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Blow for the RSNO as chief heads to Seattle

One of Scotland’s most successful arts administrators is leaving the national orchestra for a new job in America.

Simon Woods, who has overseen unprecedented success at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO), is to be the executive director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

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His departure comes a year before the already announced departure of the RSNO’s acclaimed conductor, Stephane Deneve, who is to leave the ensemble in 2012.

The RSNO will therefore have to undergo a period of significant change just as the effects of Government cuts in funding will be felt.

However, last night Mr Woods insisted his departure had nothing to do with the imminent cut to the national company’s grant, and said the Seattle post had attracted him for personal and professional reasons.

“The orchestra is in fine fettle and is very robust. I would go as far as to say I would not be leaving if I felt that was not the case,” he said.

“It is going to be fine, starting with the sheer love and loyalty our audiences have for the orchestra.

“We are financially lean and in good shape and are robust enough to withstand change -- but that is not to say difficult decisions won’t have to be made, as they will.”

He said he would make it a priority in his final six months to find a successor to Mr Deneve, a star conductor who has reinvigorated audiences and the orchestra.

Mr Woods joined the RSNO as chief executive in 2005, and at present the orchestra’s subscriber levels are at their highest in 20 years, while average concert attendances are the highest in 15 years.

However, Scotland’s national companies -- the National Theatre of Scotland, the RSNO, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Ballet and Scottish Opera -- have all been told to prepare for cuts of up to 10% to their combined £23 million in Government funds. The RSNO receives just over £4m a year.

Until 2006, the companies were funded by the Scottish Arts Council, but in April 2007 they became directly funded by the Scottish Government.

Mr Woods said: “I think I know I am ready to leave because I am leaving the orchestra in the best shape I can.

“Everyone is concerned about the cuts, but this is a healthy orchestra.”

Together, Mr Deneve and Mr Woods have grown average audiences by one-third and introduced new concert presentations and initiatives such as Naked Classics, Orchestra+, and free tickets for under-16s.

Over the past five years, the RSNO has taken part in four foreign tours: two full European tours, a Spanish tour, and an invitation to the Festival Presences at the Maison de Radio France in Paris in 2006.

Mr Woods added: “It has been an extremely difficult decision to leave the RSNO. In more than five years here I have developed enormous affection for this great organisation, for its people, and for Scotland as a place. It will be very hard indeed to leave.”

Brian Lang, chairman of the RSNO, said: “Simon Woods has been a first-rate chief executive for the RSNO. He has played a highly influential role in helping the orchestra to its present position of international esteem. Scotland can be proud that the creative and artistic talent it nurtures is so clearly valued on the international musical stage.”

Prior to running the RSNO, Mr Woods was president and chief executive of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in the US. From 1997 to 2004, he was vice-president at the Philadelphia Orchestra and from 1999 to 2002 he was a member of the board of directors of the American Composers Forum.

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