Mark Hanson ’88

BYSO alumnus Mark Hanson, CEO of the San Francisco Symphony, believes that youth orchestras play a key role in the field of classical music. Through his leadership, SFS provides the most extensive education and community programs offered by any American orchestra, bringing music into every classroom, K-12, in the San Francisco Unified School District, free of charge.

“The more we can extend opportunities to young people from all backgrounds to participate in musical programming, the better off we will be as a country, as a society, and as a world.”

“Nothing is more important than providing young people with the opportunity to study a musical instrument, and perform in a school ensemble, youth orchestra, or chorus. Studies have proven time and time again the value of arts education, instrumental study, and team activities. Whether or not that person ends up becoming a professional musician later in life, having that early childhood experience of being a part of something bigger than yourself is really key.”

Mark’s three years in BYSO marked his first time performing in a symphonic orchestral setting, and kick-started his love for and eventual storied career in classical music. “Having the opportunity to be introduced to the symphonic repertoire for the first time in a really serious way, and to be a part of such a high-performing, large group of like-minded musicians was so important at that stage in my life.”

“The introduction to the symphonic canon and the experience of being a member of a symphony orchestra was an experience first provided to me by GBYSO, and everything that happened thereafter started right here.”

Mark spent his childhood as a performer, eventually studying cello music performance at the Eastman School of Music, yet he found himself drawn toward Arts Administration. “When I discovered a pamphlet promoting the League of American Orchestra’s Management Fellowship Program, I immediately knew that I had found my ideal career. As an orchestra manager, I’ve been able to combine my love for classical music and passion for non-profit management into a very rewarding career that has taken me from Rockford, IL, to Knoxville, Milwaukee, Houston, and now San Francisco.”

Mark can trace his sense of teamwork and approach to leadership of SFS to his BYSO experience. “I first learned how to be a team player here. I remember conductor Eiji Oue having the highest of expectations for all of us – whether you were seated in the front or near the back of the orchestra. He taught us a sense of community obligation, and the sense of us as individuals being integral parts of a team.”

“For those who choose to go into Arts Administration, having knowledge of what it’s like to be a performer helps when working behind the scenes to support professional musicians, to make performers more effective in what they do. Conservatories are now investing more deeply in arts leadership and arts management courses to give their graduates a more well-rounded experience.”

BYSO influenced Mark’s sense of community and the role that music can play in it. “Symphony orchestras, more than ever, are much more attuned to the needs of our communities, and view the role of a symphony orchestra more widely than perhaps was necessary in the past. Professional symphony orchestras, especially full-time ones, are expensive non-profit organizations to operate. This means that there is more investment in educational initiatives, community-building programs, commissioning activities – in addition to everything else expected of a symphony orchestra – to build and maintain sufficient audience and donor support. We must constantly earn the support of our communities by demonstrating that we are flexible and community-focused, and eager to contribute to the evolution of this incredible art form.”

Mark’s advice for current students is to “encourage every member of BYSO to fully commit to this incredible experience, and realize that it is a very special opportunity for you as young people, as human beings, and as aspiring musicians. Absorb as much of the experience as possible, no matter if you are in the program for one year, or 12 years. Appreciate it, whether or not you end up pursuing music as a career.”

”BYSO is helping to develop inside of you a relationship with music that you will come to lean on and appreciate for the rest of your lives.”

Mark Hanson, ’88, cello, is the CEO of the San Francisco Symphony since September 2017. Prior to his SFS appointment, Mark also served as Executive Director & CEO of the Houston Symphony, and the President & Executive Director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. After attending Eastman School of Music for 2 years and ultimately obtaining a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, he participated in the League of American Orchestras’ Orchestra Management Fellowship Program, and his first role after graduating was as Executive Director of the Rockford Symphony Orchestra in Illinois at the age of 24.

Are you, or someone you know, a BYSO alumnus/a with an interesting story? Contact Jessica Chen, Development & Alumni Relations Associate.