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Primed for Success: Celebrating the accomplishments of CSO & Pops President Trey Devey

Meghan Berneking


When Trey Devey first stepped into his role as President of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Pops and May Festival in 2009, no one could have anticipated the achievements to come over the course of the next eight years. This month, Mr. Devey’s tenure draws to a close as he assumes the presidency of the Interlochen Center for the Arts, Michigan’s largest arts institution.

“This has been an outstanding chapter in the life of the organization. The CSO has the most compelling success story of any American orchestra these past eight years, and that success is a testament not only to Trey’s leadership, but a strong culture of collaboration in Cincinnati,” said current CSO Board Chair Francie Hiltz. “We are confident that the organization is on a positive trajectory and primed for even more success. For the CSO, there are many more inspiring chapters to come.” 

“The success and growth the CSO and Pops have experienced during my tenure represents a collective effort,” said Mr. Devey. “The responsibilities and the many positive outcomes have been possible thanks to collaborative work across the organization between the Board, musicians, administration, artistic leadership, volunteers and donors. It is truly the dream team, and I am honored and privileged to have served this great organization. I will be a lifelong champion of this orchestra and this community.”

While Mr. Devey cites the collective effort, his own contributions to the Orchestra’s success cannot be overlooked, especially in light of the national and international attention garnered in recent years and the stability achieved by the CSO during a time when such solid footing remains elusive to many American orchestras. “He truly fulfilled the goal he promised, namely, to elevate the presence of the Cincinnati Symphony locally and nationally,” said Paul Frankenfeld, President of the Cincinnati Musicians Association, Local 1, American Federation of Musicians and CSO Associate Principal Violist. “In doing so, Trey re-invigorated the appreciation for the Orchestra among the patrons, trustees, donors and sponsors. He has articulated a clear vision for the future that assures the musicians of financial stability, restores vacant positions, and maintains morale so that great music-making may continue.” 

The CSO was in a negative cash flow position in early 2009 when Mr. Devey began his tenure, and endowment draws of up to 9.96 percent had contributed to the endowment plummeting from $92.7 million to $56.2 million. The Orchestra’s structural deficit reached $6.5 million and the 2007–2008 season ended with a $3.8 million operating deficit. On his first day on the job, he sat at the negotiating table with CSO musician leadership and union officers and rolled up his sleeves to work on a plan to balance the budget.

“Trey is the consummate professional every organization wishes it could have. He is honest to a fault, dedicated, and tenacious towards achieving goals he or the Board has set. I loved working with him and we joked often,” said Melody Sawyer Richardson, who served as CSO Board Chair from 2010 to 2013.

The resulting budget stabilization plan announced in February of 2009 made the CSO the first American orchestra to address major structural problems in the wake of the Great Recession. Over the course of the next few years, generous philanthropic support coupled with newly adopted financial policies by the Board further secured the Orchestra’s long-term financial health.

According to a New York Times article from May of 2015, “The orchestra world is all too familiar with vicious cycles of mounting deficits, dwindling audiences, difficulty raising money and cuts. But at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, things are moving happily in the opposite direction: think crescendo, not diminuendo.”

“I have never ever known a more hard-working executive in the private sector; the results of the turnaround of the CSO in every way you can think of, are in large part due to Trey’s leadership,” said Ms. Richardson. 

In addition to financial accomplishments, under Mr. Devey’s leadership the Orchestra has experienced artistic triumphs, two artistic leadership transitions with the appointments of Pops Conductor John Morris Russell in 2010 and Music Director Louis Langrée in 2013, and double digit average attendance increases. Millions of dollars have been raised to support commissions, national radio broadcasts, television broadcasts, commercial recordings, artistic collaborations, tours, digital downloads, web streaming, and groundbreaking initiatives like One City, One Symphony, LUMENOCITY®, the MusicNOW Festival collaboration and the Pelléas Trilogy. Last month, the CSO and Pops continued to fulfill its role as Cincinnati’s ambassador with a tour to Asia, the first international tour since 2009, and the Orchestra will return to Europe this summer.

Back in Cincinnati, Mr. Devey’s leadership has allowed CSO musicians many opportunities to connect with their community in meaningful ways, with participation in education and community engagement activities increasing by 71 percent. The CSO’s diversity and inclusion efforts have also garnered acclaim and awards, and the creation and expansion of such programs as the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship and Classical Roots have made the CSO an orchestral leader in such initiatives. 

The CSO has received numerous awards during Mr. Devey’s tenure: 2013 Outstanding Directors Award, Non-Profit Category (Cincinnati Business Courier); 2013 Inaugural Tri-State Regional Workplace Inclusion Award (BRIDGES for a Just Community); 2014 Queen City Advocate Award (Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau); 2014 Norma Petersen Star Award (Over-the-Rhine Chamber); 2014 Outstanding Work in the Arts Award (The Links); 2014 Nonprofit of the Year (Cincinnati Convention and CSO President Trey Devey pauses backstage just before announcing his departure to the musicians of the Orchestra. Visitors Bureau); 2015 Central Area Awards for the Arts (The Links); 2015 Wendell P. Dabney Award for Diversity (Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau); and the 2015 Board Excellence Award (Cincinnati Business Courier).

Mr. Devey’s role as President has also made him a leading figure in the long-awaited renovation of Music Hall. No fewer than ten non-profit and governmental agencies have coalesced around this project. The $135 million project, led by the Music Hall Revitalization Company, managed by 3CDC and guided by an exceptional design team, is on schedule and running smoothly. The resident companies of Music Hall, including the CSO and May Festival, have been active voices in the process from supporting the required fundraising to ensuring an extraordinary patron experience. The resident companies will return to perform in Music Hall in October. 

“We are all grateful for the vision and dedication that Trey Devey has employed to guide the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Trey, Amy, and the girls will always be cherished members of the greater CSO ‘family,’ and on behalf of all our musicians, we wish them happiness and fulfillment as Trey assumes his new post at the Interlochen Center for the Arts,” said Mr. Frankenfeld.

“I am so proud of what we’ve accomplished together and am leaving Cincinnati confident in the future of the CSO. The culture of our Orchestra is second to none and the best is yet to come,” said Mr. Devey.