The Vancouver Opera has just announced it will bring in its new general director from the Verbier Festival, a popular international music festival in Switzerland.
Kim Gaynor will take the role over from James Wright, who has led the VO for 17 years, on July 1.
Gaynor, a bilingual Canadian arts administrator who has run the European fest for 10 years, brings key experience to the VO as it transitions to a spring-festival-only format in 2017. The company has decided to abandon its regular season for financial reasons and to try to build declining audiences for opera.
"What interests me, aside from the reputation the company has for artistic excellence and programming, is really the challenge of starting this festival," Gaynor told the Straight in an exclusive interview from Switzerland. "Because I've spent the last 10 years helping to run one of the best festivals in Europe, if not in the world, I believe festivals have a way of inspiring people that regular seasons don't. It's a concentrated, immersive experience and people tend to get involved in a way that you don't if you're rushing from the office at 5 or 6 for a performance and then you get home and you have to work the next day. A festival is a chance to get swept along by the excitement of it and there's a connectedness of the event--usually there's a theme."
Gaynor adds: "I would like to say it's a very courageous decision by the company and the board to say, 'We're not going to sit around and do nothing while we watch the whole demographic changing.'"
The Verbier Festival was launched in 1994 and offers 65 classical concerts over 17 days.
"It definitely has brought the top classical musicians in to this wonderful alpine setting," Gaynor says of the Swiss Alps-based fest she'll run till moving here in August. "There is quite a lot of vocal work, too; there's no facility to present [full] opera, but there is a lot of opera in concert. Our academy also has had an opera and song component." Gaynor adds developing young artists has been a strength at Verbier: "Audiences really like to follow the development of young artists."
In Canada, Gaynor has served as administrative director of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, marketing director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, and managing director of L’Opéra de Montréal. She began her career as a touring officer with the Canada Council for the Arts. She holds a masters of business administration from York University. She was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and grew up in Burlington, Ontario.
In a press statement, Pascal Spothelfer, chair of the VO board of directors, said: “On behalf of the entire Vancouver Opera community I am delighted to welcome Kim Gaynor to Vancouver as our new General Director. We have been blessed with a very strong leader in Jim Wright for the past 17 years and to find the right successor who will lead Vancouver Opera’s transition into its new festival format while honouring its traditions was a daunting task. Kim emerged as the ideal candidate from our extensive international search and we are thrilled to bring her back to Canada. The opera company and the community will greatly benefit from her passion, managerial acumen and deep festival
“Opera as an art form is continuously evolving and Vancouver Opera has always been at the forefront of innovation and creativity in anticipating and responding to change," he added. "Kim is the leader we were seeking to manage these dynamics. She understands the Canadian cultural context, has gained tremendous international experience and brings the strategic and operational skills to lead
Vancouver Opera into a very exciting future.”
Gaynor acknowledges there will be, as with any arts organization, challenges with structuring and finances with the change-over to the festival format. But Gaynor, who says she is aware there will be longtime VO supporters skeptical about the switch, explains there will be one big key to success: "Artistic excellence. If you have artistic excellence you excite audiences and they find you."