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August Miller, Deseret News
Michael, left, holding Zacharie, Olivia and Melia Tourangeau at the Utah Opera Production Studios in Salt Lake City.

Elia Tourangeau understands the importance of building strong relationships.

As the new CEO of the Utah Symphony & Opera, Tourangeau realizes that to ensure a stable future, performing arts organizations need to secure the loyalty of their patrons and their musicians. That's high on her list of things to do as she quickly settles into her new job.

Meeting with the Deseret News in her office in Abravanel Hall, Tourangeau spoke about what she hopes to accomplish here.

Foremost is developing a solid relationship with both patrons and musicians of the Utah Symphony. "We need to give people a reason for wanting to be a part of the organization," she said. Ideally, that means turning single-ticket holders into season subscribers and subscribers into donors. "In that way we can create a financially sustainable product."

That's something she calls "patron development" — getting people to subscribe and keeping their loyalty. "And somewhere down the line they'll become a donor and hopefully a lifelong donor," she said. "I like to compare an arts organization to a university. You can't expect tuition money to fund a university. In the same way, you can't expect ticket sales alone to pay for everything."

In return, an arts organization must be vigilant in monitoring what it is offering its patrons. "You have to push the envelope in improving the quality of the artistic product," Tourangeau said. "I want everybody looking at the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera and saying, 'Wow, look what they're doing."'

And Tourangeau wants the musicians to be actively involved, too. "The musicians want to be part of the organization. They want it to succeed. We have 85 full-

time players, and the impact each one has on the community is immense. If you compare the Utah Symphony to an 85-member orchestra in Chicago or somewhere else, you'll see that the way we reach out to the community is greater than anywhere else." The musicians are a natural network and need to be utilized, Tourangeau said.

As important as patron loyalty is to the continued success of US&O, focusing on the musicians of the symphony is crucial to ensuring the viability of the organization. Tourangeau knows that, and she goes out of her way to emphasize it. "The more you get to know the players and get to know them personally and look at them more closely, the more excited you become about going to one of our concerts."

Changing the commonly held perception that the music director is the star of the symphony is vital, Tourangeau said. "We should be using our players as our stars, because they are our stars, and we should let their fans — the audience — get to know them. And now that we're in a transitional period," with the ongoing search for a new music director, "we need to showcase the players."

Personal transition

Tourangeau herself is still in the process of getting acquainted with the musicians and her staff. Although she was hired in January to succeed Anne Ewers as CEO, Tourangeau has been conducting business from Michigan, where she was the CEO of the Grand Rapids Symphony. She's been to Salt Lake City several times since the beginning of the year, but most of the US&O business has been conducted by conference calls.

She and her family moved to Salt Lake City three weeks ago. Currently, they are renting a house in the Millcreek area, while looking for a home here and trying to sell their house in Grand Rapids. She and her husband, Mike Tourangeau, have two children, Olivia, 3, and Zach, 2 months old.

Tourangeau doesn't find that being a career woman hinders her from being a good mother.

"I think of myself as having a split personality. I attend meetings, then I hurry home to play with Legos. Having children forces me to let go of work."

While with the Grand Rapids Symphony, Tourangeau found the perfect solution that allowed her to combine work and motherhood. She would work until early afternoon, then go home to be with Olivia. "When she went to bed at 9, that's when I went to my computer, got online and went back to work until midnight."

Of course, things wouldn't have run so smoothly without her husband, who is a stay-at-home dad, she said. "He's terrific. He's happy to be in that role, and he makes it all work."

Mike Tourangeau hadn't thought he would ever find himself in that role. When he met his future wife 10 years ago, he was a successful market researcher for Wirthlin Worldwide in Michigan.

But two months after they began dating, he had a grand mal seizure. At the hospital, it was discovered that he had a brain tumor. After surgery and chemotherapy, Mike Tourangeau was only given three years to live. Because of the results from the surgery, he was unable to do his old job.

"But he's a medical miracle," Melia Tourangeau said. "And when he reached his three-year mark, that's when he proposed."

One of the reasons that she accepted the position with US&O was because of the first-rate medical facilities at the University of Utah. "Mike had been receiving treatments at the University of Michigan. Finding out that the University of Utah has a great hospital was a huge factor for us to come here."

Serving the community

Coming from outside the organization also has been a bit of a challenge for Melia Tourangeau. When she became CEO of the Grand Rapids Symphony, she had already been working for the organization for seven years and knew everybody. But she's quick to point out that everyone at the symphony and opera in Utah have welcomed her and her family with open arms.

Recently, she and her husband hosted a barbecue for the staff and the musicians that was held at the Utah Opera Production Studios. It gave everyone a chance to become acquainted.

"The staff is really yearning for the next generation to begin (in US&O), and the musicians were so warm and excited. I'm really looking forward to getting to know them better."

And they're getting that opportunity. At a luncheon with a couple of the musicians a few days after the company barbecue, they told Tourangeau something that happened to them during their European tour.

"They were at the Concertgebouw (in Amsterdam). Before the concert, they were told that this was a very important concert and that they needed to play their best. Someone mumbled to their standmate, "I play my best in Ogden, too."

For Tourangeau, that was very telling. "They know that they have to serve their community. That's so important. I want us to focus on our community and serve it to the fullest."


E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com