This episode John met with Simon Woods, CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who is changing the way orchestras engage their communities. John met Simon in his office at the Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA, where the LA Phil plays during the winter, and talked about his experiences working with orchestras around the world. Simon revealed his approach to tailoring community engagement to each orchestra’s unique context, and it may surprise you to learn how far reaching the impact of this approach has been.
Links to subjects mentioned:
- The Los Angeles Philharmonic
- The Walt Disney Concert Hall
- Abbey Road Studios
- The Philadelphia Orchestra
- The Royal Scottish National Orchestra
- The Seattle Orchestra
- The Community Connections Program of the Seattle Orchestra
- Street Symphony
- The Centennial of the LA Phil
- Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA)
- YOLA’s upcoming Inglewood location
- Inglewood Mayor James Butts
- Power to the People – LA Phil
- Eric Booth
- The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon
Listen to our other podcasts here or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play
John Bwarie: So where are we?
Simon Woods: Well, we’re at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. We’re in the CEO’s office, which is here at the back of the hall looking over the construction site for the metro downtown connector. Not a very glamorous view, but a very important step forward for our community.
John Bwarie: And how long have you been at the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for?
Simon Woods: A year and a half.
John Bwarie: A year and a half, but this is not your first rodeo as they say?
Simon Woods: No.
John Bwarie: You’ve been working with orchestras for years. Tell me a bit how you started in this space?
Simon Woods: Well, I grew up in a family that loved music, and I played the clarinet in youth orchestras. I have a music degree, and I wanted to be a conductor originally. I studied composition and conducting and that was always my goal in life, to be a conductor. But in the end, I realized that was not going to work out for me. I had an abundance of enthusiasm which was not matched by the talent. I realized though that I wanted to stay close to music and to orchestras. I ended up spending almost a decade in the recording industry at Abbey Road Studios in London for EMI as a recording producer. Really up close with orchestras and with classical music artists, conductors, soloists. It was an amazing decade actually as the CD boom was happening in a really big way.
It was a very exciting time, but then I had an urge to get back on to the non-profit side. I went to work in 1997 for the Philadelphia Orchestra as a chief artistic planner. I planned all the concert programs and I’ve been working with orchestras ever since in different places in the US and the UK. I suppose what drives me to this day is that I still think the idea of 100 people playing in a synchronized and harmonious way on a stage is one of human kind’s most beautiful creations. I really cling to that as a unique jewel in the arts.
John Bwarie: I think it’s a great example. We’re on the Community Intelligence podcast, and there’s this idea of these communities, 100 people each with their own job, if you will, and their own expertise, coming together to make something even greater.
Simon Woods: Exactly.
John Bwarie: That’s a really great example of what is being done in a lot of issues in a lot of areas around the country. In terms of the work you’re doing, you started in Philadelphia and then you’ve been in a number of places. I know that just before coming to Los Angeles you were in Seattle. Before that you were in Scotland.
Simon Woods: Yeah.
John Bwarie: The head of the national orchestra. What’s it like? I mean, you can’t be any more different probably than Los Angeles and Scotland in terms of just culture, and history, and identity.
Simon Woods: This is true.
John Bwarie: With those two and all the others, what is it like managing orchestras within different cities? What’s the same about them? What makes them different?
Simon Woods: I guess I’ve always been fascinated by getting to the pearl of an organization and what it means to its community and its environment. I think that every orchestra in every community plays a different role, and it’s the same for all kinds of arts organizations. They play different roles according to the communities around them. Now Scotland, for example, the orchestra there is the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and it’s interesting because though it is based in Glasgow it is not a city orchestra. It’s a national orchestra, and funded directly by the Scottish Government.
It’s very much regarded as an agent of national pride and national identity. This sense of a major arts organization as an advocate for a nation with a proud sense of culture, history, and identity is very interesting. We built on that in many ways by thinking about how we played across the whole country and by how we tapped into the particular spirit of the Scottish people in our programming. Really connecting to Scottish traditional music. Really connecting with Scottish traditions. It’s an orchestra which has an incredibly strong sense of identity, as well as being, by the way, a very, very fine orchestra with a long history and a long recording history.
