Nashville Symphony’s Senior Director of Operations and Orchestra Manager, Sonja Winkler, has been chosen to participate in the 2017-2018 The League of American Orchestras’ Emerging Leaders Program. After a competitive application process, Winkler was one of only 12 applicants recognized for their potential to “make significant contributions to their orchestra and to the field as a whole,” as stated on the League of American Orchestras website.
As Senior Director of Operations and Orchestra Manager, Winkler’s responsibilities range from the day-to-day of overseeing the concert program (and everyone that makes that program happen: stage managers, audio engineers, lighting designers, and of course, the musicians) to long-term planning for the organization.
We spoke with Winkler about what she hopes to gain from the program and her vision for the future of the Nashville Symphony.
“We’re at a pretty incredible time with the Symphony,” Winkler explains, mentioning the organization's recent achievements and growth. “We are always looking for more way to bring music to Nashville.”
Winkler says that in the midst of the social media era, with everything screaming for our attention, it can be challenging to balance remaining relevant (and what does “relevance” even mean in classical music? Winkler wonders as an aside) while preserving the tradition and richness of playing the music.
With so many moving parts and decisions to be made, she says the job “sometimes feels like a big ship you’re trying to direct.” Over the course of ten months, she will participate in both in-person and virtual seminars and one-on-one mentoring in order to develop leadership skills in what the League of American Orchestras refers to as “times of rapid and profound change.”
Winkler hopes the experience will help her facilitate the important conversations that get everyone on the same page and working towards the same goals of “showcasing and preserving excellent music,” as well as remaining open to the needs of the community.
As far as the organization’s long-term goals, Winkler wants to continue emphasizing education, which she says has always been at the heart of what the symphony does. She mentions the Accelerando program—which helps prepare students to pursue music at the collegiate level and beyond—as part of the symphony’s initiative to engage and support young musicians and listeners.
Diversity is also at the front of Winkler’s mind. “We want to address the criticisms that orchestras are not reflecting the communities they exist in,” she explains. With Nashville changing and growing so rapidly, she’s not sure what the community will look like in five or ten years, but she knows the importance of keeping a finger on the pulse of Nashville in order to stay connected. Because in the end, “If we want [the community] to invest in us,” she says, “we must invest in them.”