Strike up the band

Former Dallas Opera CEO lured back from Canada to head Fort Worth Symphony

Former Dallas Opera CEO lured back from Canada to head FW Symphony

Keith Cerny, Jennifer Cerny
Keith Cerny with his wife, Jennifer, at the 2015 Dallas Opera First Night gala. Photo by Sylvia Elzafon

The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra conducted an international search for a new president and CEO and found someone who, until eight months ago, was working 30 miles away. Keith Cerny, the immediate past general director and CEO of The Dallas Opera, has been tapped to lead the FWSO, the organization announced in a news release August 27. His tenure will begin in January.

Orchestra personnel called the search for a new leader "intensive." It has been ongoing since Amy Adkins resigned from the position in July 2017.

"Patience and perseverance proved us right in finding the perfect candidate to lead the FWSO into the next chapter," board chair Mercedes Bass says in a release. "Keith’s varied experiences with different organizations in multiple capacities prove that he is indeed highly qualified to be leading the FWSO."

Cerny does not come directly from Dallas Opera. He left somewhat abruptly in December 2017 to head the smaller Calgary Opera in Canada. Recent published interviews indicate he had big plans there, even telling The Globe and Mail in March, "One of the things I'm keen to preserve is the company's track record in premieres." (Dallas Opera and Calgary Opera partnered on the 2010 world premiere of Moby-Dick, the newspaper recalls.)

But after just eight months there, his family needed a change, he says. He and his wife, Jennifer, have four sons (and a rescue Schnoodle named Libby, the FWSO notes).

“While it is has been an honor to serve as general director and CEO of Calgary Opera, the travel demands of this leadership position have put a greater than anticipated strain on me and my family back in Texas," Cerny says in the release. "As a result, I have made the difficult decision to step down next year. I will continue to work with the board of the Calgary Opera to implement the company’s new strategy until I depart for my new position in Fort Worth.”

After Adkins' departure, FWSO briefly employed another Dallas arts veteran, David Hyslop, as its interim CEO. But they quietly parted ways in September 2017.

Cerny led Dallas opera from 2010 to the end of 2017. While there, he commissioned three world premieres, launched public simulcasts, and established the acclaimed Hart Institute for Women Conductors. His departure late last year shocked the Dallas arts community. (Dallas Opera as since appointed Ian Derrer as its president.)

Opera News called Cerny's Dallas tenure “notable for both its artistic innovation and its fiscal stability."

Those are two qualities that FWSO needs in a leader, now more than ever. The orchestra continues to recover from recent years of fiscal hardship and also looks to a future without popular music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya, who is stepping down in 2020. A search is under way for his replacement.