When Allison Vulgamore joined The Philadelphia Orchestra for the second time in her career eight years ago, Philadelphia hoped only for the ensemble’s survival. As the Vulgamore Era draws to a close, this storied organization not only stands firmly on its own, but it also has maintained its artistic excellence, enhanced its exceptional performances, secured a legacy of cultural diplomacy on world stages, deepened its commitment to community service, and strengthened its initiative to enlarge and energize its patron base and reward patron loyalty in ways that are meaningful to the audiences themselves.
Philadelphia Orchestra President and CEO Allison Vulgamore is surrounded by children and workers at the Eastman Music Company Factory in Beijing during the 2016 Asia Tour and China Residency. The Orchestra partnered with Eastman in its “buy one, give one” program, which puts instruments into the hands of music students in need in the Philadelphia public schools. Photo by Jan Regan
Vulgamore’s career in the cultural arts began at The Philadelphia Orchestra in 1980 as an assistant, working for Maestro Eugene Ormandy and Maestro Riccardo Muti. After three decades of managing some of the preeminent symphony orchestras in the country, she returned to Philadelphia and to an orchestra mired in deep financial and managerial problems.
“My return at an unprecedented time of high risk was to give back to the Fabulous Philadelphians and their Philadelphia Sound,” Vulgamore said.
During Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s 2010 introduction to Philadelphia after being named the Orchestra’s next music director, he and Vulgamore are greeted by Orchestra fans at a welcome ceremony at the Kimmel Center. Photo by Chris Lee
Working with the Orchestra’s Board of Directors, Vulgamore charted a course of financial reorganization and renewal, earning a reputation as an innovative solution seeker and change agent with impressive business acumen. She executed a plan that increased attendance, transformed the Orchestra’s relationship with its audience, and extended its stage into Philadelphia’s communities.
In Vulgamore’s first six months she successfully recruited Yannick Nézet-Séguin as music director, who has served to enhance the unique interpretive ability of the celebrated ensemble. His diverse repertoire, deep relationship with the musicians, and connection to the community have taken The Philadelphia Orchestra to new musical heights at home in the Kimmel Center, in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, and in engaging performances throughout Europe and Asia. Thanks to Vulgamore, Nézet-Séguin’s contract has been renewed, ensuring his musical leadership will remain in place for the next decade.
With Nézet-Séguin firmly in place, Vulgamore has led the Orchestra to renew and reignite its connection to its audiences. Today, the Orchestra is reaching more people outside of Verizon Hall, creating access to music for Philadelphians of all ages and experience levels. Her deep belief that music is a vehicle for human enrichment and wellness has translated into an expanded commitment to community service through HEAR, a series of collaborative learning initiatives that represent the most comprehensive and dynamic community outreach in the Orchestra’s recent history. Spanning four categories—Health, Education, Access, and Research—HEAR is a portfolio of programs that promotes wellness, champions music education, eliminates barriers to accessing the Orchestra, and maximizes impact through research all throughout the Philadelphia region.
The Orchestra’s new HEAR initiative was announced at a free PopUP Concert in April 2016 led by Yannick. Photo by Jessica Griffin
Vulgamore also has instituted or reinvigorated such collective music-making activities as PopUP performances of the full Orchestra and smaller ensembles, side-by-side rehearsals, PlayINs, and numerous free events held across the city. She has launched new partnerships and collaborations with Carnegie Hall, the School District of Philadelphia, Broad Street Ministry, Temple University, the All-City Orchestra, Pennsylvania Ballet, Philadelphia Live Arts (FringeArts), Philadanco, Opera Philadelphia, the Curtis Institute of Music, Ridge Theater Company, and stage directors James Alexander and Kevin Newbury, among others.
During her tenure, the Orchestra has strategically and creatively grown new audiences and cultivated audiences of tomorrow through new technologies, including the LiveNote app; “Orchestra on Demand,” giving fans access to the Orchestra anytime/anywhere; and the Philadelphia Voices app, allowing Philadelphians to become a part of the music for a new commission. She restored the Philadelphia Sound back to the airwaves and brought unique “theater of a concert” presentations featuring dramatic multimedia and lighting effects and theatrical elements.
