even longer was a big disappointment to me. As a result, the CO is off of my donation list, and I’ve asked to be removed from calls and emails.