After more than 20 years with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Mark Volpe, its CEO and president, will retire in February 2021. The departure was announced Wednesday.
"I, candidly, have been discussing this with my family for a couple years," Volpe said in an interview with WGBH News. "We sort of organized our thinking around retiring when I hit 60, and I'm a few years beyond that — because things were too interesting to leave [and] they remain interesting — but it's time."
Volpe, 62, added that his exit will coincide with a change in board leadership. The BSO also announced Wednesday that Barbara W. Hostetter is set to serve as the next board of trustees chair.
"The day I leave, [Hostetter] steps in, and she should have the prerogative to choose who she wants," Volpe said. His last day of work will be Feb. 28, 2021.
According to the BSO, Hostetter will lead the search for Volpe's replacement through a still-forming search committee. Members of the BSO community met news of his departure with praise.
"I have the utmost respect for Mark," said James Markey, a bass trombone player and chair of the BSO Players Committee.
"Mark understands the role that musicians play in bringing the arts to our society," he said, referring to the tension that can arise between management and musicians during contract negotiations. "We've never experienced anything other than a mutual respect and trust," he said of negotiating with Volpe on two occasions.
Susan Paine, the BSO's current board of trustees chair, also applauded Volpe's tenure in a news release.
“All of us at the BSO share deep gratitude for Mark’s unceasing commitment to the organization as our leader for the past two decades,” Paine said in a statement. “We are thankful to Mark for his leadership, and his generous commitment to stay on for the next year and continue the BSO’s important work.”
Volpe joined the BSO in September 1997. Prior to that, he ran the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He left at the urging of renown cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
"Yo-Yo was the first guy to call me before I ever was approached by a board member," he recalled.
Since then, he has overseen the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops Orchestra, and Tanglewood, the organization’s concert venue in the Berkshire Hills. He also guided the organization through the transition when longtime music director Seiji Ozawa departed.
There have been other challenges. One, he said, has been reaching new audiences amid the changing music industry.
"Figuring out the new media world remains a challenge," he said. "In the old days, there were a few TV stations, a few radio stations and a newspaper or two that was read by hundreds of thousands of people, and it's much more diffuse. The media's much more fractured, and it's a much more niche world."
Another challenge: striving to make the orchestra more reflective of the community where it's situated.
"We're nowhere where we need to be," Volpe said. "That certainly has to be a focus going forward."
Volpe said he does not have another job lined up just yet.
"I've always have opportunities presented and never been able to pursue them, given how all-encompassing this job is and the time pressure I felt here. I think I'm going to explore all options," he said, pointing to the 13 months before his departure.
Asked for words of wisdom to his successor, Volpe said: "Enjoy it, because it goes so fast."