US orchestra deputy chief dies suddenly, aged 56

We are sad to report the death of Roger Nelson, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Grand Rapids Symphony, a man widely liked across the music industry. He died suddenly at home on Thursday.

Roger joined the orchestra as a double-bass player in 1987 and performed for 17 years.

In 2002 he became part-time Operations Manager, and two years later full-time Director of Operations. In 2005 he rose to Vice President and General Manager.

Obituary here.

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  • Very sad news indeed. The Grand Rapids Symphony just promoted their “interim” CEO to become the permanent CEO. He is a former board member with no orchestra management or performing arts management experience at all. One hopes he will be wise enough to hire a highly experienced VP/COO with solid orchestra experience.

    • He has no orchestra management experience, except for all the years he was on the board of the orchestra, managing it.

      I know what you mean – perhaps he doesn’t have a background as a musician or arts administrator – but I think sometimes people forget that the board actually is the orchestra’s ultimate management. They know everything there is to know about the finances and fundraising, major hiring and personnel decisions, etc. The CEO reports to the board.

      Obviously everyone on the NY Phil’s 100+ member board isn’t that qualified to step in to a staff role. But I will give you another example – the San Francisco Symphony, nobody’s idea of a shoddy organization, hired a board member to be its first chief operating officer, and he’s now serving as the interim CEO while a new one is being hired. He had no arts management experience; but he was a successful businessman, he knows how to run an organization, and the board evidently trusts him to do this. The board does NOT want incompetent leadership, and a good board will recognize if they are making a bad decision. If this person in Grand Rapids had not proved himself a decent manager, the board would not have just appointed him to a permanent role.

  • Roger Nelson began his musical life playing in the Waukesha Symphony (now the Wisconsin Philharmonic). As its current music director I just want to say how saddened I am by the sudden passing of this great professional.

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