A Monthly Series of Donor and Patron Profiles
When Yannick Nézet-Séguin made his first subscription concert appearances as music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra—leading performances of Verdi’s Requiem—the ovations were resounding. Raves poured in. When he led the work the following week for his Carnegie Hall debut, the New York Times described it as “a heaven-storming performance” that had “thoroughly … won over the audience.” The critics weren’t the only ones impressed.
“We were so blown away by that concert,” says Kristen Phillips, who attended the performance with her husband, Matt Schreck. “It was a really powerful and emotionally moving performance,” says Kristen. “From the very first note to the end, I was riveted.” Matt agrees. “The presence of the music at that concert was just incredible,” he says.
They say that music has the power to inspire. Kristen and Matt were so moved by the Fabulous Philadelphians’ Verdi performance that they were inspired to make a $10,000 donation. “We pretty much immediately inquired about joining the Maestro’s Circle,” says Kristen. “That was our first concert of the season. A new season, a new era. And we just felt like we wanted to be a part of it.”
As recent transplants to Philadelphia, Kristen and Matt are relatively new fans of The Philadelphia Orchestra, but they’re no strangers to the music world. Kristen was president and CEO of the Hartford Symphony from 2008 to 2011. She’s also a choral singer and has sung the Verdi Requiem (as an alto with the Houston Symphony Chorus and the Hartford Chorale). They’re big believers in supporting the organizations they love. “We’re still contributors to the Hartford Symphony because we just really feel strongly in what they’re doing,” says Kristen, “and want to put our money where our mouth is.”
Kristen was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and grew up in San Antonio, Texas, with a love of music. “Music has always been part of my life. I grew up playing piano. I’m strictly amateur but … instead of buying a fancy car when I was in my ’30s, we invested in a Steinway grand piano,” she says. “Since college [I’ve] been a patron of orchestras, starting out with the Brazos Valley Symphony in College Station, Texas.”
As a student, Kristen was involved with the Texas A & M University Opera and Performing Arts Society, serving as usher or ticket taker and hearing concerts for free. After college she subscribed to the Houston Symphony.
Matt’s a native of Scotch Plains, New Jersey. His mom, he says, was a big Frank Sinatra fan, but not into classical music. “Sadly, after six months of piano lessons at age eight, that was the end of it,” he says. “I love jazz. That’s probably my predominant love in the music world.”
The couple met in Houston. “When Kristen and I first started dating, in 1995, I knew it was serious for two reasons,” he says. “I actually went to church with her when she invited me, which was amazing; and even more amazing is I went to the symphony when she invited me and have grown to really enjoy it.” Whether it was the music on the Houston stage, or that other kind of music couples sometimes hear when dating, Matt was hooked.
By the time they moved to Connecticut, where Kristen was working with Lincoln Financial Group, the couple had the means to step into a leadership level of giving. She served on the board of the Hartford Symphony for a number of years before joining the staff; and Matt, a private practice attorney, was president of the board of Connecticut Choral Artists, a professional choral group.
As the leader of an orchestra during the financial crisis of 2008, Kristen understands that fundraising is vital. “I am well aware, regardless of the number of zeros, the financial challenges of every arts organization, but particularly symphony orchestras and the fact that ticket prices don’t come near covering the cost of putting on the production,” she says.
“Once you’re in that role, it’s hard to ever be a blissfully ignorant consumer again,” she adds, admitting that even in the audience, she sometimes finds herself thinking about things like overtime, or wondering about the cost of those extra musicians on stage.
“I really enjoyed working in the symphony world and that might be part of my future again,” she says, “but it’s great to just be able to enjoy the art form … as opposed to leading it on a day-to-day basis.”
Matt: “You’re no longer in charge of worrying about the weather!”
Kristen: “In Hartford we had a summer outdoor music series so yes, weather was a worry!”
The couple moved to Philadelphia in the fall of 2011 when Kristen returned to work at Lincoln Financial as a senior vice president. They subscribed to the Orchestra right away. “From where we’re sitting, the sound is quite wonderful in the hall,” she says. Their first concert featured Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Charles Dutoit on the podium. They first saw Yannick conduct Brahms’s A German Requiem soon after.
Highlights of this season, in addition to the Verdi, have included performances by pianists André Watts and Imogen Cooper (“Her playing of that Mozart concerto was quite exquisite,” says Kristen. “Being an amateur piano player, I do tend to have a bias towards the concerts that have a pianist. And the choral music, too …”); and simply watching the musicians of the Orchestra.
“There’s such a joy on their faces when they’re playing,” says Kristen. “Symphonic music is not necessarily a visual experience so when you can watch the players really getting into it, that makes it more engaging.” “They truly enjoy it, too,” says Matt. “You see a lot more spontaneous applause and appreciation by the musicians to who’s leading them and the soloists. They truly do enjoy it. And that really stands out.”
Kristen and Matt celebrated their 16th wedding anniversary this past March and are enjoying their new life in Philadelphia. “We love it!” he says. “It truly is a great walking city.” Kristen is involved with the Philadelphia Theater Company and serves on the corporate executive board of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Matt’s on the boards of Philadelphia’s Mendelssohn Club and the chamber group Eight Strings and a Whistle in New York.
Kristen also sang in the Mendelssohn Club when she first got to town, but had to take a hiatus this spring because of work conflicts. “I did get to participate in 2011’s Glorious Sounds of Christmas concerts,” she adds, “which was great fun.”
Work may be keeping her off the stage, but it’s helping her commitment to the arts in other ways. The Lincoln Financial Foundation is also a supporter of the Orchestra and as a member of Lincoln’s charitable contributions committee, Kristen is able to advocate for funding on a company level as well. “I think we’ve all read that revenue raising is going to be the key to a bright future.”