Then I went to Seattle which couldn’t have been more different. When I arrived in Seattle, there was a bit of a paradox. The orchestra was a relatively traditional institution, one of the most important arts institutions in the city. But Seattle, of course, is not a traditional city. It’s anything but. Seattle, as I always used to say to people, is the city that redefined flying, with Boeing, coffee, with Starbucks, retail, with Amazon, and the list goes on. It’s a city that inspires people to think differently. There’s a strong and deeply ingrained sense of innovation there.
The other thing that distinguishes Seattle is that it’s an extremely progressive city with a very, very compassionate sense of community. We were very interested to tap into that. Then the third thing in Seattle was it has this amazing popular music tradition rooted in grunge. You would think that unassailable for an orchestra, but in fact we actually built many ways in which we could connect with the music of Pearl Jam and Nirvana, and other great music from grunge artists. For Seattle, the localization of the orchestra as a real orchestra of Seattle, not just in Seattle, was all about innovation, community, and its musical history.
John Bwarie: Let’s home in on that community piece. You said there was this sense of community and compassion there. How did that manifest? How did you bring the orchestra to align with that sense of community? What examples can you give me?
Simon Woods: Well, all sorts of examples. First of all, very early on one of the first decisions I made when I went to Seattle was I saw that we had too many empty seats, and decided to repurpose those empty seats for the community. We started this community connections program with just four or five non-profit partners inviting people in to come to the hall for free. By the time I left, the community connections program had over 60 partners, and we were working with military groups, with church groups, with the homeless community – more of that in a moment perhaps – with new immigrant populations, with people just coming out of prison…
Every kind of non-profit group serving the community, we were working with them and bringing them into the hall. There was a pyramid of relationships: at the simplest level it was just about letting people have access to the incredible music, and then it became a little bit deeper. We built some partnerships where we would actually go into community environments and play. Then at the top of the pyramid we really built some very deep collaborative relationships particularly with the homeless community. It burgeoned into this very richly textured relationship with different community groups.
John Bwarie: What was the reaction from your subscribers and patrons that were already filling the seats, looking around and seeing some different kinds of folks in the hall? Was the reaction immediately, “yes,” or was it, “I’m wondering what’s going on here?”
Simon Woods: I don’t ever remember hearing anything untoward from that point of view. In fact, I’d say quite the reverse when it comes to the homeless community actually. One of the stereotypes we were trying to bust about the homeless community was the stereotype of what a homeless person is, because when we first … Let me go back and just talk a little bit about the homeless program. It was really interesting…
When the mayor of Seattle and the King County Executive declared a state of emergency back in, I’m going to say 2015 or 2016, we thought, “well, maybe we can play our part in some way. We can’t put roofs over people’s heads, but maybe we can find some way to nourish them spiritually.” We gathered together a group of the homelessness partners that we’ve been working with through this community connections program, and we said to them, “How can we help?” And we brainstormed…
John Bwarie: Instead of deciding an answer, you asked them first?
Simon Woods: Yes. That’s very important, the question of how you find out what a community needs. Well, it’s a very simple answer. You ask them. We started with this dialogue, where we said to the homeless community, “We don’t want to wade into this area unless we can provide some value. What’s the value that we can provide?” Part of what they said was, “Well, yes of course, the experience of letting people who have difficult lives have access to beauty was high on the list.” That we were expecting. Another part that we were expecting was, yes, creative music making. Letting people make music. If a homeless person who plays a guitar is able to come and sit with symphony musicians and play, that is a deeply wonderful experience. That we expected as well.
