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Arts & Culture

Chicago Symphony Veteran Takes Over In San Diego

Martha Gilmer
Photo courtesy of San Diego Symphony
Martha Gilmer

The San Diego Symphony announced Thursday that Martha Gilmer will become its new CEO. Gilmer will take over from Ward Gill, who has been the symphony’s chief executive for more than 10 years.

Gilmer comes to San Diego following a 35-year career at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Most recently she has been the Mary L. Gray chair of artistic planning and audience development with the Chicago symphony.

“We at the San Diego Symphony are delighted to appoint Martha S. Gilmer as our new CEO,” said symphony board chairman Shearn Platt in a statement. “Martha has shown herself to be a strong and creative leader. Her name in the music world is synonymous with great artistic vision, dynamic leadership, and audience development through original programming.”


The Chicago Symphony has long been recognized as one of America’s most prestigious symphony orchestras.

Gilmer said she was impressed by the artistic life of San Diego and the musical quality of the San Diego Symphony.

"In addition to that all of the meetings I had with the board leadership centered on talking about the artistic future of the orchestra, and that was inspiring to me," she said.

Building audiences has been part of Gilmer's job description in Chicago. It is a challenge for orchestras across the country, and it relies on attracting young patrons. Gilmer gave one example of a new music series in Chicago that featured videos of the composers and affordable prices.

"And we have free pizza and beer at the end and all of that for a $20 ticket. We have college kids coming in jeans on a Monday night. The concert's about an hour and ten minutes long and it's really popular," Gilmer said.


Current San Diego Symphony chief executive Ward Gill will resign as Gilmer begins work on Sept. 24. She is coming to San Diego on a three-year contract.

A spokesman for the San Diego Symphony said Gill has told them he’s been satisfied with his accomplishments over 10 years, and it was time to turn the administrative direction over to someone new.

The symphony wouldn't reveal the salary Martha Gilmer will be paid. Ward Gill made $346,083 in 2012.

The symphony performs more than 140 concerts and outreach programs annually throughout San Diego County, the symphony's spokesman said. Last year, the symphony saw two landmark events in its history when it performed for the first time at Carnegie Hall and embarked on a “friendship tour” of China.