Martha Gilmer, Chief Executive Officer
Martha A. Gilmer was named Chief Executive Officer of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra (SDSO) in October 2014 and leads the institution in realizing all areas of its mission. Additionally, the board challenged her with four critical tasks to ensure the excellence of the orchestra and support the Symphony’s significant economic contribution to the San Diego region: 1) Hire an exciting music director; 2) Design, build, and open an outdoor bayside concert venue; 3) Expand the Symphony’s community engagement activities; and 4) Improve the acoustics and audience experience at Jacobs Music Center. With strong board, staff, and philanthropic support, the San Diego Symphony Orchestra Association is well on its way to accomplishing these four strategic pillars of growth.
Working with the board and staff, Gilmer created the strategic plan that has been guiding the Symphony since 2016. Among her many accomplishments are the appointment in 2018 of the internationally acclaimed Rafael Payare as SDSO’s 13th Music Director and the appointment in 2019 of the distinguished conductor Edo de Waart to serve as the first principal guest conductor in SDSO’s century-long history. As a reflection of the orchestra’s development under these leaders, Music Critic Mark Swed proclaimed in a January 2019 LA Times article, that “The San Diego Symphony has joined the California orchestra vanguard,” alongside the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony.
Gilmer partnered with the Port of San Diego to develop and open the Symphony’s permanent outdoor venue, The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, along with improvements and upgrades to Embarcadero Marina Park South, while overseeing the fundraising campaign that secured 99 percent of the project cost through private sources. Since its opening in August of 2021 The Rady Shell has garnered the attention of regional, national and international media, has achieved record-breaking concert attendance, and has cemented its place in both the civic and arts community as well as the San Diego skyline. This civic infrastructure provides the region’s residents and visitors access to concerts by celebrated performers. International media coverage of The Rady Shell (The NY Times, La Presse, Forbes, and LA Times) has brought attention to San Diego and its orchestra, and The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park has quickly become emblematic of the city.
While completing the outdoor venue, Gilmer and the Board of Directors initiated the long-desired renovation of Jacobs Music Center. Scheduled to reopen in November 2023, the $125 million renovation of Jacobs Music Center will provide the Symphony a downtown indoor venue and worthy counterpart to the Rady Shell. This work, designed and executed by HGA Architect, who specialize in remodeling historic theaters, will create a multifunctional facility. Improvements include a fixed orchestral shell that incorporates a choral terrace, a new state-of-the-art acoustic environment, and reconfigured seating to enhance sightlines and improve audience connectivity with the performers and each other. A major remodel of Jacobs Music Center was a strategic decision born out of a commitment to remain a cultural and economic anchor in the downtown district, which together with The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, creates an infrastructure with the potential to grow a younger and more diverse urban audience.
Martha Gilmer’s capacity for leading innovative and complicated projects and her collegial support of all San Diego cultural institutions has been acknowledged by the San Diego civic and business community. The Greater San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce awarded her the Moving San Diego Forward Award in 2022 and The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park was selected to receive the Cultural Vitality Award by the Downtown San Diego Partnership. The San Diego Business Journal named Gilmer one of San Diego’s 500 Most Influential Business Leaders in 2022. Gilmer also received the Musical America Top 30 Professionals of the Year in 2021.
Martha Gilmer serves on the boards of The Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce, The University Club, and the Solti Foundation. Recently, she was asked to serve on the Mayor’s Civic Revitalization Committee.
Known for her history of collaborating with many of today’s most talented guest artists and composers and for her commitment in contemporary music, Gilmer has engaged leading guest artists for their San Diego premieres, commissioned new works by a wide range of international composers, and created festival programming focused on global issues including climate change and a moving performance at the US Mexico border. Scheduled in November 2023, the California Festival is a celebration of new symphonic music to be performed across the state. The California Festival is a collaboration amongst the San Diego Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony, and includes 50 other California arts organization.
Martha Gilmer came to the San Diego Symphony from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), where in the course of a three-decade career she served as Vice President for Artistic Planning and Audience Development. At the CSO, she developed long-term relationships with many of the most outstanding artists and composers of our time and developed a host of innovative programs connecting the orchestra with new audiences in Chicago and around the world. She is a graduate of the Northwestern University School of Music and has been an active alumna, serving on the School of Music Dean Search Committee, delivering the 2000 commencement address, and receiving the Alumni Award for the School of Music. She frequently writes and lectures about music.