Classically Trained: Making the music happen (without a baton)

August 23, 2012|By Bradley Zint
  • John Forsyte has been president of the Pacific Symphony since 1998.
John Forsyte has been president of the Pacific Symphony… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

Carl St.Clair may be more recognizable to Orange County music lovers, but Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte leads the team who makes the music happen concert after concert, season after season.

Forsyte took the symphony's helm in 1998. During his 14-year tenure, the orchestra has not only toured internationally and called a new concert hall its home, but its stability has kept the music flowing, he said, and given it a national artistic reputation.

Before all that, Forsyte, 47, who lives in Long Beach, grew up in the Chicago area.

At age 7, he had a violin. It was one of the finer things in life exposed to him by his immigrant parents — his father is from Poland, his mother from Hungary.

"Music and art film, attending museums — it is really a part of my identity," Forsyte said. "That and Chicago sports."

Although initially an undergraduate studying biology, he found himself spending a lot of time in the music library. He was hooked.


"Slowly, to the utter disappointment of my parents, I announced that I wasn't going to pursue a medical career but was interested in arts administration," he said.

Forsyte spent a semester studying abroad in London, working for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Academy of Ancient Music.

He eventually graduated from the University of Illinois with a business degree and music-oriented path in mind.

"I found myself not wanting to be without the music and thinking I could make some kind of contribution to the quality of performance," he said.

To him, musicians were just as inspiring as great football or baseball athletes. And the degrees by which they could interpret the same piece using varied schools of thought — be they American, German, French, Russian and others — were equally moving.


'I learned to do everything'

Forsyte's first job was general manager and then executive director of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. He was 22.

Forsyte said he knew nothing about running an orchestra at the time.

"I learned to do everything," he said with a laugh. "I was driving trucks to raising money. I had a chance to experience what all the different jobs look like."

Later, after a year-long fellowship through the League of American Orchestras, he was chosen to run the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.

The Michigan town had arts and, with its corporate activity, it had money to support the arts, Forsyte said. And chunks of that money went into the orchestra to serve a sophisticated audience.

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