For at least one person, the dinosaurs’ arrival wasn’t the biggest surprise at Monday’s Vermont Symphony Orchestra Summer Festival concert in Chittenden.
Victoria Young, the VSO’s chairwoman, was dumbfounded to the point of tears when it was revealed that the orchestra had raised more than $500,000 — with more coming in — for a fund in her name to support the VSO’s outreach activities in Rutland County.
And reveal is the right word. For the past year, Ben Cadwallader, the VSO’s executive director, and members of the board have been frantically raising money for this occasion. And they weren’t surprised by the willingness, even enthusiasm of the donors.
And Young was the right person. She will be stepping down as chairwoman of the VSO next month after six years at the helm. It’s not unusual for a nonprofit to capitalize upon the retirement of a popular figure, but Young is much more than that.
During the past six years, the VSO has gone through a tumultuous time due, not to the change of music director, but an executive director. When Young took the helm in 2013, the VSO was suffering from weak management at the top.
The situation was growing dire. With Jaime Laredo, the VSO had — and has — a music director that is the envy of the nation. The orchestra was playing better than ever, making it a topnotch regional orchestra. But ticket sales were down and diminishing, and fundraising was becoming more difficult. In short, Vermont was losing interest in its VSO.
After Herculean efforts by Young and the board to turn the ship around proved unsuccessful, the executive director stepped down, and the search for a new one began. In 2015, Cadwallader, a young Los Angeles orchestra administrator who grew up with the Vermont Youth Orchestra, was chosen.
But that wasn’t to be the end of Young’s work by any means. Although Cadwallader proved an inspired choice, he wasn’t an obvious one. While he had come from the position of education programs manager at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he had never run an orchestra. In short, he was inexperienced.
However, Young wasn’t. Having served on countless nonprofit boards in Vermont, she was familiar with all of the issues and what worked. In addition to expertise, she had and has the equanimity and personal warmth to convince and lead others.
Cadwallader, to his credit, looked to Young for guidance. And it worked.
The VSO today is thriving and growing. In addition to its full symphony concerts in Burlington and Rutland, autumn Made in Vermont statewide tour and holiday pops concerts, the orchestra has instituted new outreach programs. One that has already proven popular, Jukebox takes a VSO ensemble to nightclubs and other unexpected venues. And education programs continue to multiply and grow.
Perhaps most importantly, venues like Burlington’s Flynn Center for the Performing Arts and Rutland’s Paramount Theatre are beginning to fill up again. The consistency during all this growth has been Young’s leadership.
And Rutland County is the right choice. The VSO board rightly named the fund the Young Cultural Endowment, as Vicky and her husband Bob (also once chairman of the VSO board) are longtime Proctor residents and inveterate activists in support of the region’s cultural activities. And, frankly, Rutland’s culture receives less financial support than Chittenden, Washington and Windham counties.
At the VSO board reception before Monday’s concert at Mountain Top Inn, in addition to the endowment announcement, Young was presented with a portrait of herself by the renowned Middletown Springs artist Peter Huntoon. Amazingly, despite all, Young had no idea. (Indicative of how difficult this was, she is a member of nearly every committee involved; husband Bob helped facilitate the secret.)
Victoria Young is indeed a gift to Rutland County, and Vermont.