At the end of September, Martha Gilmer, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association’s vice president of artistic planning and audience development, and holder of the Richard and Mary L. Gray Chair, will leave Chicago to take on the role of chief executive officer of the San Diego Symphony. After joining the CSO staff as a student intern in 1976, she served in several managerial capacities here for the last 35 years, becoming highly regarded and respected in the American symphony orchestra field.

In her evolving role at the CSO, Martha oversaw the orchestra’s programming as well as educational programs, the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Symphony Center Presents concerts and the Civic Orchestra, in addition to creating the Beyond the Score, Classic Encounters and MusicNOW series. Following are some of the many tributes that Martha has received from members of the CSO family:


For 35 years, Martha Gilmer has played an important role in shaping the artistic profile of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Her creativity and her passion for music come through in the many innovative programs and festivals that have been enjoyed by audiences in Chicago and around the world. She has been an invaluable partner to me as I am sure she was also to Sir Georg Solti and Daniel Barenboim. I am happy that San Diego, the beautiful city where we were together with the CSO on its most recent West Coast tour, will gain from her long experience, and I wish her much success in the future.

The reason I’m not sad that Martha Gilmer is leaving Chicago is because we will always have Martha in the CSO. In so many ways, over the decades, her creative programs have defined the profile of the institution. Her loyalty and the depth of her knowledge of Chicago are legendary. What I do know is that in going to the San Diego Symphony, she is taking the best of Chicago there. So now we know that she and [her husband] Bill will have the best of both worlds.

My dear Martha, your commitment, passion and love for the CSO over so many years have been incredible. You have been its “human face,” always there to encourage and reassure artists, to find solutions, and to bring the best out of people in a sincere and caring way. That is irreplaceable. I am thrilled that you have this opportunity in San Diego, but I will miss you. Thank you, Martha, for everything you have done, but most importantly for your friendship to Patricia and myself, which I know will continue from a few more thousand miles away. Wishing you all the very best.

Martha and I first met in 1976, when she joined the CSO team under John Edwards and Solti. We both had the privilege of traveling the world with the symphony. Since those days, Martha has developed into one of the most expert and knowledgeable music program planners in the world, and while looking after the stars, she has become a star in her own right. What I feel sure is a sadness for the CSO will be a joyful new challenge for Martha. Lucky San Diego Symphony to have her talent, knowledge, expertise and above all, her integrity taking over as their new CEO. As Solti would have said, “My dear Martha, many congratulations. You are a very good girl.” Gabrielle and Claudia join me in sending our love and very warmest wishes for a much deserved brilliant new future.

Many words come to mind when describing Martha Gilmer’s leadership style, but the operative word for her style that supersedes all others is kindness. Yes, she is a brilliant administrator, an incisive decision maker, a creative programmer, an ingenious innovator (who fearlessly breaks out of the mold). But more importantly, she is an empathetic administrator with a strong humanitarian drive. This is Martha Gilmer: this is her gift; this has made her greatness shine. While we will miss her in Chicago, we all appreciate her dedication and integrity, and we salute her in this new venture.

Martha Gilmer has been a key element in the CSOA for the last three decades. Her leadership and vision have served three music directors, guest conductors, soloists and the members of the Orchestra. She was responsible for innovative ideas and supported the creative energies of the entire institution. The musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra wish to express our deep appreciation to her for many years of dedicated hard work in support of great music. We wish her the greatest success as the chief executive officer of the San Diego Symphony.

Martha Gilmer has been a revered artistic leader at the CSO for 35 years. Her work and reputation are recognized internationally, and her dedication to audiences and artists, as well as her commitment to presenting extraordinary music and pushing the boundaries of the art form, is exceptional. On behalf of the entire Board of Trustees, I wish her the very best as she takes on a new challenge in her distinguished career.

Martha’s departure also marks, almost to the day, her 35th year with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. How the CSOA has benefitted from those 35 years! Her intuitive understanding of the needs and temperaments of our artists has helped to make the CSO a valued home for many musicians. Her endless curiosity and instinctually collaborative style have connected our institution to the broader arts community in Chicago, resulting in innovative presentations that other organizations envy—and copy. With Martha, there is never a shortage of ideas, each one presented passionately and persuasively. She has a unique capacity for reconsidering, reshaping and reimagining, which expresses her deep commitment to music, the CSO and its audiences. The entire staff will miss her ability to solve big problems in a single phone call. And all of this from someone who muses, occasionally, “I’m just a girl from Burlington, Wisconsin.”