How Beethoven for all and A-list alliances keep the Music Academy of the West thriving after 70 years

Santa Barbara suits Scott Reed. A fit, life-long swimmer, his perfectly tailored crisp white shirt and clean-cut red hair pop against the seaside city’s bright blue sky.

To look at him, you’d never know he got the job that led to him becoming president and chief executive of the Music Academy of the West, the venerable Santa Barbara classical music institution, by knocking on the front door of the place.

It was the late 1990s and he was a senior music student at UC Santa Barbara, where he’d come to the conclusion that although he loved music and wanted it to be an integral part of his life, he was more interested in a career in business than performance.

He had heard of the Music Academy — one of the country’s most respected classical music summer programs and festivals for gifted musicians — and thought maybe he could learn about the business side of running a music organization by working there. So he drove to the school and headed for the front entrance.

It was a cold call that paid off. In 2010, he was asked to lead the Music Academy.

Today, with this summer’s master classes in full swing and preparations underway for a slate of concerts, Reed led a tour of the academy’s picturesque campus as it prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary.

Each summer, more than 100 aspiring professional musicians in their late teens and early 20s, many of them current students or recent graduates of the world’s most elite music schools, attend the academy as fully funded fellows for an eight-week intensive training program. They spend busy days practicing, studying with esteemed faculty and performing in operas, string quartets and master classes.

Among this year’s master classes is a session with soprano Renée Fleming, and Marilyn Horne will be on campus as the jury leader for the Marilyn Horne Song Competition. This year’s opera production, Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love,” will be performed Thursday and Saturday at Santa Barbara’s Granada Theatre, between Wednesday’s PercussionFest and Saturday evening’s sold-out solo piano competition. Also sold out is the Aug. 5 festival finale featuring Fleming and outgoing New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert.

The high demand for Music Academy events is one reason Reed is thrilled about Monday’s 70th anniversary celebratory outdoor concert at Santa Barbara City College’s La Playa Stadium. Orchestral musician fellows, who make up the Music Academy Festival Orchestra, will perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony alongside the New York Philharmonic.

Gilbert will conduct the concert — his Music Academy appearances will coincidentally be his last as music director of the New York Philharmonic. He takes over as chief conductor for the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in Hamburg, Germany, this fall.

More than 7,000 free and $10 tickets have been made available for the concert, which Reed says will be the largest event of its kind in Santa Barbara’s history.

“Unparalleled access.” That’s what the president says is the driver behind the ambitious community concert. “While our ultimate goal is to give our fellows the tools to have a vibrant, sustainable career in music, we are also interested in cultivating audiences and making classical music part of people’s daily lives.”

Reed is a popular, approachable figure on campus. Members of the Women’s Auxiliary, who help fund the program, stop him to say hello, longtime faculty members greet him warmly and a member of the grounds crew offers him a fresh flower. Everyone asks about Ruby, his 5-month-old daughter. (Reed, who is single and gay, recently became a new father at 46 with the help of an egg donor and surrogate.)

A former private estate, the campus recently underwent a $50-million renovation, a project that began when Reed was working in the academy’s fundraising department and was completed under his presidency.

It was the fundraising department that took him on as an unpaid intern when Reed came knocking. With the exception of a two-year stint working in the development department at San Francisco Opera, he has spent his entire professional career at the academy, where he has held numerous positions.

Reed’s foundation in fundraising has had a big effect on his tenure as president. “Not just for the sake of raising money,” he explains, “but because of the skill set I picked up working in development.”

During his days in the academy’s fundraising department, he developed a highly relational approach to raising money. He spends time getting to know donors, learning about their unique interests, and making proposals that are “easy to say yes to, and very hard to say no to.”

As president, he followed that same rubric when attracting esteemed faculty members and guest artists like Jeremy Denk, Matthew Aucoin and Fleming and a “dream team” of senior administrators.

The academy’s ongoing partnership with the New York Philharmonic was also formed under Reed’s leadership.

Unlike the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which is busy at the Hollywood Bowl during the summer months, the New York orchestra does not have a permanent summer home. Reed proposed a mutually beneficial relationship –– one in which the East Coast organization could expand and highlight its dedication to educational programming and the academy could gain an important partner.

Deborah Borda, who met Reed during her time as president of the L.A. Philharmonic — and will work with him more closely in the near future when she assumes the role of president at the New York Philharmonic in September — says the academy’s relationship with the East Coast orchestra is an example of Reed’s creative thinking as an administrator.

“He’s deeply creative,” she says. “But also very well organized. He has assembled a very talented staff and faculty, led a complete renovation of the campus, attracted first-class artists of all different age groups, and has been an extremely effective fundraiser.”

With all those net positives, Reed says that now the academy just needs to focus on remaining relevant in a rapidly changing industry.

“That can be overwhelming,” he says. “Being willing to change and be adaptable enough to address our young fellows’ 21st-century needs. But it’s a great challenge, and one we have to absolutely insist and commit to addressing.”


Music Academy of the West 70th Anniversary Community Concert

When: Monday, July 31, 7:30 p.m.

Where: La Playa Stadium, Santa Barbara City College, 721 Cliff Drive, Santa Barbara.

Tickets: $10 general admission; $100 reserved seats; 7- to 17-year-olds free


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