The Man Behind the Music: Palm Beach Symphony CEO David McClymont
We caught up with Palm Beach Symphony CEO David McClymont for lunch at Sant Ambroeus just days after the Symphony’s critically acclaimed concert in January with guest artist Yefim Bronfman. He gave us this exclusive look at what happens behind the scenes at one of our nation’s leading regional orchestras.
Meet Palm Beach Symphony CEO David McClymont
What was your inspiration to become involved with the Symphony?
When I was first approached about the position in 2014, I was struck by the passion of the board and I wanted to be part of expanding and fulfilling the Symphony’s mission. To this day, I am motivated and inspired by the leadership of our board, the selflessness of our incredibly hardworking staff and our visionary and generous donors.
Did you always want to make music a career – was it a childhood dream?
My mother would take me to the theater as a boy and gave me an appreciation for the performing arts. My childhood dreams leaned more towards sports and I was once a sponsored competitive surfer and have since competed in the 140-mile Ironman Florida triathlon twice. Also as a boy, I had a paper delivery route and harbored some dreams of becoming a wildly successful businessman.
Who are your idols or those who inspire you?
My idols tend to be trailblazers whether it’s those who basically created an industry and rose from nothing such as Richard Branson and Spanx founder Sara Blakely to those who have demonstrated a remarkable grasp of business and relationships like Tony Robbins, Adam Grant and the late Jack Welch.
Given that your company is a nonprofit, where is the Symphony’s biggest impact felt?
Our mission is to engage, educate and entertain the greater community of the Palm Beaches and our impact in all those areas led us to be recognized by The Cultural Council for Palm Beach County with a 2020 Muse Award for Outstanding Community Engagement.
Our education programs have reached more than 56,000 students in recent years and last season alone we delivered nearly 400 musician hours of classroom instruction and performances along with donating 65 instruments, valued at more than $96,000, to deserving students and music programs.
With the addition of two concerts televised at the holidays and a new in-school concert, families and students who might not have been able to attend a performance before are being introduced to orchestral music through world-class performances. Finally, onstage, our concerts with today’s greatest artists such as Yefim Bronfman and Midori are making Palm Beach a cultural destination.
Your website talks about bold innovation and strategic business insights leading to transformational change – would you mind expounding on that a bit, what type of change can be brought by your efforts?
The cornerstone is understanding people and human motivation to improve quality, achieve results and increase satisfaction of both the staff and the patron. Let’s take the Symphony which had been operating in the red prior to my arrival to one that realized a 100% increase in revenue in five years and remained in the black in recent seasons when the concert halls were closed.
One of my mottos is “Data drives decisions” and I believe success is realized by building consensus among all stakeholders. We’ve managed to grow the business of the Palm Beach Symphony by streamlining operations, diversifying programming, increasing opportunities for young people and making the Symphony experience accessible for all.
How long has the Palm Beach Symphony been around and how has it changed during your tenure as CEO?
When it was founded in 1974, the Symphony performed only a few concerts a year and had a part-time conductor. Today, we perform our entire Masterworks Season at the Kravis Center. One of the most significant moments of our evolution occurred in 2019, when Gerard Schwarz became our music director.
He also serves as Music Director of the Mozart Orchestra of New York and the All-Star Orchestra. His honors include being the first American named Conductor of the Year by Musical America, nine Emmy Awards and 14 Grammy nominations. Since joining us, he has brought the artistic level of the Symphony up to a level that is garnering national acclaim. In addition, almost every major artist has worked with him and is thrilled at the prospect of doing so again here in Palm Beach.
How has the community embraced it?
Palm Beach Symphony now has numerous social events each year from the annual Holly Jolly Symphony Fête and annual gala to new events honoring our major donors such as the Golden Baton Society and Impresario Society dinners.
When our 2019-2020 season was cut short 70% of ticket holders donated the value of the tickets back to the Symphony for concerts cancelled due to the pandemic and our livestreamed concerts the following season were seen by viewers in 22 states and three other countries. Our donors and audiences made it possible to continue to sustain the note in a very challenging environment.
What is the greatest strength of the nonprofit and what are its goals for the next year, five years?
The strength is as it always has been: our board, supporters, audiences, staff and volunteers. Next year we will be laying the groundwork to celebrate our 50th anniversary in the 2023-24 season. In fact, we will close next season with the performance of a new work we have commissioned that will be the first of many new commissions we are undertaking as we take ownership of the responsibilities of the Symphony’s new national stature.
We will continue to grow our education programs which now support young artists from kindergarten through young adults and thus create an audience for the Symphony well into the future.
Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate publisher of Dan’s Papers.