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Tucson Symphony names UK native, veteran arts manager to lead orchestra

Tucson Symphony names UK native, veteran arts manager to lead orchestra

Paul Meecham

After a six-month nationwide search, Tucson Symphony Orchestra has hired a 30-year veteran of arts management as its new CEO.

Paul Meecham comes to the job after leading the Utah Symphony & Opera for three years and a 10-year run as CEO of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. His résumé also includes two years at the Seattle Symphony.

His first day on the job will be Monday, May 17.

The orchestra has been run since October by members of the TSO Board of Directors, who stepped in after Stephen Haines resigned in early October. TSO officials said Haines was leaving to pursue other interests after only 10 months on the job.

Haines stepped into the CEO role in December 2019 and within weeks found himself in the throes of a global pandemic that closed Tucson stages and put musicians around the globe out of work. Tucson stages are still closed, although most plan to be back in business by late summer or early fall.

Meecham said emerging from the pandemic will be the orchestra’s biggest challenge — one that could take a year or more.

“It remains to be seen what the appeal will be” for coming back to live performances, he said. “We are going to work very hard to attract audiences back to Music Hall and to ensure that there’s any protections that people need to feel safe. But it’s going to be transitional. I don’t think we can expect full halls, even if we are allowed full halls, for a season or more.”

“If everything (health-wise) continues to move in the right direction, then gradually, in a season or two, we can put this all behind us,” added Meecham, who was born in the UK and has been living in the United States for much of his professional career.

Meecham comes to Tucson as the orchestra not only navigates a post-pandemic course but deals with years of staff instability including in the CEO’s office. Meecham is the fifth person to lead the orchestra since Andrew Birgensmith left the job in March 2014 after serving less than three years.

“There has been a lot of staff turnover in the last few years and my goal is to add some stability because it’s exhausting the organization,” said Meecham, the father of two high-school-age children. “It doesn’t seem like there was any single reason … but the combination of them all has been very hard on the organization.”

Meecham also shares TSO Music Director José Luis Gomez’s vision for the orchestra, that it be “very much a part of the community as a community leader as well as an artistic leader,” he said.

And he is impressed with Gomez’s strides in his first few seasons here to reach out and connect with the Hispanic and Spanish-speaking communities. It is similar to the community outreach Meecham has done throughout his career including in Utah, where he made strides in connecting the Utah Symphony & Opera with younger audiences.

“We did a lot of good work here to make the organization appeal to a larger demographic,” he said during a Zoom call Wednesday from Utah.

“I am thrilled to have Paul Meecham as my partner and colleague at the TSO,” Gomez said in a written statement. “We already have had conversations about new ways that the TSO can fulfill its mission of transforming lives through music. Paul is both a musician and an educator, as well as an experienced artistic administrator. And he shares with me a dream of transforming TSO into an even more dynamic and creative force in the lives of the diverse communities of Southern Arizona.”

TSO Board of Trustees Chairman Jim Lindheim said Meecham is coming on board at a crucial time for the orchestra, which will roll out its 93rd season in the coming weeks.

“We have been weathering the pandemic well, but now, with vaccines, we can see that these dark days will end,”Lindheim said in a written statement. “And there is no one better than Paul Meecham to help the TSO determine how best to re-emerge into the coming post-pandemic era and head for our centennial.”

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com. On Twitter @Starburch


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