Jere Lantz prides himself on being prepared for every eventuality as conductor of the Rochester Symphony Orchestra & Chorale.
But he was taken completely by surprise last summer when he was offered the additional position as president/CEO of the orchestra he has led from the podium since 1980.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Lantz said. “I was the last to know. I hadn’t given it the slightest thought.”
The position opened up when Jeff Amundson, orchestra president, resigned in April. Amundson had been charged with felony financial exploitation in Olmsted County District Court.
Lantz and his wife, Kristina, had lived in St. Paul since 1992, with Lantz commuting to Rochester for rehearsals and concerts. “It would require a major uprooting for us,” Lantz said. “Kristina was for it before I was. I had to think about it for three days.”
He accepted the position and spent the summer moving to Rochester, getting acquainted with his new duties, and re-acquainting himself with the community.
“There are a whole lot more good restaurants than when I lived here 23 years ago,” Lantz said.
Lantz, 66, said he looks at his new dual role as the final big challenge of his career. “I promised the board five years, maybe more, who knows,” he said. “This is where I’m going to end my career. It’s a lot to take on. But I’m excited. I saw a colleague in the Cities recently and they said, ‘You’ve got a real bounce in your step.'”
Lantz is finding out, however, that standing on the podium and conducting the orchestra might be the easiest part of the job. Despite his undergraduate degree in economics from Yale, Lantz freely admits he needs help in managing the orchestra’s finances. For that, he intends to turn to a three-person staff and experienced board members.
“This orchestra deserves to succeed,” Lantz said. “So I’ve wondered, would I be able to assume the executive duties? It’s the strongest challenge I’ve ever taken on.”
Obviously, orchestra fans and patrons wonder if the music will suffer as Lantz divides his time.
“I asked that question of myself before anyone else did,” he said. “The answer is ‘No.’ I’m experienced and I prepare well. I always have.”
In an interview in his Riverside Building office, Lantz addressed other issues and questions regarding the orchestra and its future on the eve of the season-opening concerts:
The biggest challenge: “Audience size and the bottom line,” he said. “We have to convince you to leave home and come to the concert.” The orchestra has launched new efforts in fundraising and development. “It’s going well, but we need to keep at it,” Lantz said. “It’s the endless quest.”
His No. 1 goal: “My first goal is to get the word out that you don’t have to go to the Twin Cities to see a good orchestra,” he said. A concert hall is also on Lantz’s agenda. “One of the reasons people don’t know about us is we don’t have our own home,” he said. “The reason Charlie and Will Mayo started an orchestra was to attract top medical professionals here. A Destination Medical Center without a concert hall doesn’t make sense.”
On being the public face of the orchestra: “That point has been made to me by the board, in a nice way. I am an evangelist for good music. I preach the gospel of music that moves the soul.”
On the quality of the orchestra: “Artistically, this group is better than it’s ever been. I’m in my 36th year and I’m not tired of it or bored.”