From Nashville to Salt Lake City: Meet Utah Symphony | Opera’s new CEO
One of the first things on Steven Brosvik’s plate is to figure out how the symphony and opera will emerge out of a pandemic and rise triumphant in the fall.
SALT LAKE CITY — One day, the joy wasn’t there.
Steven Brosvik had entered the room where he always practiced piano. It was a familiar place, but on this particular day, something was different: The sheer pleasure of playing was gone.
That was a point the college student never wanted to reach.
He took a step back and decided to switch majors. Brosvik didn’t want to go back to studying business — he loved music too much for that. So he flipped through some course catalogs, and eventually, he landed on the best of both worlds: music business.
He never looked back. Over the years, that degree from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, has landed Brosvik leadership positions with the Baltimore Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, Houston Symphony and Nashville Symphony.
Now, it’s bringing Brosvik to Utah, where he’ll be the president and CEO of the Utah Symphony | Opera starting Aug. 17.
“I do miss playing, but I feel like in the realm of working in the music industry, this is the right place for me,” Brosvik told the Deseret News shortly after the announcement on Wednesday. “Being one of the people who helps support getting the music on the stage and supporting incredible musicians to be able to make that music for the audience.”
Brosvik is eager to dive in — even during a pandemic, when venues are shut down and many arts organizations worldwide are on pause, there’s a lot to tackle. But first, he has a house to sell in Nashville.
“We’re trying to get moved out there as soon as we can,” he said, noting he’d just made a call to a Realtor.
In the midst of all the chaos, Brosvik spoke with the Deseret News about Nashville, what attracted him to Utah and what he hopes to accomplish here.
Brosvik was 5 when he started taking piano and organ lessons. Growing up in Minneapolis, he always preferred playing the piano in group settings rather than as a soloist. That set him up nicely for a career that thrives on partnerships.
For the past five years, Brosvik has lived In Tennessee, where he’s been the chief operating officer of the Nashville Symphony. One project he launched there was the Violins of Hope Nashville initiative — a collaborative effort that brought 25 organizations across the city together.
The Violins of Hope highlights the instruments Jewish musicians played during the Holocaust — battered instruments that have been restored to playing condition by a father and son in Israel.
“They were all played in concentration camp orchestras by Jewish prisoners during the war,” Brosvik said. “They were forced to play during executions, and forced to play out in the snow in the winter and in the rain as new people were being brought into the camps, giving people coming off the trains a false sense of hope that, ‘How bad can it be because there’s an orchestra here?’ So really just horrible, traumatic ways to force musicians to use their talents.”
Brosvik brought the instruments to Nashville to spark dialogue about social justice and the power of music. The Nashville Symphony performed a concert series featuring those instruments, commissioned a new symphony from a Jewish American composer, and lent some of the instruments to synagogues, schools and the public library.
“I think music has a really unique ability to unify people,” Brosvik said. “It pulls down barriers and allows us all to be together in a room having a shared live experience, doing something where we’re not the ones doing the talking, we’re doing the listening.
“There’s messages that we can portray musically … and it’s more than just hearing someone give a speech,” he continued. “You go to a movie without a film score on, and the film isn’t as scary. It isn’t as loving, it isn’t as emotional, as joyous, until you add the music to it.”
In Nashville, Brosvik also oversaw fundraising, marketing and artistic efforts, including the symphony’s release of more than a dozen recording projects. It’s hard for him to think about leaving the city he’s called home for five years — especially when it involves moving his family across the country during a pandemic.
“(Music) pulls down barriers and allows us all to be together in a room having a shared live experience, doing something where we’re not the ones doing the talking, we’re doing the listening.” — Steven Brosvik
But one thing Brosvik said has helped put his mind at ease is the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera’s dedication to getting the musicians back on stage, and live music ringing throughout the hall.
“That allowed us to get a little past the ‘Are we crazy for moving during a pandemic?’ to ‘This could be a really wonderful opportunity,’” he said. “We can get there while this work is happening now, and be part of helping get the … community back to a place where they can feel like there’s a little bit of normalcy happening.”
Brosvik and his wife, Cassandra, hope to be in Utah by mid-August, with their dog, Finley, and a cat named Sinatra in tow (their three daughters — who all play instruments — are currently scattered across the country, studying at George Washington University, New York University and Interlochen Arts Academy).
Brosvik has been to Utah twice before — once for a conference in the late 1990s, and again to research the famed Tabernacle at Temple Square organ in the early 2000s, when he was then tasked with selecting an organ builder for the Baltimore Symphony.
Now, he’s about to call Utah home. He hopes Cassandra — a violinist and youth orchestra director who ran programs for more than 15 years in Texas and Tennessee — can get involved in the arts scene. He’s also looking forward to his three daughters experiencing their first “real winter.”
Soon, he’ll help facilitate the search for a new music director, as Thierry Fischer announced last year he’ll be stepping down following the 2021-22 season to become the music director of the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra in Brazil.
He’ll be diving into fundraising and marketing, and reaching out to organizations across Utah, as he did in Nashville, to make sure the symphony and opera has a strong presence in the community.
The first thing on Brosvik’s plate, though, is to figure out how the symphony and opera will emerge out of a pandemic and rise triumphant in the fall.
The 2020-21 schedule will likely have to be modified. International guest soloists might not be able to travel here, and maybe all of the musicians won’t be able to share the stage at once. Perhaps the concerts will be shorter, and there won’t be an intermission.
“There’s so much that we have to navigate,” he said. “It’s beyond just being safe, that’s hard enough, but making sure that audience members and musicians also feel safe. Making sure that we can have an audience to perform for who feels comfortable that we’re taking care of them.”
“And the concert halls are large and these institutions are not inexpensive to run,” he continued. “Even if we can reopen, if we can only have a couple of hundred people in the audience, there’s no way that those audience members can pay enough for a ticket that makes any of this financially viable. That’s the hard part.”
It’s a troubling time to take over an organization. And these are unprecedented challenges. But Brosvik was the “unanimous pick” among the hundreds of applicants that have been on the board’s radar since early 2020, according to USUO board chair Tom Love.
“He has a very calm, confidence-inspiring leadership style,” Love told the Deseret News. “We are planning to play in the fall in some form — outdoors and indoors — that is our goal. And hiring the CEO just makes a major statement to the music industry across the country that we are continuing to go forward in the midst of this pandemic … and are confident we will return great live music to the communities of Utah that are important to us.”