GTMF hires interim director Simon Woods from LA Philharmonic

JACKSON, Wyo. — The Grand Teton Music Festival board today announced Simon Woods as the interim executive director of the festival. The appointment marks yet another step up for an organization that is steadily gaining international recognition for its excellence.

“In securing the services of Simon Woods, the Grand Teton Music Festival is fortunate to be able to benefit from an experienced and enlightened executive, known across our business for his commitment to collaboration, who will provide us with valued leadership through this transitional period,” said music director Donald Runnicles. “Simon and I have been colleagues for many years both in North America and Europe. We are extremely excited to work together, committed to sustaining and further elevating the GTMF.”

In hiring Woods, Grand Teton Music Festival hopes to move on from controversy under previous ED Andrew Palmer Todd.

Late last year, Todd fired three musicians. The musicians pushed back and, through the GTMF Players’ Committee, circulated a petition that drew nearly 2,000 signatures. Runnicles and his players vowed not to return to the festival if the terminated orchestra members were not reinstated. The row also reportedly threatened to divide board members. Todd announced his resignation last December.

GTMF board co-chairs John Costello and Barbara McCelvey stated in a release: “Grand Teton Music Festival is an organization that our musicians, patrons, staff, and board care about deeply, and Simon Woods provides proven executive leadership, which will help guide us through the 2020 season. Having an interim executive director at Simon’s level speaks to the international prominence of our festival. With Simon’s arrival, we are now launching our search for a permanent executive director. In the meantime, we thank the community for its support and involvement in the festival we all love.”

Woods brings extensive experience in orchestral executive management to GTMF. A musician by training, he spent almost a decade as a recording producer at EMI Classics, before moving on to a career in orchestra leadership. His most recent position was as CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic after seven years as the Seattle Symphony’s President and CEO, six years as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s Chief Executive, a year with the New Jersey Symphony, and seven years at The Philadelphia Orchestra.

“Every summer, some of the greatest orchestral musicians in the country come together to make music with tremendous joy under Donald Runnicles’ leadership. The greatest reward of my professional life has been working up close with musicians, conductors and guest artists, so to be able to support the people of the Grand Teton Music Festival in the coming months as they bridge into a new era is a special privilege,” Woods said. “I thank the GTMF family for their trust in me, and I can’t wait to connect with old friends and make new ones in the spectacular surroundings of Jackson Hole.”

Simon Woods will assume his responsibilities on February 24, and will support the Grand Teton Music Festival in the search for its next long-term administrative leader. He will report to the GTMF board co- chairs Barbara McCelvey and John Costello.

The Grand Teton Music Festival takes place this year from July 3 to August 22, 2020.

Buckrail exclusive

A quick Q&A with Simon Woods


BUCKRAIL: Was your departure as LA Philharmonic CEO last fall due to anticipation of the GTMF opportunity?

WOODS: No, it wasn’t related at all. I left the LA Phil in the fall of last year to take a break and decide my next move. And in the meantime, I had some calls about GTMF, and became curious.

My wife and I attended the Festival a few years ago, so I knew how wonderful it was. I have enormous respect for Donald Runnicles, and I know quite a few of the musicians in the orchestra.

So, although I hadn’t been planning on taking an interim position, this just felt like destiny! It will be great to be part of this community for a while, and I am optimistic and excited about helping GTMF bridge into the future.


BUCKRAIL: Any chance you, yourself, could be made permanent as ED of GTMF?

WOODS: Never say never, I guess! But let’s be clear: I took this on not for personal gain so much as in the hope that I can help bring people together around a great future for GTMF.

Right now, I’m focused 100% on finding out what needs to be done in the immediate future, and on getting to know the key constituencies who are involved with the Festival’s success. I hope to get up to speed quickly, and the best way to do this will be to a lot of listening.

Working with the Board on developing a position profile for the next permanent leader and starting outreach to prospective candidates will be a little way down the road.


BUCKRAIL: Okay, we admit it. We kinda know what the conductor of an orchestra does. What does the executive director of a music festival like GTMF do actually?

WOODS: As a long-time nonprofit CEO, I have a fairly good handle on all the key functions that an organization like GTMF has to deal with—marketing, communications, fundraising, HR, community relations, finance, governance and so on.

[The job is very much about] relationships. I have always approached leadership through the lens of relationships. A “people first” approach will be my mantra here in Jackson Hole, just as it has been everywhere else I’ve worked.


BUCKRAIL: Finally, all of us here in Jackson Hole obviously believe we live in paradise. Your career has taken you to Los Angeles, Seattle, Scotland, and Philadelphia. What will make Jackson Hole special for you?

WOODS: It truly is paradise. In my Facebook post this morning I described it as “One of the most beautiful places on the planet.” I have been fortunate to live in some stunning places in my career—Scotland, the Pacific Northwest, and Southern California are all regions of tremendous natural beauty. But I think Jackson Hole may top them all!

By the way, I have an active Instagram account where I love to post things about my professional life, so I’m sure this will continue once I land in Wyoming. If your readers would be interested to follow me, they can find me at @simonwds.

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