A Canticle for the Midwest: Omaha Symphony President Jennifer Boomgaarden
May 26, 2020 08:47AM
By Mike Bell
After 18 months in her role as president and CEO of the Omaha Symphony, Jennifer Boomgaarden recalled her excitement to return to Nebraska after eight productive years with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra as their executive director.
After all, she formerly worked as the Omaha Symphony’s vice president and staff conductor before she stepped away from the podium so as to create a “greater impact” through administrative duties with the SDSO.
“We worked through significant financial challenges with the South Dakota organization,” she said. “They lived a mission of serving throughout the state with tremendous amounts of community support. I’m very proud of what we were able to accomplish there.”
Boomgaarden replaced former Omaha Symphony President James M. Johnson, who left the job in April 2018 to become CEO of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
Boomgaarden said after eight years she was ready for the next opportunity to make a difference.
“I love the Omaha organization, its commitment to education, and collaboration with others,” she said.
It was another milestone in her career, having previously been awarded for exceptional accomplishment in orchestra management from the League of American Orchestras in 2015, among other industry awards.
During her tenure, the Omaha Symphony has maintained a focus on its endowment campaign, working on agreements with musicians that were finalized in December, while more irons are in the fire.
“We are always working to use music to impact the community,” she said. “Orchestras are incredibly versatile. In one day we can be playing [classical music by Gustav] Mahler, rock music by Queen, and teaching students.”
Meeting the demands of a diverse audience is only part of what the orchestra does—education takes up a third of the organization’s time, Boomgaarden said. More than 25,000 students a year are served, from preschool age to high school, connecting students with professional musicians in unique programs, she added.
Partnerships with local organizations like Joslyn Art Museum allow students to gather in workshops—and other events benefit the ongoing education of the orchestra’s teachers to become better instructors.
“We take a good hard look at our programs to see how they will serve our students. We ask what changes must be made to improve,” she said. “It is about staying relevant.”
Music has the power to bring people together and break down barriers—to heal divisions and lift spirits. Boomgaarden said one example was a recent collaboration with The Union for Contemporary Art in Omaha and the symphony for a production of “Whispered Like the Wind,” by the Union’s 2019 fellow Liz Gre.
“It was an opera about mother-daughter relationships. [The Union] asked us to work with [Gre] and it was a powerful concert,” she said. “To see different groups working together, when we think of what we can do for the community, that’s it—celebrating cultures.”
The 2021 season will be the 100th anniversary for the Omaha Symphony, which is undergoing a re-branding to be unveiled soon.
Boomgaarden said Thomas Wilkins, the organization’s music director, will perform the next season as his last before stepping down—but he will continue to work with the symphony in other ways.
Meaning they are already searching for the next music director, a decision that will influence the organization’s next decade, she said.
“The future is bright, and I’m fortunate to work with an incredible group of people,” she said. “I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.”
Visit omahasymphony.com for more information.
This article was printed in the June 2020 issue of B2B Magazine.