Martha Gilmer, Chief Executive Officer
Martha A. Gilmer became CEO of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra in October 2014 after a 35-year career at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As the CSO’s vice president for artistic planning and audience development, Martha Gilmer was primarily responsible for working with Music Director Riccardo Muti in program planning, engaging guest conductors and artists and formulating the Orchestra’s artistic profile – focusing on a dedication to providing stimulating and exciting programming. The CSO had been Gilmer’s professional “home” since 1976, when she began as a student intern. In 1979 she became assistant artistic administrator and later artistic administrator in 1985. In 1998 she was promoted to vice president for artistic planning, adding the additional audience development component in 2004. She has developed longstanding relationships with some of the world’s greatest artists, including current CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti and two previous CSO music directors, Sir Georg Solti and Daniel Barenboim. She has also worked closely with the CSO’s Conductor Emeritus Pierre Boulez and former CSO Principal Conductor Bernard Haitink, as well as many other pre-eminent conductors.
Gilmer works closely with the most talented guest artists and composers of today. She has developed partnerships with artists such as Yo-Yo Ma, Yefim Bronfman, Emanuel Ax, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Pinchas Zukerman, as well as all of the CSO’s past and present composers-in-residence: John Corigliano, Shulamit Ran, Augusta Read Thomas, Osvaldo Golijov, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Mason Bates and Anna Clyne. She has championed the creation of contemporary music, regularly supporting the commissioning of new works and working with composers on existing compositions.
In addition to programming concerts for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Gilmer and her staff also oversaw the artistic planning for “Symphony Center Presents,” a diverse series of recitals, concerts and performances by top classical, jazz, pop and world music artists, presented at Symphony Center. They also managed the Chicago Symphony Chorus, the largest professional chorus in the United States.
As the leader of the CSO’s audience development initiatives, Gilmer developed many innovative programs connecting new audiences in Chicago and internationally. In 1999 she launched a fresh initiative entitled ClassicEncounter®, a program targeted at attracting audience members seeking an introduction to classical music. As program co-host, she developed and expanded this series of eight concerts leading to a new and dedicated audience for classical music. Beginning in 2000 Gilmer worked to develop collaborative programming that blossomed into many relationships with Chicago cultural organizations such as Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Redmoon Theater, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, The Art Institute of Chicago and The Poetry Foundation.
Most recently, in 2006, Gilmer saw the launch of Beyond the Score®, for which she was the executive producer, with Gerard McBurney as creative director. The concept of this series is the presentation of a live documentary about a single piece of music on the first half of the program, followed by a complete performance of the work. The series continues to draw critical acclaim, selling out quickly since its inception, and it is leased and performed by orchestras all over the world. The first commercial DVD release of Beyond the Score® accompanied the CSO’s Grammy®-winning recording of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony. It is also licensed to orchestras nationally and internationally.
Gilmer served as a passionate advocate and ambassador for all of the CSO’s artistic activities and had the privilege of accompanying the Orchestra on many national and international tours to the prominent music capitals of Europe, North and South America and Asia, where the Orchestra made its first appearances in China in February 2009.
Gilmer is a graduate of the Northwestern University School of Music, and she has been active as an alumna, serving on the Visiting Committee and the Dean Search Committee and delivering the 2000 commencement address. She also earned a Northwestern University School of Music Alumni Merit Award.
Martha Gilmer does extensive lecturing and writing on music. She is a member of the Chicago Network and was recently elected to Today’s Chicago Woman’s Hall of Fame. She was the recipient of Dominican University 2009 Bravo Award.