Gretchen Nielsen

January 10, 2018

From the Top Hires Arts and Education Leader Gretchen Nielsen as Executive Director

Boston, Massachusetts—The Board of Directors of From the Top, producer of the hit NPR show From the Top with Host Christopher O’Riley, is pleased to announce that, after an extensive national search, the organization has selected Los Angeles Philharmonic (LA Phil) Vice President Gretchen Nielsen to serve as its first Executive Director. Nielsen follows in the footsteps of Co-Founders/CEOs Gerald Slavet and Jennifer Hurley-Wales, and will begin her tenure on March 1, 2018.

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Drawing on more than 20 years of experience leading national and international arts initiatives, including launching Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) with LA Phil’s Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, Nielsen will take the reins of From the Top at a pivotal time. Since 2016, From the Top, which showcases and supports young classically-trained musicians ages 8–18, has been thoughtfully planning for the future, focusing on harnessing new technologies and diversifying and expanding audiences.

“The Board is beyond thrilled to have recruited Gretchen as our next leader,” said Jeffrey F. Rayport, Chair of From the Top’s Board of Directors. “Her work at the LA Phil with YOLA and beyond demonstrates the entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and ambition we were seeking. We are actively reimagining From the Top for the next generation, and are confident that Gretchen’s professional acumen and deep passion for the development of young artists will help us build on our past success while charting a bold new chapter in From the Top’s story.”

Nielsen will be exploring ways to expand From the Top’s presence nationally and develop new media programs and outlets to increase its impact among audiences and artists of diverse backgrounds.

“I am thrilled to bring all my learning, experience, and passion to an organization that I have long admired,” said Nielsen. “From the Top has played a critical role in the life of young artists by sharing their inspiring stories and music with the public. Together with Christopher O’Riley, the Board, the staff, more than 3,000 alumni, and From the Top’s network of partners around the country, I look forward to leading the organization into a new era.”

Christopher O’Riley, the host of NPR’s From the Top since 1997, said, “From the Top musicians are changing the face of music and activism in America. They impress us with their talent and skill, but also how they seek out new collaborations and projects to make music an essential part of today’s world. I look forward to working with Gretchen to amplify their stories, and also to empower the next generation of great young performers who will define the future.”

An extensive background in arts and education programming

As Vice President of Education Initiatives at the LA Phil, Nielsen led, designed, and managed an integrated set of education programs that reached more than 150,000 school-children, teachers, families, young musicians, and concert-goers annually. Most recently, she played a key role in the LA Phil’s development of plans for the Frank Gehry-designed Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center @ Inglewood. This Center will be the first convening center for YOLA, a hub for local and national music learning, and a new community resource.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Gretchen and From the Top will benefit immensely from her skills and deep experience,” said Gail Samuel, Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Acting President and CEO. “Gretchen has been an incredible colleague and a critical leader in the expansion of the LA Phil’s educational initiatives over the past 10 years. While we will deeply miss her energy and commitment, I’m so happy for her and wish her continued success.”

In 2007, Nielsen was recruited by the LA Phil to launch YOLA, Gustavo Dudamel’s signature program inspired by El Sistema. Since that time, she expanded YOLA locally through community-based partnerships and broadened its reach nationally by offering annual conferences for teachers and leaders. She led the establishment of the first national youth orchestra comprised of students from El Sistema-influenced programs – a three-year project, which culminated in a festival for young musicians aged 12–18 and a celebratory free community concert in Walt Disney Concert Hall in July 2017.

Internationally, Nielsen developed education projects with the Barbican Centre in London, El Sistema in Venezuela, El Sistema Japan in Tokyo, and INBA in Mexico City. Prior to joining the LA Phil, Nielsen worked with orchestras nationwide and major California-based arts and culture institutions during her time as a consultant with Manhattan-based EmcArts.

“In my last 10 years at the LA Phil, I worked to expand opportunities to high quality music education for children from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds,” said Nielsen. “I helped musicians of all ages develop communication and leadership skills so that they can best realize their potential and utilize their artistry to effect change in the world. As From the Top strives to take advantage of new media and technology platforms that will help define the organization’s future, I am excited to bring these experiences, along with my dedication to supporting young artists, to the effort.”

Background on From the Top’s national search for new leadership

Founded by Gerald Slavet and Jennifer Hurley-Wales in 1995, From the Top is an independent nonprofit organization that reaches half a million fans weekly through NPR’s From the Top. In addition, the organization produces a national tour of the radio show, creates popular online videos through its See the Music Series, offers arts leadership programs, and over the last 12 years, has awarded more than $2.4 million in scholarships through the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award program.

The organization’s history is marked by innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit. From the Top remains the only national organization dedicated to celebrating young classically-trained musicians. Radio host Christopher O’Riley, as a concert pianist and recording artist, performs his own arrangements of Radiohead, Elliott Smith, Pink Floyd, and Nirvana alongside traditional classical repertoire. From the
Top received two daytime Emmy Awards in 2007 and 2008 for its PBS series From the Top Live at Carnegie Hall. Through a unique balance of storytelling and musical performance, From the Top has made its mark on the industry, illuminating the lives of more than 3,000 young musicians to a national audience, celebrating both their musical achievements and their unique insights as
thoughtful young people.

In 2016, Slavet and Hurley-Wales informed the Board of their plans to step down, recognizing that the organization needed fresh new leadership to support From the Top’s mission in a new century. Following a period of strategic assessment led by the DeVos Institute of Arts Management, the executive search firm of Isaacson, Miller was engaged, and an Executive Search Committee was formed, headed by Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors John Pattillo. Slavet and Hurley-Wales continued to lead the organization during the search, and plan to work closely with Nielsen to ensure a smooth transition.

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Photo by: Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging
If these photos will be used on Social Media, please be sure to tag @MathewImaging on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.