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MA Top 30 Professional: Keith C. Elder
By John Fleming
December 5, 2023

President and CEO
Grand Rapids Symphony

After becoming president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Symphony in July, Keith C.  Elder’s priority was “really getting into the community,” he says. “That has meant telling the story of the orchestra, about the vitalness of live classical music to a city where people want to live and raise a family. And the second piece has been meeting with musicians and board members to hear about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”

Established in 1930, the Symphony has an annual budget of about $10 million, and in Elder’s view, its challenges mirror those of every orchestra. “Become more relevant to the community. Expand our brand presence. Collaborate with other organizations and get them excited about what we do on stage.” Plus, in Elder’s case, negotiate a new labor contract with musicians to succeed the one expiring in 2024.

As for opportunities, he wants to develop concerts with visual effects that enhance the music. “The key is that the visuals need to be tied to the excellence of the music,” says Elder, who has a bachelor’s degree in music and arts administration from Indiana University with concentrations in tuba and technical theater. He has held various positions with the Aspen Music Festival, Eastman School of Music, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Tanglewood Music Center. He is also a lawyer.

Elder was executive director and CEO of the Tulsa Symphony for four years before decamping to Grand Rapids. One of his proudest achievements in Oklahoma was the orchestra’s role in the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, with a 2021 performance of Wynton Marsalis’ oratorio All Rise. “We brought in Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, 11 soloists, a community chorus, our orchestra, and Conductor David Robertson,” he says. “In that concert, the power of music was used to unite and heal our community.”


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