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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Mar. 28, 200712:00 PM EST

Symphony's new general manager hits all the notes

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

Lora Unger knows the classical music business inside and out. In fact, if one of the violists for the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra can’t perform at a concert, Unger, the JSO’s new general manager of artistic planning and operations, might step in since she has been an orchestral musician for most of her life.

“I’ve played the viola since I was a child, but I discovered the life of a musician is too focused on just the music. I wanted to be more of an entrepreneur, designing projects and then working with people to get things done,” said Unger. “I didn’t enjoy practicing music, but I enjoyed writing about it and advocating for it. Musicians have to be unable to even consider doing anything else and I didn’t have that. I wanted to do more and different things. There are too many interesting things to do in this business to focus on just one thing.”

After graduating from the University of Louisville with a bachelors degree in music and business administration, Unger earned her masters degree in Arts Administration from the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

“I realized I could do more to preserve the art form by working behind the scenes rather than performing on stage,” she said.

Unger was then accepted as an Orchestra Management Fellow by the American Symphony Orchestra League. During the leadership training program, she worked with the San Francisco Symphony, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and the Aspen Music Festival & School. The program allowed her to gain experience in all aspects of the business side of an orchestra from planning programming and preparing budgets to fundraising, audience development and writing grant applications.

Following the one-year residency program, she was named vice president and chief operating officer of the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Association and State Theatre of Modesto in California. She was responsible for budgeting, season schedules, artistic programming, negotiating contracts with guest artists and resident musicians and also served as the public spokesperson for both organizations.

She also led the $2.5-million renovation of Modesto’s 580-seat State Theatre and its conversion into a multi-purpose venue that can accommodate both live music performances and independent film presentations.

Unger moved into her new office at the T-U Center three weeks ago, but she has been working with the JSO for a couple of months developing the 2007-08 Pops Series. She won’t be entirely through with her work in Modesto until a project she started there to hire a new music director is complete.

Unger said while she hasn’t been here long enough to meet all the people in the community who have supported the symphony for so many years, she’s excited about the opportunity and considers one of her main jobs to be what she called, “friend-raising.”

“I want to galvanize the organization and the community toward the common goal of making the symphony more a part of the entire community. We want to see new people in the audience by offering new things that meet different needs. I think the orchestra is poised to serve the city as it grows and we’re going to take it to the next level.”

Alan Hopper, executive director of the Symphony, said it was no small task to locate and recruit Unger. The position had been open for a couple of years, but the organization just didn’t find its new general manager until she applied for the post.

“We got lots of resumes for the job and even interviewed six or seven candidates, but until we met Lora we didn’t have the right person with the necessary experience and understanding of the business,” he said. “We’re very glad we found her. She’s going to be a real asset.”

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