David Grossman is excited about his new job as executive director of the Santa Barbara Symphony. But it wasn’t a decision he made lightly, likening it to “dating for many months before deciding to get married.”
“If the last eight days are any gauge of what the future is going to hold, then I think we both made the right decision,” said the former professional drummer, who most recently was executive vice president of The Recording Academy, the nonprofit organization responsible for the Grammy Awards.
“To be candid, it wasn’t Santa Barbara that attracted me,” Grossman said. “It was the symphony that attracted me and, fortunately, it happens to be in Santa Barbara.
“I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 40 years, so the idea of relocating to Santa Barbara was more of a dream come true than anything else. It’s just an added benefit that it’s to do a job with an organization that I have admired and respected from afar.
“Santa Barbara is a destination for people in Los Angeles. When you really need to get out of the city, you find your way to Santa Barbara to breathe the fresh air and to enjoy the spirit of the town.”
Grossman and his wife, Pam, are about to be empty nesters: Their youngest daughter, Emily, 18, will start college in the fall (another daughter, Jessica, 25, lives in San Diego). So the timing is perfect for a move.
“We’re close enough to friends and family, and it’s exactly the size of community that we’ve been looking for,” he said. “I just never recognized that there would be an opportunity for me to work here.”
Grossman is still grinning at his good fortune.
“If I look back at my career, both as a professional musician and as an executive with a film studio (prior to The Recording Academy, Grossman was senior vice president of television music for the Paramount Pictures Television Group) and then the work at the nonprofit organization, I’m really looking to identify excellence in music and basically looking after music and its makers,” he said. “So much of the symphony is about not only entertainment but education.”
The symphony has a variety of performance presentations planned for the 2011-2012 season, which starts Oct. 22 with a “Fantastique Opening.” On tap are compositions by American contemporary composer John Adams, English composer Edward Elgar and French romantic composer Hector Berlioz.
But Grossman is also impressed by the free “Music Behind The Music” presentations before each performance, when musician and music scholar Ramón Araїza entertains and educates listeners with lively insights and anecdotes about the music and composers they are about to hear.
The symphony also conducts Free Concerts For Young People, including the recent presentation of “The Remarkable Farkle McBride,” written by local actor John Lithgow with music by composer Cody Westheimer, a Santa Barbara native. Other educational programs include the Music Van, which travels with instruments and instructions to local schools, Santa Barbara Youth Symphony and multiple resources for teachers and schools.
Looking to the future, Grossman says he would like to continue to expand the symphony’s reach.
“You can have the experience of a lifetime (at the concerts), but there are 14 of those a season and there are a lot of other days in the year,” he explained. “The association with the youth symphony orchestra and the music van, this is really the heart and soul of the community and what resonates with so many people.
“Especially when it’s related to children, music education and opportunities to expose the benefits of music to a community are what people really respond to. So I hope that as the years progress we can create an even deeper connection with the community on those levels.”
Since the creative decisions about the upcoming season were made before Grossman’s arrival (click here for a complete schedule), he said, “I’m going to be very patient with myself in understanding the community and the symphony’s culture so that I can really make contributions that are respectful of what’s come before, but implement any course corrections that will help its future be even brighter than it has been to date.
“You’ve got a symphony that’s almost 60 years old,” he continued. “That’s an amazing accomplishment for an arts organization, especially for a symphony in a smaller community, to have that kind of longevity and have the community support that it has had. Something has been done right and the last thing that I want to do is upset what’s been done right.”
Increasing participation is also a goal.
“I’m looking forward to really elevating the community involvement,” Grossman said. “The excitement around the symphony and what it brings, helping to energize a new demographic, meaning people who know about the symphony but haven’t experienced the magic that comes off that stage.
“If you can turn people on to one of these concerts you are going to turn them on to more than one.”
Grossman’s passion for music is infectious. When asked how he became interested in it, he says “it was more the other way around, music became interested in me.”
“It was not something I really chose,” he said. “I got exposed to it and then it grabbed me and just sucked me into its world. When I think back to my youth, it was almost like I didn’t have a choice. It was just part of my DNA, and I just didn’t know it until I was old enough to recognize that.”
In fourth grade, Grossman told his parents he wanted to spend the rest of his life in music; by seventh grade he had decided to become a professional drummer.
“It was so magical even at that age, to communicate with other human beings on a musical level, to sit down on a piano or drum set in an ensemble setting and then you are all on the same page,” he said. “To work together and create something and communicate with each other in this nonverbal way, and then there are people sitting out there and enjoying … something you are creating without saying words at all. It just seemed like magic. And my appetite grew for it year after year after year.”
Grossman graduated a year early from high school so he could travel the world as a professional musician with the family-oriented stage show Up With People, at age 17. He then studied at the Eastman School of Music and Berklee College of Music where he earned his bachelor’s degree in music composition and later received the school’s Distinguished Alumnus Award for Outstanding Musical Achievement. He was a professional drummer for many years then obtained his MBA from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management in support of his business career.
Now he’s thrilled to be putting it all together in Santa Barbara, where the generosity of spirit has already impressed him.
“People seem genuinely happy to be here,” he said. “Somebody said to me, ‘You know you’ve done something right if you’ve ended up in Santa Barbara’ and I love that.
“How fortunate for people who love Santa Barbara so much to have an institution like the symphony that has been here for so many years to enhance the richness and create such a vibrant musical opportunity for people to go to. I just hope that as time goes on, more people recognize what an experience it is to actually listen to a concert like the ones that we put on.”