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Steven Monder Hangs Up His Suit and Tie

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Jul 3, 2008 - 1:28:53 AM in news_2008

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra president Steven Monder at Music Hall in Cincinnati
Cincinnati Symphony music director emeritus Jesus Lopez-Cobos flew all the way from Spain with his wife Brigitta.
    Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel was there, and from Windsor, Ontario, former CSO/Pops associate conductor John Morris Russell and his wife Tea.
    They joined approximately 500 other people from near and far who paid tribute to retiring CSO president Steven Monder June 29 at National City Pavilion at Riverbend.
    Monder, 63, retired from the orchestra June 30 after 37 years, 31 of them in the top leadership position, making him the longest-tenured chief executive of any major American orchestra.    
   "Steven Monder is hanging up the suit and tie," the invitations read.
    Two former presidents of the League of American Orchestras, Henry Fogel and Catherine French, came to pay their respects, as did League vice president/managing director Jesse Rosen, Wayne Brown, director of music and opera for the National Endowment for the Arts, and Cincinnati arts leaders Mary McCullough-Hudson, president and CEO of the Fine Arts Fund, Evans Mirageas and Patty Beggs, artistic and general directors, respectively, of Cincinnati Opera, Ed Stern, artistic director of the Playhouse in the Park, and Carmon de Leone, music director of Cincinnati Ballet and former assistant/resident conductor of the CSO.
    With them was a panoply of CSO musicians, staff, volunteers, trustees, Monder family members and friends.
    "Retirement" and "Steven Monder" sound discordant in the same sentence.
    Monder may have stepped down from CSO management, but after nearly four decades of around-the-clock devotion to the orchestra, it is hard to believe he will not remain actively involved in its well being.
    It was under Monder's leadership that the CSO became truly world class.  Heir to a legacy of tradition and support when he began working for the CSO as a 26-year-old production manager, he leaves an impressive legacy of his own.
    As CSO chief executive, Steven Monder

  • hired three CSO music directors, Michael Gielen, Jesus Lopez-Cobos and now Paavo Järvi. In all, Monder has worked with four CSO music directors, including Thomas Schippers, as well as Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel and May Festival music director James Conlon.
  •  forged a relationship with Telarc International, resulting in 120 recordings and nearly ten million copies sold
  • established the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra
  • worked out a collaborative arrangement with the Cincinnati May Festival and Cincinnati Opera, helping to provide full-time employment for CSO musicians
  • as May Festival executive director since 1976, brought music director James Conlon to Cincinnati
  • built and opened Riverbend Music Center, including newly opened National City Pavilion
  • co-produced nine nationally televised PBS broadcasts
  • raised the CSO's national and international profile through domestic and international tours, including numerous appearances at Carnegie Hall, high-profile tours of Europe and Asia and the Pops' upcoming performances at the Olympic Games in Beijing (August).
  • established a revenue-producing subsidiary, Music and Events Management Inc., presenter of Tall Stacks and other community events
  • greatly expanded the CSO education program "Sound Discoveries: Music for Life, Music for a Career, Music for the Community"
  • expanded diversity outreach and inclusiveness through creation of the "Classical Roots: Spiritual Heights" series in local African-American churches and the CSO Multi-Cultural Awareness Council

