ST. PETERSBURG — Michael Pastreich, the longest-serving president and CEO of the Florida Orchestra in its 50-year history, is resigning after 11 years leading the orchestra.
Pastreich, 52, said he made the decision while in Australia on a long-planned summer sabbatical.
"I’d been debating it awhile and I decided this was the right time," Pastreich told the Times. "Between the orchestra’s 40th anniversary and the 50th, I’ve had a wonderful time. I thought it was important that I step out while the job is still a lot of fun."
He picked the aftermath of a pinnacle season to step back. The orchestra’s once struggling financial picture has improved steadily since Pastreich left his previous position as executive director of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra in Illinois to join the orchestra in 2007. He and the rest of the orchestra’s leadership jammed the 50th season with fireworks, from commissioning a string of short fanfares by Florida composers to premiering a new work by Brandon’s Michael Ippolito, an emerging major voice; and enlisting Sting to headline the annual fundraising gala, a tradition Pastreich started of luring powerhouse musical talents including Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman.
In his time at the helm, the orchestra has achieved record concert attendance, become more involved in the community and grown its endowment from $8 million to $21 million. A major growth factor entailed reducing ticket prices in 2011 to a range of $15 to $45. Paid attendance has since increased by 49 percent and eliminated the orchestra’s debt. The success has run against a national trend; overall orchestra attendance declined by 10.5 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to a League of American Orchestras study.
"This orchestra has become one of the more vibrant orchestras in the country, and in some one ways one of the most innovative," Pastreich said in late June. "But it’s a cautious innovation."
The job he’s leaving requires caution because all orchestras schedule well in advance, ahead of having much of the needed money in hand through attendance, grants or donations. Artist commitments for the 2019-2020 season, for example, are nearly locked down now, said Janet Paroo, who chairs the board of directors. Programs go to press in February.
Paroo was one of the few Pastreich told that he might be considering leaving.
"There is never a good time for an orchestra to lose the CEO," Paroo said, "but I think after the 50th anniversary and taking a sabbatical he was able to pause and say, ‘Maybe what I came here to do, I have done.’?"
The sabbatical was Pastreich’s first with the orchestra. Ironically, a previous board designed it as an incentive to stay on, Paroo said, with CEOs becoming eligible to take it after 10 years.
"It was a retention strategy," she said. "They came up with a nice carrot after 10 years."
Pastreich grew up in St. Louis, where his father was executive director of the orchestra. He then moved with his family to San Francisco. He majored in silversmithing at Washington University of St. Louis, earning a Fulbright Scholarship — then turned down the scholarship to participate in a management program with the League of American Orchestras. He prides himself on making "so many tough decisions" with the Florida Orchestra, including hiring Emmy- and Tony-winning conductors Jeff Tyzik and Stuart Malina, respectively, to complement the music director.
He has not made up his mind what he will do next, other than spend time with his eldest daughter, Meghan, before she leaves for college. "This next month I will start thinking about what my options are and where I would like to go next," Pastreich said.
Pastreich will help with the transition through September, when his contract officially ends. Sherry Powell, the orchestra’s chief marketing officer for 12 years, will serve as interim president. Music director Michael Francis, entering his fourth season, will stay.
Jeffrey Multer, the orchestra’s concertmaster, learned of Pastreich’s plans in a courtesy call by Pastreich Monday morning. Multer was participating in the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, N.C., as musicians often do over the summer.
"I didn’t see it coming at all," Multer said. "I was surprised. But he felt it was time, and he’s left the organization in much better shape than when he found it. I’m sorry to see him go but he’s done great work for us."
The orchestra’s 51st season opens at the end of September with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, led by Francis. In the meantime, a committee of orchestra leaders and musicians will begin its search for a new president and CEO.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.