A Q&A with Director of Artistic Planning Patrick Chamberlain

Aug 16, 2016


NJSO Director of Artistic Planning Patrick Chamberlain comes to the NJSO from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, where he served as artistic planning manager and, previously, artistic coordinator. At the NJSO, Chamberlain will work with Music Director Xian Zhang, musicians and staff to plan and program the Orchestra’s classical series and realize Zhang’s artistic vision. He chats about the artistic planning process and his road to the NJSO:


What led you to a career in artistic planning?

I’ve been a performer my whole life, but I fell in love with the behind-the-scenes work of a performing arts organization when I was the general manager and president of my college choir, the Cornell Glee Club—planning tours, booking concerts at Kennedy and Lincoln Centers, traveling overseas, commissioning new music from important living composers. I loved the puzzle of putting together what we were performing, figuring out how to make the budgets work and building consensus amongst the group. I loved it so much I realized I preferred it to my course of study, which was government.

I then spent a summer as an artist liaison at the Aspen Music Festival. That summer didn’t feel like work—I witnessed some of the greatest musicians of our time and some of the greatest music ever in such a beautiful setting. And I knew then that I wanted to work for a major arts institution.


What was your first position?

From Aspen, I was immediately hired by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Over my time there, I became particularly fascinated with the puzzle of building a compelling season. I moved into a role as artistic planning manager, where I was responsible for responsible for pops, holiday, special programs and programs led by guest conductors.


What made you want to join the NJSO?

It’s an exciting time to join the NJSO with a new music director, CEO and board leadership. Xian is committed to building on the great tradition of excellence in this Orchestra and taking it to the next level. The opportunity to partner with her and the NJSO was too good to pass up.

Xian is an extraordinary conductor. She has an amazing rapport with this Orchestra and every orchestra she conducts. She is really excited about the NJSO’s mission to serve the state. She really has a great understanding of and passion for who we are as an organization.


What is your role as artistic planner for the NJSO?

My job is to support Xian’s vision and to provide the musicians with a platform to do their very best, most compelling and interesting work. I love piecing together the priorities of an institution, music director, musicians and audiences. When building a concert season, it comes down to questions of artist availability, repertoire balance—familiar music people love, compelling new voices we want to introduce to our audiences—and doing it all in the service of Xian’s vision for the Orchestra.


How does the process of building a concert season come together?

Planning a season starts as early as possible—at least a year in advance, ideally two to three. The first thing is getting the Orchestra’s calendar set [with all six venues] and determining which weeks are classical, pops, etc. We start by discussing what we want the season to look like—the major season and Winter Festival themes, particular artists we want to bring in and broad levels of repertoire.

From there, it goes into the nuts and bolts of matching artists’ availability with the repertoire for each program and [contrasting with] what else we are performing in that venue in that season. If it sounds complicated, it can be!


How does an orchestra find its guest artists?

It’s my job to hear the NJSO as much as possible to see if the conductor and soloists are developing a rapport. I also hear other orchestras and artists as much as possible to keep an eye on upcoming talent and develop relationships with the artists, their agents and representatives. Conductors will also champion artists with whom they’ve worked at other orchestras or overseas.


The NJSO has a particularly unique structure. You’re planning one orchestra’s season, but it’s really six seasons at six venues. What excites you about that?

It’s really unique, and as someone who really likes puzzles, this is my dream job! In addition to planning a season that’s balanced for the orchestra and for people who come to everything we do [across venues], we make sure we have a good balance of works and [kinds of concertos] in each venue.


Chamberlain will chat about the upcoming season on “All Access with State Theatre New Jersey” on Thursday, August 18, at 6 pm. Tune in at www.wctcam.com.