Fishman Music Story
By John Farrell
Special to the Press-Telegram
When Jack Fishman, Executive Director of the Long Beach Symphony, first began his career in Long Beach just under eight years ago, he took control of an orchestra in transition.
JoAnn Faletta, for ten year’s the orchestra’s music director, had announced that she was leaving the orchestra, and the season that had just begun as Fishman took the helm was to feature concerts led by each of the five candidates chosen by the orchestra and its board of directors to try out for the position of music director.
Enrique Arturo Diemecke, the orchestra’s current and highly popular music director, was chosen that year and he and Fishman have worked as a team since then to bring the orchestra to new heights of professional and musical accomplishment.
Fishman announced July 18 that he will be leaving his position in Long Beach to take up the helm of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra as its president and CEO, and once again he will be taking control in the middle of a season of change. The San Antonio Orchestra is currently conducting its own conductor search, a process that will take two years, and is preparing, a year after that, to move to a new concert hall being built for the orchestra.
“I am moving into the same situation in San Antonio that I faced when I cam to Long Beach eight years ago,” Fishman said in a recent conversation at an outdoor table at a restaurant only a block away from the LBSO offices in downtown Long Beach. “The hard part in Long Beach was already done when I moved here: the candidates had been chosen, and they were all good conductors. Fishman is a man high-energy smile, short brown hair and glasses that frame intelligent eyes. He began his high-end musical career at literally the lowest possible spot in the orchestra (save perhaps for the tuba), as a double-bass player, a graduate of Julliard School of Music, and that experience still shows, Fishman talks with his hands, his left waving back and forward as though it were holding a bow, his right stroking the instrument’s neck. But for the past 18 years he has built his career in orchestra administration, as Executive Director of the Amarillo Symphony from 1994-2000 and as orchestra manager of the Jacksonville Symphony from 1900-1994.
“I didn’t have a whole lo of experience in administration, really, so I decided I had to go back to school to learn how o run an orchestra, and I learn best hands on, so I took a job to learn,” Fishman said. “At my first job my staff was three people and I was responsible for the box office as well as everything else.
Fishman applied for his job in Long Beach at the urging of Michael Krajewski, former principal pops conductor of the LBSO, and a long-time personal friend and colleague of Fishman’s.
“Michael and I have worked together at four different orchestras,” Fishman said. “When the position here became available, Michael said “Long Beach is the place you want to be – send in your resume now!”
Fishman got the job, and fell in love with the place. “Long Beach is a very hard place to leave,” he said. “But this job in San Antonio is one of those career opportunities it is hard to say no to.”
Fishman is a musician first, but knows that that is only part of his job. “There is so much more to a successful orchestra than just the music,” he said. “You have to understand how banks work, how fund-raising works. You have to know how to reach the local community and get them to participate in the orchestra and what it provides the community.”
You have to also be willing to experiment with new ideas. Some of which work, some of which don’t Fishman is particularly proud of the vide screens which allow the large audiences at Long Beach Pops concerts in the Long Beach Arena to see the orchestra up close and personal. “Before we had these screens no one knew who was in the orchestra, who the players were. Now the audiences can see, and they say they love it,” Fishman said. A similar video screen experiment at the debut concert of Diemecke was a failure, and Fishman laughingly admits not every experiment works.
He is also proud of the orchestra’s concert relationship with the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, where they have performed twice a year now for six years and developed a special concert program, “Dos Visiones,” with commissioned music that was inspired by art works in the museum collection.
“As great as our orchestra is, as great as our musicians are, we have to be sure that we are being the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, not the Los Angeles Philharmonic. We have to have out own identity.
“We are playing for people who want a fulfilling experience in their evening, not just a concert of great music. We perform in a wonder theater with a gorgeous big lobby that allows us to make a wonderful evening out, with cocktails and chamber music before the concert and a relaxing atmosphere. The music we play is important, of course, but it isn’t everything. We want our patrons to experience a sense of community. When you go to one of our concerts you are not merely enjoying Beethoven but enjoying Beethoven with 2500 others in your community.”
Though he admits it sounds a bit dull, Fishman thinks one of his biggest accomplishment sin Long Beach was a restructuring of the LBSO staff. “It is one of those things that doesn’t sound important, but once you have accomplished it it can live for a long time.”
For Fishman, taking over a new orchestra is not his greatest worry. “One of the biggest challenges for me is that I have to get my daughter into high school in San Antonio – she is a sophomore now. That’s the first thing on my list.”
Fishman leaves Long Beach August 15 and assumes his duties in Texas September first, so he has two weeks to scout out local schools.
This story appeared in the Long Beach Press-Telegram and Torrance Daily Breeze in August, 2008