The stage is set for a classical birthday bash. When the curtain rises at the Peace Center on March 4, Julianne Fish will be celebrating her 53rd year—almost all filled with a focus on music. “Oh, we’ll be hosting the winner of the 2017 Van Cliburn Competition,” she explains excitedly, reviewing the program. “Anytime I get to hear the Greenville Symphony Orchestra play Brahms and Rachmaninoff, that’s a magnificent birthday present!” The big day will mark the executive director’s first birthday in Greenville, after taking the helm of the GSO last summer.
“Greenville is absolutely fantastic,” shares the enthusiastic leader, who goes by Julie. “I sense a certain type of energy that’s very positive and forward-looking, but with respect for where the town has been and started.” As she takes the role once held by beloved timpanist Sherwood Mobley (who passed away in 2016), Julie can’t help but compose a melody with notes encompassing past, present, and future. She spent her first 100 days meeting 100 people, exploring the region’s musical composition. “On the big scale, Greenville blows it out of the water,” she declares. “The GSO has been supported and nurtured by the community for 70 years. The revitalization of downtown showcases what a vibrant cultural arts scene means to the city.” And when it comes to cities . . . she’s known quite a few.
The budding instrumentalist was born and raised just east of Cleveland, where she took up the French horn in elementary school. By high school, she was marching with the band as the shortest tuba. “It was fiberglass, so that was a little easier to manage—unless it was windy, and then you were a wind hazard,” adds the 5’6” dynamo. She studied musical performance at Ohio State University and the Cleveland Institute of Music, before enlisting in the military to serve as a bandsman and principal horn for the Air Force Field Band.
Two terms later, she left with fond memories and operational tools acquired while running the band squadron. The San Antonio Symphony hit her as smoothly as a major chord, offering multiple jobs in the pit and front office. “I did both for a while,” she recalls. “But I stopped performing in 2001 when I went into senior management. I made the choice not to dedicate my time to practicing, but to managing. It was a very natural, very organic progression.”
That unique mix of musician and manager creates a beautiful harmony with Maestro Edvard Tchivzhel, as he conducts the orchestra. “I understand and value what they do to create the music,” Julie reveals. “I use their talent and expertise and dedication as a motivator. Edvard leads with his vision . . . and we deliver an experience to the audience that will bring them back.” Since arriving, the new director is encouraging orchestra members to meet the audience beyond the concert hall. The brass quintet played outside during the TD Farmers’ Market. “We want to engage with the community in a meaningful way,” she explains. “Our vision for the GSO is to continue to be a reflection of the city. That mix of tradition and innovation. We want to continue to be relevant in a competitive and dynamic market.”
After the curtain falls, Julie heads home to her downtown apartment, where Abbie the cat, and Sheldon the rescue dog await. Spotify amplifies an eclectic mix of P!nk, Rascal Flatts, and Handel’s Water Music. The player-turned-administrator reflects upon growing another year older, never taking her eyes off the baton, ready for an encore. “What will we look like as we move forward for the next 70 years?” she ponders. “We will mirror what Greenville values and supports and embraces. We will challenge ourselves to showcase the diversity of the symphony orchestra. Our musicians, they perform on stage. They teach in schools. They are our primary representatives for what the organization means and does. They are the music. They create the music. They are our superstars.”
For the latest news and concert schedule, which includes many free events, see GreenvilleSymphony.org.