classical: New Symphony Director 

Fisk is finishing up his role as chief executive of the Ulster Orchestra Society, the national symphony of Northern Ireland. The Ulster Orchestra is slightly smaller in size than the Richmond Symphony, but has nearly twice as many full-time musicians. During his time with the orchestra, Fisk helped expand its community outreach program and increased local funding, among other achievements. Fisk begins his job June 1.

Style: What did you enjoy most about working with the Ulster Orchestra?

Fisk: Living in Northern Ireland over the last few years has been a fascinating experience, watching a community in transition from conflict to relative stability. It has been immensely rewarding to see the role the orchestra, as a wholly unpartisan organization, could play in helping to create a feeling of normality and to bring people together. We took the orchestra out to play in some of the most "difficult" parts of Belfast and it was satisfying to see the warmth of the response from audiences. I also enjoyed some of the major projects we accomplished during my tenure, such as taking the Orchestra to London and elsewhere in England, to Scotland, the South of Ireland, the Netherlands, Eastern Europe and, most prestigiously, to open the "UK in NY" Festival in New York last October.

Which of your past accomplishments are you most satisfied with?

I was pleased to have got my piano playing up to a professional standard, so that I could in theory have made my living as a performer if I had so chosen. I still play a bit but inevitably I haven't been able to maintain that standard since I went into administration. I was also happy that my first job, [executive director of the Manchester International Festival of Expressionism], was such a success, especially since it took five years of planning to pull off. It launched me into the work I've done since, [development director for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and manager of the Orchestra of St. John's, Smith Square] and the Ulster Orchestra.

What similarities and differences do you expect to encounter between the Ulster Orchestra and the Richmond Symphony?

The differences between a British/Irish orchestra and an American symphony will be subtle in terms of cultural activity, but more obvious in some of the financial detail. In the UK we benefit from far higher public subsidy than here, but there are so many strengths about the U.S. system of relying on greater support from individuals, companies and charitable foundations — it gives so many more people an active stake in the symphony's work.

What attracted you to this job, and to Richmond?

I was keen to work in the States because I love the "can do" attitude and the sense that everything is possible, if the will to accomplish it is there. When I came to Virginia, I was bowled over by the buzz of the city and the beauty of the surrounding landscape. I heard the orchestra and was impressed both by the quality of its playing and by its dedication to education and community outreach activity, which is something I'm very passionate about. — Interviewed by A.L.R.


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