Makiko Freeman

In the Spotlight: Makiko Freeman

Posted by:  The Philadelphia Orchestra on March 02, 2020

A Monthly Profile of Orchestra Fans and Family

It was on the bus with musicians from Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project that Makiko Freeman experienced one of those great “music is the universal language” moments. Artists from multiple countries, unable to speak to each other without an interpreter, spontaneously broke out in a rendition of the “Ode to Joy,” everyone singing in their native language.

“We started singing and the only piece that everybody could agree on was Beethoven 9,” she recalls. “Everybody knew that. Hands down. And that was a really cool moment. Finding something in common with them was really fun. Because we all gather together for the love of music.”

It’s the love of music that brought Freeman to her current position as artistic administrator for The Philadelphia Orchestra, where she works in the artistic planning department with her boss, Vice President Jeremy Rothman, and, of course, Yannick. “They paint the big picture,” Freeman says, describing her job. “I’m the detail artist.”

Those details include handling the guest conductors, soloists, choirs, and other artists who appear with the Orchestra. Duties include everything from booking and executing contracts—which sometimes number 300 a year—to ensuring the soloists appear on stage on time. It’s not always an easy task. Sometimes artists are warming up until the very last minute, or there’s a frantic scramble for some lost item: A conductor can’t find his music, for example, or baton. Or a contact lens popped out. Or the artist is missing! Five minutes before the concert, the guest soloist might still be “on the way.”

“That has happened,” Freeman says. “I don’t want to name names!” she laughs, adding that if she’s done her job well, there shouldn’t be any last-minute crises.

“When all these things come together and you hear The Philadelphia Orchestra perform with all these amazing world-class musicians, that’s the biggest pay I get. It’s so satisfying, so incredible. And I played a small part in this. We all play a small part in that.”

Freeman’s career in music began in college, while she was studying trumpet performance at Oberlin.

“That’s when I realized that I was not a performer on stage,” she says. “But I can think, in detail, about the music-making, about how to make this happen. So I actually became more interested in the backstage aspects of concert production when I was in college. I don’t have the nerve to perform! I prefer to just be backstage and put the puzzles of the concert production together.”

After college came a number of internships and various jobs in the field, including artist management, working for recording labels, and tour production and management. It was during her time working with Sony Classical that she met Yo-Yo Ma, just as he was conceptualizing his now widely acclaimed Silk Road Project. “That was great!” she says. Freeman helped put together the original ensemble.

After that, she was accepted into the League of American Orchestras’ prestigious fellowship program for emerging arts leaders. She spent five years at the Nashville Symphony before coming to Philadelphia—a date she will always remember. She jokes that she and Yannick both had their job interviews on the same day.

“The day of my job interview in December 2008 was his debut here.” She remembers people talking about him: There’s this amazing guy who’s conducting this week.

As for what’s next, Freeman is happy where she is. She tried leaving once for a more “normal” 9 to 5 job that would give her more free nights and time at home with her family, but she missed the music too much.

“We’re all here for the love of music,” she says. “Every day is what’s next. Every day is different. Every season is different. Everything surrounding the music-making is just really magical here.”

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Due to rapidly evolving developments, and in accordance with the City of Philadelphia’s recommendation that all large gatherings be suspended to limit community transmission of COVID-19, all scheduled Philadelphia Orchestra rehearsals, performances, and events through May 10, 2020, are cancelled. Learn more

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