What we didn’t expect was the part about, “could you use your platform as a major arts organization to help us dispel the images of what homeless people are?” We really loved that, and as we all got to know this community, we came to understand that many of our subscribers have the traditional image of people living with homelessness as the crack dealers on the corner of 2nd and Union Street, and in fact as you get to know them, as you delve into homelessness in Seattle – by the way this is absolutely the same in LA, and if we would talk to Vijay Gupta, who runs an organization called Street Symphony, he would absolutely bear this out – what you find is extraordinarily heart rending stories about people like you and I who have made bad decisions, had expensive medical emergencies, have lost their jobs… That’s a very long answer to the question to, “what did people in the audience think about coming into close proximity with people who were living with homelessness,” because there were times you wouldn’t know, because some of them, were literally from communities that we would find very familiar. That was very powerful and to think about how we could use the platform of a larger arts organization to dispel stereotypes was a powerful part of what the community program could be, – and not one that we were expecting, by the way.
John Bwarie: Let me ask you this. Is this something that is typically undertaken by orchestras? Or do you see that this is a new frontier you’re headed towards? I mean, I know what we’re talking about Seattle, now you’re here in Los Angeles, and I know that there’s programs you’re doing here as well, but is this a trend?
Simon Woods: Yeah, well I think what the trend is, orchestras thinking more broadly about their role in the world. I think if you went back 30 years, you would find an orchestra with a very clear vision of themselves playing this kind of music, delivering it to this kind of audience, and that’s basically the transaction. Now, where we are today… and people love to criticize the orchestra field as a hopelessly backward-looking field, which is really not true because if you look around the country today, I’m actually incredibly optimistic because I think the orchestra field nationally has never been more vibrant.
First of all, standards have never been higher. I mean orchestras across the US are unbelievably good, better than they’ve ever been. Many, many communities across the country have access to orchestra performances of the highest caliber. That’s a wonderful thing, but quite aside from that, orchestras are thinking very hard about what their role in society and community is, and many of them are thinking about reinventing that. They’re increasingly starting to think of themselves not just as a delivery mechanism for an art form, but as a community resource. When you start to think about yourself as a community resource, then you start to ask different questions, and every orchestra taps to its community.
In Seattle, it was about homelessness. Other orchestras are like the South Dakota Symphony which has made a major success of working with its local tribal communities. There are orchestras which have invested in different aspects of local history. There are orchestras which have built relationships with military bases, which are nearby. You do what’s right for your community and what’s relevant for your community, but you have to be thinking about that. You can’t just be playing music. You have to be thinking about how do we create that relevance for our community in our unique special way in this unique place.
John Bwarie: That’s music to my ears, to hear you think that way, but I can’t imagine that everybody in the institution of orchestras is embracing that change. How do you activate this organization when you say, “Hey, we can be different. We can be better. We still have the highest caliber performance, but we can be more relevant to our community.” How do you activate the organization from within to embrace that?
Simon Woods: Well, the first thing it’s important to say is that when you start to think about how we build deeper relationships with community, people often go to the sense of, “well, what are you going to have to compromise to do that?” I tell people again and again and again this is not about an “either or” solution. It cannot be “either or”. This has to be about “yes and”. The “yes and” is about continuing to invest in this extraordinary, what I said at the beginning, this extraordinary, amazing animal of 100 musicians playing together, which is a unique thing in the arts. We preserve, and we cherish, and we nurture that, and we also nurture the 300 years of musical tradition of the greatest music ever written for orchestras.
We’re not interested in compromising the quality of the work we’re doing, and the fact I don’t think that is happening across the country and certainly is not happening in many of the major orchestras. We’re not about to compromise the artistic standards. Those are the core of who we are. What we can do is layer on to that some really thoughtful engagement to help more people have more contact with this beautiful art form that we cherish.
John Bwarie: Here in Los Angeles, were sitting in one of the most impressive music halls in the country. Walt Disney Concert Hall. What’s it like here? I know Los Angeles and from here, it’s a big city, and a big region, Seattle’s a big city, too. Philadelphia is a big city, but Los Angeles is special. It’s really big. I’m sure you have patrons driving over an hour just to attend a concert. What’s it like here? When you got here, what were the first couple things you did to understand this community?