    Monder has been honored with the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music's Distinguished Alumni Award and the Scripps-Corbett (formerly Post-Corbett) Award for Lifetime Achievement.
    Sunday he was honored in other (some quite imaginative) ways, like being run through a hilarious "Steven Monder Through the Years" timeline by CSO staff members Charlotte Brothers, Jan Cauhorn, Chris McKim, Chris Pinelo and Judy Prinz.
    Kunzel saluted "Mr. President," recalling Monder as the "little fella" who appeared in his conducting class at CCM in the late 1960s, and there were video greetings by Järvi and Conlon, both currently fulfilling conducting engagements elsewhere.
    Said Järvi:  "I have seldom met in this business someone with such dedication and integrity and such knowledge and love for the orchestra. He has become a close personal friend.  Steven and I will never forget our first dinner at the Maisonette, where we seriously discussed the possibility of me become music director in Cincinnati.  I remember how the Maisonette closed down and left just one parking valet to wait for us because we simply wouldn't leave.  It was one of those things that set the tone for the next seven years."
    Conlon said Monder's 37 years "speak louder than anything else for the quality of his work.  His commitment to the CSO, the May Festival and the community at large is something monumental.  I consider Steve Monder to be one of my great, now lifelong friends and look forward to continuing that friendship in all respects in the future."
    Iva Brown and Tina Macon, co-chairs of the Multi-Cultural Awareness Council and Nancy Wagner, president of the Cincinnati Symphony Association (the CSO's volunteer wing) presented tributes and gifts.
    Players' Committee chairman Richard Jensen gave Monder a framed photo of the orchestra signed by all the CSO musicians and praised his skills in working with them.  "We have always felt that with Steve, we were partners and have worked together toward the same goals.  He always remembered that the music comes first.  In the orchestra world, it is rare to have such a high level of trust between manager and musicians that we enjoy in Cincinnati.  It is rarer still to enjoy it for over 30 years."
    Eugene Frey, chairman of Cincinnati-based local No. 1 of the American Federation of Musicians, noted Monder's initiatives on behalf of the players and announced that he was being made an honorary life member of the AFM, "something we never did before except for Max Rudolf" (CSO music director from 1958-70).
    Woods, Grammy-winning Producer of the Year seven times for Telarc, tipped his hat to Monder, whom he met 35 years ago "when I was a singer dabbling in the recording business."
    "Over the years, so many recordings and without your guidance and leadership -- I started out way too idealistic.  You were the stable, calm, whatever-we-run-up-against-we'll-work-it-out.  It's been an unbelievable ride and without you, it would have never happened."
    Martone echoed Woods:  "With your pipe, your love, your kindness and support, you've made possible a wonderful life for so many people.  If the measure of somebody's life is the way we make a difference in the world, yours has been truly extraordinary."
    Lopez-Cobos' turn was preceded by the appearance of a "mystery guest," CSO violinist Stacey Wooley as Monder's "long lost cousin" Esteban Montero, "hybrid clone" of Lopez-Cobos and Monder.  Wooley's Lopez-Cobos-accented performance as Spain's only Jewish matador -- and the fugitive German scientist who created him -- brought the house down. 
    Music director of the Teatro Real in Madrid since 2002, Lopez-Cobos spoke of the things he learned from Monder.  "I came very young.  I really didn't know the life of an American orchestra inside.  I learned from you.  I remember so many meetings with orchestra musicians in my office and I admire always your sensitivity, your judgment, you honesty to tell the truth, but not to do pain.  That was a thing I treasure all of my life."  Not many people in the music industry "dedicate their life to one institution," he said. "Many of them use a job to get to the next one.  People in this orchestra will miss you for years to come."
    Lopez-Cobos, who received lengthy applause, said he always gave departing members of the CSO a book about Spanish arts and history so that they would "remember the years they had a Spanish music director."
    "You are the exception," he told Monder.  "I have a book about the wonderful ways to see Spain.  Now that you have free time, I am waiting for you there."
    Monder's children David and Leah explained what it was like having a father who lived at Music Hall, but managed to inspire them just the same.  "Thirty-seven years is a long time to work day and night (Leah), but we know he took at least two nights off somewhere in there (David)."
    In an onstage "Big Sing," CSO staffers, board members and special guests joined in a rousing, somewhat tongue-in-cheek rendition of "Steve Monder's Leaving in the Morning" (to the tune of "I'm Getting Married in the Morning," lyrics by Stern).
    This paved the way for a final tribute on behalf of the CSO board of trustees by former board chairman and chair of the retirement event planning committee Trish Bryan.  ( Bryan represented current board chairman Marvin Quin, who was unable to attend because of a recent injury.)
    After calling Monder to the stage, Bryan presented him with several gifts:  an all-expenses paid, three-day, Honda Acura, high performance driving course at Mid-Ohio School in Lexington, Ohio along with a helmet, goggles and gloves "to help you maintain the fast pace you've established for yourself over these many years." (Monder, a fan of race car driving, owns an Austin-Healey 3000.)  Then, in recognition of his role as the "driving force" behind the opening of Riverbend in 1984 and National City Pavilion this year, Bryan unveiled a pair of plaques to be mounted inside the theaters.
    "The two stages will now bear his name," she sai d.  The plaque for J. Ralph Corbett Pavilion will be installed during the Pops' upcoming July 4 concert at Riverbend and will read: "The Steven Monder Stage at Riverbend Music Center, J. Ralph Corbett Pavilion, so named to honor his 37 years of commitment to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra which set the stage to entertain millions and help support the CSO, June 29, 2008."
    Monder's moment -- he was not wearing a tie this time -- was heartfelt and personal.
    "It's a wonderful evening, but I've got to tell you it's all very difficult," he said.  "I began to think about retirement several years ago, but I felt I could sustain the rigors of this wonderful but stressful job a few more years.  I think I was right. What I didn't anticipate was how quickly those years would go by and morph into the present.  It's clear from this side of 37 years that I've been very fortunate.  The music-making has been phenomenal, and yet somehow continues to get better every year.
    "For me, the CSO has been much more than a job, more than a world class orchestra and conductors.  For me, the CSO, conductors, musicians and staff are a family of dedicated, caring and immensely talented, world class people"
    Monder paid tribute to his wife Donna, unable to attend because of a long illness.  "Doing this without her is more difficult than it would be otherwise.  But doing what I did for the last 37 years would have been impossible without her."
    He ended with "something I've been doing for so long that I can't resist doing it one more time:  I ask you to please, going forward, allow yourselves to be passionate about your orchestra and its future."
    Many of the guests adjourned to the RSVIP Club at Riverbend to enjoy desserts and continue their reminiscences and farewells.
    A search committee, headed by CSO board member John Palmer, is working with the global executive search firm Spencer Stuart to find Monder's successor