Saturday, April 21 , 2018, 5:01 pm | Fair 70º


Santa Barbara Symphony’s New Leader Plans Innovative Solutions to Looming Challenges

Seeking solutions to some of the most serious challenges in its 63-year history, the Santa Barbara Symphony has turned to newly-appointed executive director, David Pratt, to help fashion a new business model.

David Pratt
David Pratt

Pratt, an out-going native of Australia with an international track record of success, was selected as its new executive director at a time when the majority of symphonies across the U.S. are being faced with complex financial difficulties. These have been caused primarily by a combination of the economic downturn, an aging season-ticket and donor base, and competition from the Internet and other entertainment sources.

“There is no doubt that for us, like most other symphonies, it can’t be business as usual anymore,” said Pratt, who led major marketing missions throughout the world for various Australian and U.S. music and film organizations before serving as the executive director for the Savannah Philharmonic in Georgia for the past five years. “But, Santa Barbara is a special city, with a high level of culture, and I am confident that we can meet these challenges head-on. We plan to continue to provide the beautiful classical music productions this symphony is known for, but we will need to create some innovative new programs as well. I’m excited to get started.”

The Santa Barbara community has long been one of the most supportive on the West Coast, but Pratt and the symphony Board of Directors now must figure out how to reach out to the next generation, one that grew up listening to the Beatles and rock music. Bringing the baby boomers into the classical world at a time when finances are still tight for many is not going to be a simple task, but Pratt is enthusiastic about the possibilities.

“We’re already working on a number of potential new programs to reach out into the community, because we believe there are many people here who would quickly get hooked on classical musical if they were more exposed to it,” he said. “For example, we will expand our collaboration in the 2015-16 season partnering with The Ensemble Theatre Co. for Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Midsummer Night’s Dream as part of our November concert, and there is a fabulous collaboration with the State Street Ballet, Choral Society and the Center for the Performing Arts presenting Carmina Burana as our season opener in October."

In the longer term, Pratt said he is also working on the timing of providing one major concert that will be free to the public. The symphony already has an entire suite of education programs available to area students and it plans to continue and expand those, while widening its musical repertoire.

“We’ll be offering concerts not just for core classical lovers, but for those who enjoy more mainstream music, such as popular film sound tracks,” he said. “Our challenge will be to achieve just the right balancing act, to please our primary supporters and the orchestra musicians, while attracting new fans. It’s really important that we get that balance right.”

Pratt, who grew up in Sydney, Australia, and attended the University of Melbourne, previously served as senior event manager of the G’Day USA Festival, where he created and managed a series of arts, cultural and music events in several U.S. cities. He also held a senior management position with Australia’s largest orchestra, the Sydney Symphony, and he managed several fundraising events for the Sydney Opera House. He served for seven years as the Australian Film Commissioner in Los Angeles, promoting Australia’s film and TV production sector.

“I feel very fortunate to be in Santa Barbara,” he said. “It is an extraordinary community in that it supports such a wide array of incredible cultural offerings and that’s exciting. Part of what we plan to do is to understand exactly what this community wants, and then provide it in a way that people know they don’t have to leave town to get world-class entertainment.”

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