In the world of orchestra executives, where quitting (or firing) and hiring are handled carefully and over months or even longer, it’s surprising to hear that Mark Hanson, 47, will leave the San Francisco Symphony after four years as chief executive officer — in just six weeks.
When requesting an interview with him, SF Classical Voice received a response that “Mark Hanson is not available for interviews at this time. The press release provides all of the information.”
In the press release, Hanson is quoted: “With the San Francisco Symphony now back up and performing as a full ensemble for live audiences following our successful pandemic pivots, I have decided that this is the right time to pursue my next professional opportunity within a different environment.”
Hanson, whose SFS salary was reported as $968,107 at the last published filing with the IRS (second only to Deborah Borda at the New York Philharmonic), came to San Francisco in 2017 from a similar top position with the Houston Symphony, where he served for six years.
Hanson succeeded Brent Assink, who stepped down from the position after 18 years as SFS’s chief administrator. Unlike many other orchestras, SFS has a record of lengthy CEO tenures: Hanson is only the fifth chief executive since the position was created in 1939, with Howard Skinner serving SFS in that capacity for the next quarter century. He was followed by Joseph Scafidi from 1965 to 1978, and Peter Pastreich from 1978 to 1999.
The high point of Hanson’s tenure was the hiring of Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen as successor to Michael Tilson Thomas, and to Hanson fell the impossible task of assuring the survival of the orchestra for 18 months without a live (ticket-buying) audience.
Symphony President Priscilla Geeslin commented on Hanson’s departure briefly: “The Board fully understands Mark’s decision and thanks him for his steadfast work with appreciation for the experience, commitment, and passion with which he led the San Francisco Symphony over the past four years.”
Geeslin’s predecessor, Sakurako Fisher, hired Hanson and said at the time: “Mark is an inspiring leader and the board could not be more confident in his ability to build on the orchestra’s legacy while forging new paths and possibilities of what the orchestral experience can be. I have always felt that our next leader would need to be someone who is a connector, who dissolves walls, and who builds shared values.”
Matthew Spivey, the orchestra’s chief programming officer, who came to San Francisco in 2015 as director of artistic planning, will serve as CEO until the position is filled, which may take some time.