Simon Woods: Well, you said it right. It’s a huge city. It’s a complicated city. I’m actually less daunted by the scale of it. I grew up in London. London and LA have a similar scale. My wife complains about the long distances of driving, and I say to her, “If you just think London, you’re fine because it’s no worse than London.” It’s that same kind of scale. I’m less daunted by the scale of LA than I am by the complexity of it. As I come to understand the city, it’s a city built of parallel universes, all of which intersect in a different way, as you know, whether you’re talking about Hollywood or whether you’re talking about Beverly Hills. Or whether you’re talking about Latinx LA, or LGBTQ LA. I mean there’s all these different parallel universes which collide and bump into each other in really interesting ways. Understanding that is very interesting. It’s also very regional. I mean, whether looking at Bel Air or whether you’re looking at Southeast LA, whether you’re looking at Pasadena or the Valley, or Arcadia, it’s just remarkable the diversity of this region in every possible way.
Getting a feel for that takes a very long time. I’m a year and a half in and I’m probably one-tenth of my way into really grasping what the city is all about, but I did spend a lot of time with the LA Phil’s staff and the musicians to hear what they had to say about our organization and our environment, and I spent a lot of time especially in my first months meeting key leaders in arts and community, and the political environment across the city. It’s been a long learning journey for me, but luckily the one thing about the LA Phil that is amazing is that unlike some other organizations where I’ve gone, there really did not need to be deep immediate thought about the identity of the institution.
The LA Phil is an organization with an extremely strong identity, and by the way, when we talk about orchestras being strongly localized, the LA Phil is one of those because its current identity is absolutely bound up in its history and the history of the city and in the identity of this city. That’s already there. I think we’ve got some exciting things ahead of us in terms of how we think about the community, but there’s so much that is already great about this institution. Luckily, I’ve had the luxury of not needing to make quick change, but be able to just build on this greatness.
John Bwarie: What’s coming up working with the community? What have you got planned in the next couple years as you look at the future of the Philharmonic, as you continue to create relevance in Los Angeles?
Simon Woods: Well, I think a lot of the clues for that are in the Centennial, and if you look at the Centennial, the thing that is amazing about the way it was planned was that the people who were thinking about that within our organization thought the centennial would have two aspects: on one hand, it would be a celebration of the past, of the history and the amazing trajectory of the organization and of its artistic DNA, everything else which makes it a great orchestra; and the other part of it would be about looking forward. What does it mean to be a 21st century orchestra in Los Angeles? What does it mean to look forward? And looking forward means thinking about community.
Of the many aspects of that, one aspect of course is just simply being in communities rather than for community. When you think about community work, we talk of course about how we’re here for communities, and we want to welcome communities to our space, which we do open heartedly. We welcome communities, every community. Everybody is welcome and open to come to the Hollywood Bowl, on to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, but it has a little bit of a different meaning when you are actually in a community. When you actually go outside the confines of the castle, if you like, and you make yourself available in a much more present way. The thing we did with Celebrate LA, this wonderful street celebration of music on the streets, many different stages.
John Bwarie: It was from the concert hall to the Hollywood Bowl?
Simon Woods: Exactly, from the Walt Disney Concert Hall to the Hollywood Ball, five or six stages along that route, and music at every stage which was both Philharmonic musicians, musicians from YOLA, Youth Orchestra LA, and it was also musicians from community groups, and other recognizable LA musicians all over the city. When we think about what it means as an arts organization to be relevant to community, we have to think carefully about the prepositions. It’s not just enough to say we do what we do for the community. Sometimes when you can say we do what we do in the community it’s even more powerful. Even better, we do what we do with the community, and I think that’s a very interesting area for us, the whole question of collaborative community arts, which is a whole sub-genre of arts specialization today. I mean, what would it mean for us to really co-curate artistic content with the community?
John Bwarie: In their community?
Simon Woods: With the community, in the community, even better.
John Bwarie: Give us an example, tease us if you will. What’s coming up? Are we going to see the LA Philharmonic in neighborhoods, in new ways that we haven’t before?
