Santa Rosa Symphony music director Francesco Lecce-Chong wins North Bay Forty Under 40 award

Francesco Lecce-Chong

Age: 32

Music director, Santa Rosa Symphony

50 Santa Rosa Ave., #410, Santa Rosa 95404


Read other profiles of this year's winners.

Responsibilities with your company: As music director, I serve as the primary conductor for the Santa Rosa Symphony - conducting the orchestra in rehearsals and concerts.

I am responsible for the programming of all the music the orchestra performs including classical, family, community, and education concerts - this includes guest soloists and conductors that we feature during our season.

I also work with personnel-related issues and decisions regarding our 81 musicians in the orchestra. Outside of conducting the orchestra, I provide support and visibility to the Santa Rosa Symphony in the community through public speaking engagements, arts education, marketing events, and donor development.

In 25 words or less, how do you exemplify the spirit of being a top Forty under 40 professional?

In my work and decision-making, I always seek to have a positive impact on the community through innovation, collaboration, and inclusion.

Years with company: 2

Length of time in current position: 2

Number of companywide employees: 100

Number who report to you: 81

Greatest professional accomplishment: First Symphony Project - a joint project between the Santa Rosa Symphony and Eugene Symphony to commission and perform four major new symphonies over the next four years. It is the only project of its kind in the country and the largest commissioning project ever undertaken by either orchestra.

Greatest professional challenge: Changing the misconceptions that 1) classical music is elite, 2) the listener needs to understand the music in order to appreciate it, 3) and everyone is expected to like everything we perform.

The Santa Rosa Symphony and our audience are a single welcoming community of music lovers enthralled by the unparalleled excitement and visceral power of a live orchestra - you only need to come once and you will be caught up in it!

Best advice received: Be willing to trust the work of those around you and delegate - I have gotten a lot of different versions of this advice over the years, but it applies both to the administrative and performance aspects of my position.

I am a perfectionist at heart as a conductor, so it can be difficult to stop trying to control everything around me. Fortunately, I have an amazing team of staff and musicians!

Single most important event in your professional life in the last 12 months: I made my conducting debuts with the San Francisco Symphony and the New York Philharmonic last year.

What steps is your company taking to sustain your organization and morale in the current economy?

We believe that the arts are one of the ways we build a stronger community and we are always searching for new ways to bring people together.

Like all orchestras, a majority of our budget comes from the support of generous donors, businesses, and foundations. They help us serve the needs of our community like offering free concerts for schools, a free summer community concert, and we even held a concert to raise funds for fire relief organizations after the 2017 Tubbs fire. As a service organization, we become even more essential in uncertain times as we build for a brighter future.

Next professional goal: I am working on bringing opera to the North Bay with the Santa Rosa Symphony. As it gets more difficult to travel to downtown San Francisco, there are less opportunities to experience this incredible art form in our area. Our hall, the Green Music Center, is perfect for singers and most of my early conducting training was with opera.

Education: Mannes College of Music (New York City) and Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia)

Hometown: Born in San Francisco, but grew up in Boulder, Colorado

Community/nonprofit activities: This is a good portion of my daily job responsibilities. I love working with students in schools, giving presentations at community centers, and designing concerts for youth/families.

Mentor/admired businessperson: Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, has always been an important inspiration to me. In the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to work with him directly and I have treasured every opportunity to learn from his remarkable artistry and intellect.

What is your most disliked industry buzzword?

Don't have one! Maybe we need more buzzwords in our field.

Typical day at the office: Study scores and paperwork at home, meetings at the office, events around town, and rehearsals/concerts at the concert hall

Best place to work outside of your office: Anywhere I can see the ocean

Hobbies: Cooking, during those rare times I am home. Reading, when I am on the road.

What you wanted to be when you grew up: Exactly this. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure this is real.

#1 thing you want to accomplish by the time you turn 40: Some music directors have been invited to throw out the first pitch for their local baseball team. So can I say throw out a first pitch at a Giants game?

First job: Assistant conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

Social media you most use: I only use them for professional purposes and not often - Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Favorite book: I've read everything by Virginia Woolf and hard to pick one... maybe “The Waves”.

Favorite movie: A tossup between “Roman Holiday: and the original “Star Wars” trilogy.

Favorite App: Does the HBO app count? I am addicted to “Curb Your Enthusiasm”!

Favorite after-work drink: Scotch. Neat.

Last vacation: A few days in Captiva, Florida over the holidays

What does your mom or dad brag most about you?

My parents have always been my biggest supporters, but now that I'm working in the field, they're probably most excited that I'm finally getting married this summer!

Francesco Lecce-Chong

Age: 32

Music director, Santa Rosa Symphony

50 Santa Rosa Ave., #410, Santa Rosa 95404


Read other profiles of this year's winners.

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