Amanda M. Grosvenor
Starting a highly visible and stimulating job in an unfamiliar city is never easy. But leading a festival planning organization during a pandemic that has crippled events around the world requires a special level of courage, clarity and resilience.
After speaking with Gillian Friedman Fox, it becomes clear why the Newport Music Festival selected her from over 100 applicants to become the organization’s new executive director. If Fox is able to replicate the kind of visionary success it has achieved by launching the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s SOLUNA Festival, then NMF should be well positioned to attract new audiences and launch new creative endeavors as well.
Some might be surprised by his appointment at first. “I’m young and I think that sometimes disarms people,” acknowledges Fox. But a look at her career path and character traits reveals a past that has beautifully prepared her for this particular opportunity at this particular time. The trajectory, however, was anything but sharp.
Fox certainly has a long-standing love of music: piano lessons from age three, then jazz and tap lessons, musical theater, and a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Rochester. Although singing is her passion, she never saw it as a real career option; his childhood dream was to be a marine biologist, and scuba diving is still one of his favorite hobbies.
“It’s funny,” Fox mused. âAs much as I loved music and studied it, I didn’t really have a real game plan. It wasn’t until she found herself applying for doctoral programs in music composition in her senior year that Fox was contacted by a friend and alumnus, Daniel Israel, who worked as an agent at Addeo. Music International in New York. He asked about his post-graduate projects.
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âI said, ‘I’m applying for a doctorate. programs, âFox recalls. “And he said,” No. No. You have too much personality to spend seven more years in school. Have you ever thought about becoming an agent? I didn’t even know what it was.
Addeo needed an intern, and Fox was chosen. She enjoyed working with emerging jazz artists (now “big business”) Robert Glasper and JosÃ© James. The internship work was mostly administrative, but Fox âgot to observe and see everythingâ¦ and see a ton of shows,â she says. “I was just completely addicted.”
Back then, there weren’t the types of arts administration programs that many colleges offer today. âEverything I did I learned on the job,â says Fox. She attributes her success to being a very observant person and a quick learner, with a long-standing propensity for planning and organizing. After Addeo, she worked for boutique agency Unlimited Myles, managing artists like Regina Carter, Vijay Iyer, Kenny Baron and the Yellowjackets before becoming an agent for the West Coast of Columbia Artists Music. There Fox entered the realm of classical music and orchestra, working with artists like Ray Chen, Cameron Carpenter, and a list of brilliant conductors.
âIt rekindled my love for classical music,â she said, noting how fortuitous the moment was. âThere has been this kind of resurgence of interest and an incredible group of new generation musicians looking to make classical music more inclusive and celebrate it as a living art form. She heard industry leaders question the lack of diversity in classical music and what could be done to engage the younger generations.
âI really wanted to be a part of this conversation and the solution,â Fox says.
This quest led her to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, then in the process of launching their now world-renowned international music and art festival SOLUNA, designed to create new audiences (and new relevance) for the orchestra.
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âWe adopted an inter-gender and interdisciplinary programming approach, which required [Fox] to forge a number of new partnerships and work with talent from around the world, âsaid former Dallas Symphony Association President and CEO Jonathan Martin. âFrom the start, Gillian demonstrated her intelligence and integrity. She is relentlessly focused, lucid and radiates optimism, which has allowed her to succeed in a very complex company that previously had no track record.
Fox’s many relationships with the music industry are obviously beneficial, as is his ability to think quickly while projecting a warm and accessible atmosphere. It’s another attribute she attributes to her smooth transition from agent to festival planner: her empathy with touring musicians. âWhat has served me the most,â she explains, âis having a deep understanding of what it takes for an artist to tour. This allows you to make very well-organized decisions that work not only for your organization, but also for the health of the tour and the artist’s artistic goals.
Fox’s career path also led him to meet her husband, fellow music agent Michael Fox, at the Arts Midwest 2014 conference in Minneapolis. “I knew him and he knew me, but we met at the opening conference and we immediately hit it off.”
This will be the first time living in Newport for the Foxes, but both have spent time in the Northeast. She grew up in New Jersey and lived in Massachusetts for seven years, and both look forward to reconnecting with their friends and family in the area. As an agent for some of the best jazz musicians in the world, Michael has attended the Newport Jazz Festival on several occasions, often thinking, “How cool would it be to live here?” He shared the sentiment with Gillian when the NMF position opened. They moved in December and enjoyed watching their dog, Penelope, experience her first snowfall.
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Of course, Newport residents will not forget the indelible impact left by longtime NMF general manager Mark Malkovich III, who for 36 seasons helped bring the festival to world renown before his untimely passing. in 2010. âFor a long time the Newport Music Festival and Malkovich were synonymous, so I imagine anyone following that legacy would be a tough change,â Fox said. Her appointment appears to enjoy broad community support, she notes, in large part thanks to NMF’s passionate board and forward-looking vision.
Fox knows that what makes NMF so unique is attending classical music concerts in more intimate settings such as historic mansions. âThere is something really magical about experiencing this high quality of classical music with only 200 to 300 other people, instead of the 2,000 to 3,000 you would have in a symphony hall,â she says.
This summer’s festival is being held outdoors with limited capacity and social distancing in place. The public seems eager to rediscover live music; by the end of May almost all 17 concerts were sold out. Fox looks forward to welcoming new viewers with a series of collaborative events hosted for families and voters at the Martin Luther King Center. The festival is also commissioning new musical works from under-represented artists in this genre, starting with a piece written by composer Stacy Garrop and inspired by the Castle Hill Lighthouse and its role in protecting Newport for over 130 years. .
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Fox’s hope for the commissioning initiative is that âNewport will have an impact on classical music in the future. It gives our clients the opportunity to see what’s going on in the composition and what that entails, âshe says. She also hopes it prompts young girls to say to themselves, âThis is a career path for me. Because I love music and it’s something that fascinates me, I can do that too.
Perhaps Fox’s own career will be just as inspiring.
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