Simon Woods: Immediately, yes, in neighborhoods we got a little mini LA tour coming up in September this year. We’ll be in three different neighborhoods. We’re still finalizing that, but three wonderful concerts with the Philharmonic actually in the heart of neighborhoods and they’re all venues which are very much community venues: school halls, community centers, and so on. That’s a great thing that will happen. Longer term, there’s a big question going on in the arts, which everybody is asking themselves, which is this question about decentralization. Actually, should we be on a more permanent basis investing on taking our art out of our concert hall and the Hollywood Bowl, and doing it on a regular basis, and in a more distributed way across the city. That is an especially potent question to ask in a city like Los Angeles.
John Bwarie: What would the most amazing collaboration with a community in Los Angeles be, and where?
Simon Woods: The first one of course is already happening, which is the YOLA Center in Inglewood, and I think that’s important to mention. YOLA, Youth Orchestra LA, is an extraordinary program that the LA Phil has run for pretty much 10 years. The spiritual founder of YOLA is Gustavo Dudamel. Gustavo bought this program to the LA Phil when he came here as music director, and YOLA is basically an after-school program which currently exists in four sites, YOLA at HOLA, Heart of LA, YOLA at Camino Nuevo, YOLA at Expo, and YOLA at Torres. The next step for us is that we’re actually building in Inglewood a YOLA building, a YOLA facility, which is an old bank building, which is being redesigned by Frank Gehry with acoustics by Yasuhisa Toyota, who’s the acoustician of Walt Disney Concert Hall. And this is interesting because it’s the first time we’re starting a YOLA program in a community where we’re not working with an existing partner. We’re actually building a physical building in the community, and we’re building out the YOLA Inglewood program from scratch.
John Bwarie: It still requires partnerships?
Simon Woods: It still requires partnerships, but we have to build … Rather than going in and working with an existing school, or an existing organization, we actually have to work on. It’s back to your question, the “with” community, we actually have to build the “with”, and we have to think very carefully about how do we show up as an arts organization in this community of Inglewood, which is changing so fast. How do we show up there and provide value to the community. Of course, the basic YOLA principles are the same – it’s an after-school program, but there are some really interesting questions to be asked about what else can happen in this building.
John Bwarie: Is that going to be a venue for performance?
Simon Woods: Yeah. It’s got a performance venue, and it’s got rehearsal rooms and small ensemble rooms and practice rooms. It’ll be this humming hive of musical activity in this community.
John Bwarie: There really isn’t anything like that for you in the greater Los Angeles area, right? This is really a new endeavor.
Simon Woods: It is. It’s a new endeavor.
John Bwarie: How did we think, okay we’ve got these great successful programs? Let’s now build a base. Where did that come from?
Simon Woods: Well, it started I think a few years ago, and of course, it predates my time here, but it started a few years ago when the organization was really thinking about where could we make an impact in South LA. We had the program in East LA, the program at Expo, but really wanted to provide some service in South LA, which is part of the city which has just not historically benefited from much arts access at all – which isn’t to say there aren’t artists working there. There very much are artists working there, but that has not been as much access as there could be. Inglewood was an obvious place, and in fact we owe a big thanks to Mayor James Butts of Inglewood. He’s a visionary guy who’s brought the sports teams there, and the stadium.
John Bwarie: A lot happening.
Simon Woods: There’s a tremendous amount happening.
John Bwarie: Did it start with you? Maybe let’s say this, that when the LA Phil said, “we’re going to there,” now the sports teams want to go?
Simon Woods: I think the sports teams were already in the mix, but interestingly the Mayor is very passionately attached to our project, and of course he recognizes the huge economic impact of the sports teams and the stadium, but I think what he likes about our project is this is like changing the lives of young people in his community. When you change the lives of young people, you’re also addressing their families, and you’re addressing the ecology of the community in really a wonderful way.
John Bwarie: That’s a great example. I think that many could learn from the idea of going into it, recognizing an unmet need, and then working with that community to figure out how do you fill that need with what you have to offer as an organization.
