The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has appointed 39-year-old André Gremillet as its president, effective January 2007, the orchestra announced today.
The orchestra has been without a chief executive since June 2005, when Simon Woods left after 15 months in the job to take a similar post with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
Gremillet, a Montreal native and former pianist, is currently president of Casavant Frères, an international manufacturer of pipe organs located near Montreal. He led the management team for the company in negotiating a four-year labor contract with a union of 70 employees, comparable in size to the NJSO's roster of musicians. NJSO management has a collaborative relationship with its musicians, who have representatives on the board and several key committees.
Gremillet holds an MBA from McGill University in Montreal and a postgraduate degree in piano performance from the Mannes College of Music (now part of The New School) in New York. He received an undergraduate degree from the Université du Québec in piano performance and music education.
He has won several piano competitions and prizes and made his European debut in 1995 in France. He has also performed extensively throughout the U.S. and Canada and recorded with pianist Grant Johannesen.
It was this experience as both musician and businessmen that made him attractive to the NJSO. The 18-month selection process involved the board, staff and musicians. Victor Parsonnet, chairman of the NJSO board of trustees, said, "[Gremillet's] experience as a businessperson and musician, combined with his creativity and ability as a team leader and strategic thinker, are exactly what we need."
Gremillet told Newark's Star-Ledger, "I'm leaving a company that's doing very well, a very secure position where I could have been there for years, to come here. I really believe the potential is here. There are financial difficulties, there's no secret about that. But I know what I'm getting into."
Gremillet faces fundraising challenges, a drop in subscriptions and accumulated deficits. He will also have to deal with $17 million in loans needed to finance the NJSO's collection of rare 17th- and 18th-century Italian string instruments. (The orchestra suffered something of a scandal following the purchase of the collection when Herbert Axelrod, the pet care magnate and philanthropist who sold the instruments, was indicted and later convicted for tax fraud in an unrelated matter: it turns out that Axelrod may have overstated the collection's value so as to claim he was letting the NJSO buy it at a large discount.)
The situation is improving, however, in large part thanks to music director Neeme Järvi. The Star-Ledger points out that so far this season, the orchestra has sold 700 more subscriptions than in all of last year, while sales of single tickets have exceeded $200,000, compared to $73,000 this time last year.
The NJSO's 2006-07 season opened with two sold-out concerts at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark; in comparison, the orchestra sold out only two concerts during the whole of last season.