The New York Philharmonic has named Matthew VanBesien as its next executive director, succeeding Zarin Mehta, who will retire in September after a 12-year tenure leading the orchestra.
VanBesien has been the managing director of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, in Australia, since February 2010. Previously, he was the executive director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, from 2005 to 2009. Other past posts include positions with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Aspen Music Festival and the Phoenix Symphony.
A native of St. Louis, Missouri, VanBesien, 42, received a bachelor of music degree in French horn performance from Indiana University, and played French horn in the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra from 1992 to 2000.
VanBesien will work closely with music director Alan Gilbert to shape the orchestra's artistic profile while tackling a number of managerial challenges. The orchestra has cut down its recurring deficits, which currently top $1 million, but it also faces $24 million in unfunded pension liabilities and potentially challenging contract negotiations with its musicians.
Additionally, the Philharmonic’s four-year contract with the musicians expired on Sept. 20. While they have continued to perform, players also voted to authorize their union to call a strike.
Philharmonic officials have also said that their artistic home, Avery Fisher Hall, is in need of renovations, which will mean displacing the orchestra for an extended period.
VanBesien will manage a budget of roughly $68 million, and oversee an institution that gets a much larger percentage of its funding from private sources than the Melbourne Symphony, which receives generous government support.
Among VanBeisen's initiatives in Melbourne was an expanded menu of pops programming, with concerts by Burt Bacharach and the Beach Boys and movie and TV scores like "The Lord of the Rings" and "Doctor Who." VanBeisen also oversaw the orchestra through the renovation of its concert hall. Melbourne posted a slight surplus of $31,420 for the 2010 calendar year.
The Philharmonic struggled to find a replacement for Mehta, with at least six candidates turning the job down, according to The New York Times. Mehta earned $860,210 in pay and benefits in 2009-10. The Philharmonic has declined to name VanBesien's salary.