Simon Woods: Exactly.
John Bwarie: This being, not just building a Disney Concert Hall part two, where you just have more performance in that community, but rather lifting up the community through education and arts engagement.
Simon Woods: Yes, exactly, but you can’t just parachute in and say, “Here we are. Here’s our great program. Lucky you.” That’s not exactly a successful approach in community relations. What you hope is that as you get to know the community, you can find the way in which you can provide the greatest value. Now, YOLA is a very mature program. It’s a program that has been tested. It’s a program that’s effective. We know its impacts. We’ve measured some of its impacts. In a sense, it’s a mature program which you can bring into any community, but every community’s different. But what’s different about Inglewood? What’s different that we’re going to have to adapt and do some things differently to how we’ve done them in other communities.
John Bwarie: That’s actually where I want to head. There are 88 cities in this county. You’re serving greater Los Angeles while beyond probably the city limits, and even the county limits. As you as an organization look to expand and do that work in these various diverse communities, what do you have to do as an organization? What have you done with staffing to say, how do we look differently at these communities as we continue to laser focus on community? How do we do that? Because you’re running a large organization with many facets, and though community seems to be at your heart, you can’t do it all yourself. What do you do structurally here?
Simon Woods: No, we can’t do it all ourselves, and actually one of the interesting things that we have to think about for ourselves structurally is, especially when we’re thinking about equity and diversity, what are we doing to change the way we look as an organization. One of the things that we know about the relationship between arts organizations and communities is that people, especially those from communities of color, don’t want to come and participate in an organization if they don’t see themselves represented. If they don’t see themselves represented on stage, and they don’t see themselves represented in the audience, why should they feel that that’s a place they should or could be interested in. There really is a big effort needed on our part to look at ourselves, especially because orchestras have traditionally been very white organizations.
In fact, classical music has traditionally been very white and male. Now, the good news is I feel there’s probably never been more open and forward looking than it is today, and there’s tremendous work going on all over the country thinking about how we really do change. We have an amazing Fellowship program here at the LA Phil which is designed to give opportunities to musicians of color coming through. There is a national audition support network, which is a great thing, which provides financial support to musicians of color who don’t necessarily have the means to travel to auditions around the country. If you can’t afford to travel to audition you can get into an orchestra!
And then we have YOLA and what’s most amazing about YOLA is you have kids who come through the program who are showing up at all the major conservatories across the country, and showing up at major universities, and it won’t be long before they’re finally coming back into our orchestras. The orchestra world has been late to adapt to the changing demographics around us, but I think as a field we are pretty serious about it now.
John Bwarie: What you just described is a great way demonstrating that you’re aware of the world around you, and part of that being aware of the world around you is finding your place in the world that continues to change, and that the orchestra of today is not the orchestra of tomorrow, nor is it the orchestra of 10 years ago. How do you maintain that relevance in a dynamic world? What’s the approach that you guys are taking here?
Simon Woods: Well, if you look back in history, orchestras have generally had this kind of monolithic view of the universality of their art form. We’ve tended to have this idea that Beethoven and Mahler and others are timeless and are universally relevant. Actually, I’m fairly troubled by that view point because I think it makes a lot of assumptions. Of course, the music is extraordinary. It’s extraordinary music, but not everybody can find a way into it, and I think where we are today is asking ourselves: “how do we connect this extraordinary legacy and body of music that we curate,” because we are really curators of that repertoire just as art museums create physical works whether it’s Van Gogh or Leonardo, whatever.
How do we connect the extraordinary legacy that we curate to the world of today? We have recently created a new staff position here at the LA Phil, and I don’t think any other orchestra has a position quite like this, which we call Director of Humanities. The purpose of that position is to surround our core musical content with activity – everything from symposiums or talks, or lectures, to materials, blog posts, or social media related activity, which creates a whole vast range of different ways of connecting the music to what’s relevant to people today. It’s about it’s how we create new access points for people who are new to our artform?
