On July 1, Marie-Hélène Bernard officially joins the St. Louis Symphony as President and CEO, after serving over eight years as Executive Director and CEO of the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston.
A native of Quebec, Bernard received a law degree from the University of Montréal and a master’s degree in arts management from Concordia University in Montreal. She is credited with energizing Handel and Hayden on numerous fronts, including: substantially growing its audience, with 30 percent of patrons now under the age of 44; nearly doubling its original endowment; and creating community partnership programs that foster diversity and inclusion.
Bernard has worked in management capacities with the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras, and served as President and CEO of the Canton (Ohio) Symphony Orchestra.
Happenings sat down with Bernard to find out more about her and her goals for the St. Louis Symphony:
Your predecessor Fred Bronstein is credited with increasing attendance, ticket revenues, and philanthropic support as well as improving labor relations and stabilizing finances to a point where symphony musicians could tour again. That seems like a tough act to follow, how will you proceed?
I plan to continue the great work that he started but also take it to the next level. We have wonderful educational community programs that need to be better known so that more patrons, families and children can enjoy them. In looking at the next five to ten years we want to create a very exciting artistic plan that will position the St. Louis Symphony as the finest in America.
Many established cultural institutions in St. Louis such as the Symphony have audiences that are mostly “older.” You had success at the Handel and Hayden Society in building younger audiences. How will you go about doing that in St. Louis?
Getting to know those who come, see what makes them come and seek out their support to help us bring more people. Working in partnership with other organizations so that together we can develop younger audiences. There are opportunities for synergy. I have built younger audiences by virtue of capturing their attention in different venues, at modern contemporary museums, at the theater, at a dance show, where you can provide a musical environment that is very compelling to them.
Do you see growing the Symphony’s outreach in terms of music education in the schools and if so, what will that look like?
I would imagine that outside the greater St. Louis area there are some opportunities where the Symphony can bring music to underserved regions. But the point is not just to grow for the sake of growing but rather to make sure what you have is quality and can create an impact.
What made you feel that St. Louis was the right fit for you?
This is a wonderful community and the St. Louis Symphony has a great reputation. I’m confident of the Symphony’s versatility and broad range of repertoire they are able to tackle, and their character.
You went from practicing law to arts management? What was the impetus behind that change?
I grew up in a musical family and I was a musician for a long time before I practiced law and I just missed it. (Bernard plays the viola da gamba) I felt with my business and legal skills I could help the field and moved to the U.S. in ’96 to pursue a career in orchestra management. Music was my calling – it was my destiny.
What has impressed you most about St. Louis?
That it’s really proud of its orchestra and supportive of it. People here want to see more of it and see it at the level it deserves because it truly is a worldclass orchestra. I feel very much at ease here. You breathe well in St. Louis.
What do you like to do besides music to relax?
I love to read, I like to cook. I’m a dog lover so I really enjoy taking long walks with the dogs (a pug and a shiatsu) and meeting people.
The St. Louis Symphony is an Arts and Education Council Sustaining Grant recipient. For more information visit keeparthappening.org.