Orchestra supporters Chris Sforza and Wayne Matusiak credit Vulgamore for “a wonderful job helping to bring the magic of the music into our hearts and minds on behalf of the Orchestra.” They said she and Nézet-Séguin have “given classical music a friendly face and made a huge and dynamic organization accessible to all kinds of people.”
Using the common language of music to foster cross-cultural understanding, the Orchestra’s reputation has flourished as a cultural ambassador for the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania over the last eight years. The Orchestra’s cultural exchange efforts have built both new revenue streams and international partnerships. Its historic connection with the People’s Republic of China has thrived under Vulgamore. Through her efforts, a successful partnership with the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing will run through 2022. Vulgamore also is the American signatory to Memoranda of Understanding with the Capital Province of Ulaanbaatar of the Republic of Mongolia, the Shanghai Oriental Art Center, and the Shanghai Media Group. She is credited for arranging for Philadelphia Orchestra performances, residency activities, and the people-to-people cultural exchange that has become a hallmark of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s touring—and has been recognized by the U.S. Department of State. A 2016 visit to Philadelphia by the President of Mongolia came at Vulgamore’s exclusive invitation.
Vulgamore orchestrated once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, including performing for Pope Francis and a global audience at Philadelphia’s Festival of Families, as well as a performance for the U.N. General Assembly.
One of the Orchestra’s popular theater-of-a-concert productions, initiated by Vulgamore, was Bernstein’s MASS. Photo by Pete Checchia
It was her international service volunteering to teach music to incarcerated boys in Morocco in 2007 that gave Vulgamore the understanding that art has the power to uplift and transcend differences. In her leadership role with the Orchestra, she seized the opportunity to use music for greater conversation and understanding. She facilitated a social dialogue through the Orchestra’s rare performance of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS, during Black Lives Matters protests, and fundraising for Puerto Rico’s hurricane relief during West Side Story performances.
“Our souls and humanitarian views are buoyed through our experiences with great music,” Vulgamore said. “We are reawakening ourselves through this ‘language without words’ to express our hopes, our worries, and our choices to be fully present in our own lives, which we share with our community.”
Vulgamore is passionate about the Orchestra’s program and musical achievements. Of the many great artistic moments over the past eight years, she counts among the most memorable the staging of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, the fifth anniversary of the Orchestra’s first residency in China with Yannick leading Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with a Chinese choir and soloists, the Rachmaninoff Festival with Principal Guest Conductor Stéphane Denève, and the successful completion of a dynamic renewal plan that continues to inspire patron loyalty.
Vulgamore (second row, fifth from right) was a member of the official Philadelphia delegation that traveled to Rome to plan some of the details of Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families in August 2015. The Orchestra performed twice during the visit: at the Festival of Families Concert and during the Papal Mass.
“Philadelphia and the Orchestra have accomplished extraordinary things together,” she said. “Not only have we saved an incredible institution, we have brought our audiences to the edge of their seats.”
Vulgamore’s positive impact and her legacy will be felt for years to come. As the ensemble continues to flourish in its craft, nurtured by the dedication of the audience, she believes the Orchestra must build an endowment for the future to continue to surprise and delight generations of Philadelphians and world citizens.
“It is my great wish that the Orchestra continues to vibrantly explore the intersection of curiosity and creativity on stage and in service to the community,” Vulgamore said. “I hope that audiences will continue to support the work of the Orchestra, both in their dedicated attendance and with their treasure for generations to come.”
The Orchestra’s Board has chosen to pay tribute to Vulgamore through an endowment. The fund will be managed as a perpetual endowment by The Philadelphia Orchestra, with annual income used to fund initiatives central to her vision. Orchestra patrons can support the advancement of the Orchestra’s community service programs, exceptional performances, and artistic projects with gifts to the Allison Vulgamore Legacy Endowment Fund.
For more information about the Allison Vulgamore Legacy Endowment Fund, please contact Bradford Wm. Voigt, vice president of development, at 215.893.3133 or firstname.lastname@example.org.