John Bwarie: Is that considering where people are coming from, right?
Simon Woods: Yes. It’s thinking about contemporary relevance for example. In the world we are in today, what are the big things that are going on in society and how do we connect them back? If you think about the big things we’re looking at in society and politics – migration and homelessness and race and identity. Those are-
John Bwarie: Huge topics.
Simon Woods: Huge topics, but of course they play out in classical music as well. There’s fascinating ways in which we can connect them to the work we do. We have a great example of that coming next season, we have a festival, which we’re calling Power to the People, where we’re going to look at musical protest and how music has influenced social change and human rights, and it’s going to be a really a vibrant canvass to connect to some of the big issues of today.
John Bwarie: Does it ever get easier working with community? Being relevant in a space like an orchestra?
Simon Woods: I don’t think it gets easier, but I don’t think easier is necessarily interesting. I think we’re in a really interesting place right now because all the assumptions about the role that an orchestra can play in its community are being rethought. We’re not just thinking about what 40 or 50 years ago was the model, which was basically a transaction. We play great music, you come to hear us. That was the transaction. It was very clear and it was defined.
Now, we think about what are the things we do beyond that. What is the role we play in reaching young people’s lives? What role do we play in the sense of creating a sense of local identity and playing to local identity in this city we live in? What role do we play in health? I mean many organizations are thinking about music as it relates to mental health, as it relates to children who have learning disabilities. Children on the autism spectrum. There are all sorts of ways in which we can intersect with that. We’re redefining our civic role in much broader ways now than we were 50 years ago.
John Bwarie: Well, I’m excited to see what’s next. Being an Angelino, I’m excited that you’re leading our city’s orchestra as we’re trying to do more to make our city livable and to be relevant. Thank you for that. Before we close, I’ve got a couple questions for our lightning round.
Simon Woods: Sure.
John Bwarie: Let’s get into it. Here we go. You ready?
Simon Woods: I’m ready.
John Bwarie: Okay. Who’s a leader who has influenced you in your work?
Simon Woods: There’s a guy called Eric Booth whose one of the leading arts educationalists in the US, and Eric is somebody I’ve known for 20 years now. I have worked on and off with him, and Eric’s big mantra and lesson for all of us in the arts is “engagement before information”. Information is not interesting. People seek engagement with what we do.
John Bwarie: That’s great. What book has changed the way you think about your work in community?
Simon Woods: Recently the book that I have most enjoyed it Nina Simon’s book, The Art of Relevance. Nina Simon is the director of the Santa Cruz Art Museum, and has really thought deeply about how you as a museum think about touching the lives of people in your community directly with things that are relevant to them. It’s a really wonderful read.
John Bwarie: What advice would you give a 25-year-old you?
Simon Woods: Think about the questions before the answers.
John Bwarie: Nice. What advice do you have for parents who want to expose their children to music in a way that will inspire a life-long relationship?
Simon Woods: Well, that’s an easy one because there is so much evidence to support the idea that learning an instrument is the biggest indicator of loving music later in life. Let them learn an instrument.
John Bwarie: What inspired your relationship with music?
Simon Woods: While my parents were not musicians, they absolutely love music and I grew up with my parents’ eclectic and wonderful record collection, LP collection as it was then, which was everything from jazz, to classical, to medieval music, to American musicals. To this day, I have very eclectic tastes!
John Bwarie: Awesome. What was the best career decision you’ve ever made?
Simon Woods: Not to be a conductor. I really had my heart set on being a conductor, but I realized that there were many, many, many people who would be doing that way better than I would ever be doing it.
John Bwarie: What, so far, has been your proudest professional moment?
Simon Woods: Look, who couldn’t be proud at being appointed CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It’s the most extraordinary musical organization in the country, and being able to be part of this organization’s story is just an amazing privilege.
John Bwarie: Thanks, Simon, for taking the time, but more importantly bringing this orchestra together. Thank you so much.
Simon Woods: Thanks a lot.