Relocating from Chicago to California, incoming Executive Director Lisa Dell is an arts champion with a wealth of music experience and a passion to grow the reputation of the California Symphony as a leader in its space.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in a creative household, largely due to my mother who had studied flute in college and dance throughout her life. A typical weekend when I was young included some sort of artistic study—whether it was art, dance, music theory or piano lessons outside of our home, or ballroom dancing lessons from my mom in our living room on occasional Saturday evenings. I first came to love classical music while attending a performing arts high school when the dance department (my area of study) collaborated with the school’s orchestra department in a contemporary music/modern dance performance.
Having fallen in love with the city and all of its culture through visits while in college, I moved to Chicago immediately after graduating from UNLV. I quickly found myself in the middle of the city’s soon-to-explode contemporary chamber music scene and before too long co-founded an ensemble as the administrative ‘lead’ (and occasional page-turner) with two musicians and a composer. Called Anaphora, the group was known in the media for its “gutsy but polished performances” (Chicago Tribune) and known in the industry as a driver for cultivating new audience members. Since, I’ve gone on to work with every major classical music institution in Chicago and several new music organizations as well. I’ve also had the pleasure to work with Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, and Montreal Symphony.
Lisa’s son tries his hand at the cello at the Thirsty Ears Festival, where she has previously volunteered
You’re relocating from Chicago with your family in the New Year. Have you spent much time in California before? What are you most looking forward to about the move?
Growing up in Las Vegas, I visited California quite often though I did not travel to the Bay Area until I was 16. I now have a sister-in-law in San Francisco and my brother’s family is in the Santa Cruz area, so I’ve continued to visit every few years. In terms of geographical relocation, I am really looking forward to being back on the West Coast.
What was it about this opportunity with the California Symphony that caught your imagination?
I am passionate and enthusiastic about the state of classical music, its potential to grow, and the role orchestras play both in their communities and on the national level. Because of the attention California Symphony has received due to its innovative audience development tactics, I’ve known about the organization since about 2017. As I’ve learned more about the California Symphony, I’ve felt that I have the right background and experience to continue to grow the Symphony as a leader in its space.
I’m particularly excited about California Symphony’s educational and inclusive approach to programming and its Young American Composer Residency, in addition to the opportunity to work with the exceptional California Symphony musicians, music director Donato Cabrera, and the Symphony’s dedicated board of directors and administrative staff.
You attended a California Symphony concert the day before your interview. Any first impressions you’d like to share?
Prior to entering the hall, I had the impression that the energy at a California Symphony concert would be infectious. The actual feeling was even better than expected. California Symphony has a great audience.
I am very excited to be joining everyone in California and look forward to keeping up the Symphony’s positive momentum. I can’t wait to get to know everyone better.