Steamboat Symphony Orchestra hires new executive director |

Steamboat Symphony Orchestra hires new executive director

Kari Dequine Harden/For Steamboat Today
Stuart Handloff, playing the part of Duke Frederick shares a scene with Carolyn Berns, who portrays Celia, in the Piknik Theatre Festival's presentation of William Shakespeare’s "As You Like it" at Yampa River Botanic Park in the summer 2017.
John F. Russell

Stuart Handloff, playing the part of Duke Frederick shares a scene with Carolyn Berns, who portrays Celia, in the Piknik Theatre Festival’s presentation of William Shakespeare’s “As You Like it” at Yampa River Botanic Park this past summer.
John F. Russell

— Entering its 25th season, the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra begins a new chapter in 2017 as it transitions back to an independent performing arts organization. 

The orchestra is currently forming a new board of directors and just appointed Stuart Handloff as executive director.

The Steamboat Symphony Orchestra will now be autonomous of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council but will continue to collaborate with the council, as well as expand partnerships with numerous other local groups, Handloff said.

Board member Barbara Winternitz said the orchestra is still in the process of recruiting board members — ones willing to work hard, she noted, as they have minimal administrative staff and want a very active and engaged board.

At this time, the board of directors also includes Chair David Loken and Secretary/Treasurer Tara Cowherd. Ernest Richardson, the orchestra’s music director and principal conductor, serves as vice-chair.

Handloff has been involved in the arts in Steamboat since his arrival in 1972, when he joined the Cameo Playhouse, a theater group housed above the Old Town Pub.

“It was quite ambitious,” he said, of the small troupe putting on a full season of shows.

The camaraderie of those early theater days remind Handloff of the fellowship in the Steamboat Symphone Orchestra, he said, in “working hard together, partying together, and respecting each other’s artistic contribution to the whole. It was great fun then, and it is great fun now.”

Today, Handloff also serves as the artistic director of the Piknik Theatre Festival, a free repertory theater festival in the summer.

Throughout his life, Handloff has immersed himself in the performing arts — from his education to teaching, volunteering, fundraising, directing, producing and performing.

But Handloff was not always comfortable on stage. After deciding to study theater in college, he began with backstage and technical aspects.

As a young boy, Handloff took piano lessons, but said he ultimately quit because of his performance anxiety. Over time, he found his place and passion on stage — a personal transformation he calls life-changing.

For Handloff, the pivotal moment that led him to performing arts was as a Duke University student at the height of the civil rights struggles in the 1960s. It was a single performance — put on by a group of African American students — in an effort to “visually and viscerally demonstrate what it was like to be black in the South,” Handloff recalled. “They weren’t actors, just students telling their story.”

Handloff was blown away,and hooked to the art form. He then transferred to Occidental College in Los Angeles to enroll in a theater arts program.

In addition to his arts education, Handloff also has a master’s degree in public administration.

Winternitz said that though the orchestra had a number of highly qualified candidates for the position of executive director, Handloff’s extensive experience running nonprofits in the Yampa Valley was a deciding factor, as well as the respect earned, and countless contributions made over nearly half a decade in the community.

“I’ve worn a lot of hats, Handloff said, and “I feel like I’ve got a lot of tools in my bag.”

Handloff said it became clear this was the right time for the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra to rebuild itself as an independent organization, and “stand on its own feet.”

He recognizes there is a lot at stake and a lot of interest and support in keeping the Orchestra going.

Winternitz said her devotion comes from the people she’s met and continues to be inspired by. “There’s no way you get to know them and not want to make sure they survive as artists,” she said.

One of those sources of inspiration is Ernest Richardson.

Handloff first connected to Richardson about 15 years ago when Handloff was teaching high school drama. Richardson agreed to conduct the pit orchestra for the high school’s production of “The Sound of Music.”

Richardson, with an incredibly lengthy and diverse resume ranging from conductor, composer, arranger, violist, organizational leader and inspirational speaker, also brings artistic versatility between classical and popular music and culture.

“We have only begun to explore what is possible in the service of our community,” Richardson said in a news release. “Stuart and I share a belief in the power inherent in the sound of orchestral music to move an audience. We believe music can become the second language of Steamboat and are committed to educational endeavors and engagement activities that weave the SSO into the fabric of our community.”

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