October 22, 2014

Culture Watch

Classic pop: Although new Phil CEO Kathleen van Bergen is a classically trained musician, she’s still looking forward to the pop acts, such as Huey Lewis and the News, who will grace her stage.Big Shoes to Phil 

Kathleen van bergen isn’t seeing shadows. She isn’t worried about any 800-pound gorillas. Her shoes fit just fine, thanks.

Although van Bergen will be perhaps the most scrutinized woman in Naples this season, she doesn’t feel any pressure either. She believes the board of the Philharmonic Center for the Arts hired her to take over for founding CEO Myra Daniels for a reason—to grow an already imposing legacy for generations to come.

It’s a role the 35-year-old relishes. After stints in the executive artistic ranks at the St. Louis Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Schubert Club in Minneapolis, van Bergen said she’s excited to work at an organization that isn’t a finished product.

"Even though we are celebrating the orchestra’s 30th season… it isn’t fully grown," she says. "It’s gone through its childhood and its adolescence, but there’s still more room to develop. After working for arts organizations that are more than 100 years old, it’s a nice challenge to be in a place like this."

Although she is reticent to give specifics as to how the programming might change, there are some things requiring her attention. She’s in the process of looking for both a new musical director to lead the orchestra and a curator to run the Naples Museum of Art. She’s hoping to hire a development director who can supplement the Phil’s sizable endowment. Plus, she’s looking for ways to expand programming into the summer.

One encouraging sign from our recent conversation was her desire for the Phil to be both a titan and a teammate in the Southwest Florida arts community. She says her schedule is packed with meetings with other organizations to see what kind of partnerships can be formed.

"I’m saying, ‘Hey, let’s get together. There is great work to be done,’"
she says.

In the past, the Phil hasn’t always been seen as the organization most eager to work with others, especially those with similar offerings. While it was quick to partner with the Naples International Film Festival to host the opening gala each year, a good deal of bitterness was born after the organization chose to partner with the Sarasota Opera rather than Opera Naples. (Although now that both organizations have new leadership, that problem might get solved.)

But even before van Bergen stepped in, some signals of change were on the horizon. Members of the orchestra are playing Phil-branded shows at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in Fort Myers, helped along no doubt because the Fort Myers group is led by a member of the Phil’s orchestra.

Local classical music fans are no doubt pleased the Phil chose to hire someone with such strong orchestral bonafides. An Eastman School of Music-trained violinist, van Bergen was playing semi-professionally in Chicago before a mentor gave her a key piece of advice.

"He said, ‘The world doesn’t need any more violinists. The world needs people who understand violinists,’" she says. "(In this job) you need skills and vision. To be able to really implement the concept, you have to have the vision."

Still, don’t think her world revolves around Mozart and Bach. Van Bergen said she loves jazz, visual arts and lectures. She sort of chuckled while admitting she’s very excited to have Huey Lewis grace the stage as well, a reminder that she is a child of the ’80s and that the pop program still holds an important place at the Phil.

Without going into specifics, she said there were definitely things she loved and hated about the schedule for the upcoming season, which is built on a base of old favorites and seasoned with a few new offerings. While acknowledging the need for the organization to take in as much ticket revenue as it can, van Bergen’s first priority is quality.

"So while we might have some programs we know are going to be a hit, we might also have some that will make very little, or even lose money, if there is value artistically," she says.

All in all, she doesn’t believe any but the most seasoned Phil watchers will tell much of a difference with her at the helm, at least not in her first few seasons.

"It shouldn’t be like a light switch," she says. "It isn’t off and on. It’s a slow fade."

Other thoughts from our conversation:

• Although no one is going to match the svengali-like sway Myra Daniels held over arts patrons in Collier County, there is little doubt here that van Bergen will be immensely popular in the community. Her youthful energy, combined with a deep knowledge base and a desire to grow the organization should have prominent donors lining up to continue contributing.

• There’s no doubt the final call on the Phil’s direction rests on van Bergen’s shoulders, but she said her top priorities were to find two artistic partners to fill the key roles of musical director and museum curator. The curator role should be filled relatively quickly, but she isn’t going to rush to hire a new musical director to replace Jorge Meister. "You want to bring in a lot of candidates and see how they work with the orchestra," she says. "There’s something magic when an orchestra and conductor are working perfectly together."

Girls on Film

Another year, and another new executive director for the Naples International Film Festival. This year the festival has a decidedly feminine touch with Shannon Franklin running the show with programming director Ellen Goldberg. The opening night film at the Phil is East Fifth Bliss, starring Dexter’s Michael C. Hall and Lucy Liu.

Highlights from the documentary side include Dying to Do Letterman, the story of a comedian whose battle with cancer pushes him to live his dream of performing on The Late Show, and Unraveled, which tells the story of Mark Drier and the $750 million fraud case that got lost in the shadows of the Bernie Madoff scandal.

In the feature film category, grab tickets to The Lie¸ which stars Joshua Leonard of the Blair Witch Project and won raves at Sundance earlier this year, and Answers to Nothing, an ensemble film starring Dane Cook and Julie Benz, among others, and directed by NIFF favorite Matthew Leytwyler.

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