When Jeff Woodruff started as executive director of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra in August 2003, he was attracted to the opportunity to be the “number one” managerial person.
At the same time, Woodruff, who was raised in Los Angeles and had lived in many different parts of the country, was a little uncertain about the destination.
“If anyone had told me I’d end up living in Harrisburg, my response would have been, ‘No way,’” he said. “I look a leap of faith, coming here with a wife and two little children. I took on a new adventure. I didn’t know Stuart Malina [HSO’s music director], and I had no idea what it would be like to live here.”
It didn’t take long for Woodruff to realize his “leap of faith” had led to the “highlight” of his career.
“HSO represented all the key ingredients to success,” he said.
He developed a good relationship with Malina—whom Woodruff calls “a model for music directors everywhere”—and found quality leadership at the board level, as well as the staff level. He also found effective fundraising in the Harrisburg Symphony Society—a vital component for a nonprofit.
Moreover, Woodruff said, HSO is a “first-rate orchestra. Relations with the musicians have been good.” The orchestra’s beautiful venue is another advantage.
“We’re fortunate that it performs in a state-owned facility and has a very good relationship with the management of the Forum,” he said.
With some sadness, Woodruff, who is almost 77, decided it was time to complete his tenure. He retires this month and, for his service, has been named a 2020 honoree for Distinguished Service to the Arts in the Capital Region, an annual award bestowed by Theatre Harrisburg.
“I’d like to enjoy life,” he said. “I’m not seeking another job, though I may do volunteer work for nonprofits.”
Traveling with his wife is also on the agenda. There are many places in Europe and the United States they’d like to go. Woodruff also plans to visit museums and attend music and theater performances. His wife, in fact, worked part-time for the Oakes Museum of Natural History at Messiah College.
The couple also has a property near Carlisle.
“After 17 years, I’m not selling the house and moving,” Woodruff said. “Short term at least, we’re staying in the area.”
He also said he’s “a phone call away” and can be available if needed if the new executive director, Matthew Herren, should want to consult. But Woodruff also knows Herren, a native of the area, will want to establish his own patterns.
Looking back, Woodruff—who previously worked in administrative posts at the Houston Symphony, Florida Orchestra in Tamp Bay and Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyo.—found much that was gratifying at the Harrisburg Symphony.
For one thing, there’s Malina, now in his 20th year as HSO music director.
“He lives locally, raised his family here,” he said of Malina. “He’s a wonderful colleague, and the orchestra is considerably better than when he came.”
Plus, HSO’s proximity to big cities means it can draw from a large pool of fine musicians.
The feeling between the outgoing executive director and the longstanding music director is mutual.
“It’s impossible to encapsulate in a few sentences all that Jeff has done for the HSO over the course of his tenure,” Malina said. “I think his most significant accomplishment is the atmosphere of transparency, caring and trust that he brought to our orchestra.”
Malina also complimented Woodruff for the no-drama environment he created.
“There is none of the intrigue and combativeness that one often finds in our business,” he said. “[Woodruff] has been a wonderful partner. I will deeply miss his leadership, his passion and his friendship.”
In his retirement, Woodruff looks forward to another phase of involvement—enjoying the area’s arts scene not as a participant, but as an enthusiastic fan.
“We have orchestral, chamber, jazz and many other first-rate cultural offerings here,” he said.
To learn more about the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, visit www.harrisburgsymphony.org.