a quarter century Ann Koonsman '68 has shared talents going beyond music.
Rachel Stowe Master '91
the Fort Worth Symphony gloriously rang in the New Year, it marked the
end of an era for the orchestra, plus a new beginning for Executive Director
Ann Milford Koonsman '68. After 23 years at the helm, Koonsman retired
Dec. 31 -- and what a way to go. The symphony offered a spectacular send-off
in its "New York New Year's Eve" concert featuring internationally
renowned pianist and local luminary Van Cliburn performing his signature
piece -- Tchaikovsky's Concerto No. 1 -- for his longtime friend.
Year's Eve was such a wonderful celebration," Koonsman said. "I
never in my wildest dreams could have imagined such a grand evening. How
could I possibly be better honored than by having Van Cliburn perform?"
The symphony board named the associate concert master's chair in Koonsman's
honor. "That was a very carefully guarded secret," she noted.
"It was a total surprise -- and I must say one that makes me very
style of Koonsman's retirement fanfare is fitting. She leaves the symphony
in excellent condition, including a $10.2 million budget, a towering $23
million endowment and an ambitious 200-concert yearly schedule.
sort of like being a very caring parent," she said. "There's
a lot that's in great shape at the symphony. We have a state-of-the-art
facility in Bass Performance Hall. Our endowment is growing, which I'm
very proud of. We have a top-notch administrative staff in place. The
contract of our brilliant music director, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, is secure
through 2008. And we have about 18 months left in our labor agreement
with the musicians union, plus a fabulous working board in place.
it just seems if there was ever going to be a chance for a new person
to come in and get to know the organization before having to deal with
major issues, this is a good time."
timing is right, but symphony board members hate to see Koonsman leave.
They say she's well-versed in both business and music -- an uncommon skill
has been the backbone of the orchestra," said board President Adele
Hart, who has worked with Koonsman 15 years. "She knows the whole
operation inside and out. She's a musician herself. She's passionate about
music, and that shows in every aspect of her life."
Koonsman for keeping the orchestra on solid financial footing, an area
where symphonies often fail. "If you do any research on orchestras
across the country, you'll find that many to most are in financial trouble.
Yet this orchestra has been operating in the black for 23 years and growing
artistically all the while. She [Koonsman] attracts a great group of people
because of her personality and the fact that she knows what she's doing."
Emeritus John Giordano ('60, MM '63) puts it: "She's almost too good
to be true."
started in third grade for the former Ann Milford, who won accolades as
a youth for her performances with the violin and at the piano.
of the best times of my life was during summers in high school when TCU
had a music camp," she said. "It was just a great shot in the
arm as a young musician trying to figure out how to make a career of it.
As a result, there was never a question in my mind that I was going to
At TCU, she
studied piano with Keith Mixson and violin with Kenneth Schanewerk. Early
in her college career she began playing violin with the symphony. She
also landed a role with the original cast of the Campus Review at Six
Flags, which was just opening. That's where she met her husband, Ron Koonsman,
a UTA student. He was tagging along with her date who was picking her
up at Six Flags.
Ron's career forced several relocations, but Ann made the most of the
moves. She pursued graduate studies in violin performance at the Mannes
College of Music in New York City and earned a master of music degree
in music performance from Texas Tech University.
music in public schools and worked artistically and administratively with
orchestras in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Lubbock and Houston. And during
a three-year stint back in Fort Worth, she played for the symphony again
and worked as assistant manager before the family headed to Houston.
Fort Worth Symphony had an opening for a manager, it turned a collective
eye her way. "We called Ann, and she accepted the position,"
Giordano said, recalling that Koonsman's husband decided it was time to
make a move for his wife's career.
the artistic chief and Koonsman heading administration, the symphony was
on the right path.
the Fort Worth Symphony would not have developed to the point it has were
it not for our relationship," Giordano said.
was not an ego problem. We worked with the same goals in mind -- improving
the quality of the orchestra, providing full-time employment for the musicians
and having the symphony as an integral part of the community."
is history: "The quality of the orchestra grew enormously, our season
expanded, and we had musicians on a full-time basis."
How was Koonsman
able to succeed in an industry littered with hopes denied?
have always taken very seriously our responsibility to meet the musicians'
payroll every two weeks," she said. "And with that goes the
responsibility to be conservative. I've always taken great care to not
spend money we don't have. And on numerous occasions we've had to say
no to certain things."
"But the good news is this fiscal responsibility has allowed us to
have constant, steady growth. We have been able to grow artistically each
we had some very incredible experiences," Giordano said, pointing
to acclaimed recordings and tours to Mexico, Spain and the People's Republic
the most extraordinary thing was the tour to China. To pull that off was
one of the most unusual feats that any orchestra has ever accomplished."
his work with the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Giordano
collected contacts in Asia, while Koonsman pulled together a proposal.
The Chinese government invited the symphony to tour, but when Koonsman
traveled to Washington to obtain State Department sponsorship, she was
she and Giordano did their own fund-raising, and the trip was on. But
other stumbling blocks lay ahead. A Chinese tennis player defected to
the United States, and the Reagan administration gave him asylum.
greatly annoyed the Chinese government, which canceled all athletic and
cultural exchanges between China and the U.S.," Koonsman recalled.
"This was happening while we were in the air."
the State Department had not sponsored the Fort Worth troupe, the Chinese
government let the show proceed.
was an incredible tour, and I know we had a major effect on cultural relations
with China," Giordano said.
"I think it may be because they had suffered so that they're so very
fond of their classical music. They were so embracing. They treated the
orchestra like international stars.
reception was absolutely incredible. And there is no way we could have
arranged for such publicity. Because of the tension between China and
the U.S., we had news crews following us constantly. We have clippings
from as far away as Israel."
to her continuing role as one of the orchestra's "greatest fans,"
Koonsman is eager to take more long trips and explore opportunities. She
has enjoyed being on the TCU International Fine Arts Board of Visitors,
especially helping plan the first gala for the School of Fine Arts. "And
you never know, I might be talking someone into letting me audit some
courses," she said.
looks forward to more time with family.
son and daughter-in-law are expecting a third little boy in March,"
she said. "Children change every single day. I just don't want to
miss any of it."
to play again, too, after setting the stage for so many other musicians
the past two decades. "I think it will be fun. I've even had a couple
of invitations to put together a chamber music group. I haven't played
at all, and as musicians say, I've got to get my chops back."
Stowe Master '91 and husband Kevin '91 (MBA) live in unincorporated Tarrant
County with their three sons.
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her husband's career brought the family back to Fort Worth the first time,
Ann Koonsman was eager to put to work in the orchestra pit the skills
she had sharpened while earning her master's degree. She also wanted to
apply for a staff position.
she was told that the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra's new director, John
Giordano, insisted on auditioning everyone.
was a little surprised. After all, she had played with the symphony before
and, in the time since, had elevated her abilities. Plus, she and Giordano
were no strangers.
was at TCU when I was there as an undergraduate. Our paths crossed on
numerous occasions. I was in the Fort Worth Symphony before some of these
moves, and we had worked together -- he had hired me to work on some pops
tours. So we were professionals who were acquainted."
Koonsman agreed to the audition and took it seriously. But while she labored
intently through the session, Giordano was scouring her resume. When she
finished her piece, he looked up and asked, "Can you type?"
it turns out, she could play the violin masterfully and type adeptly.
She played in the violin section and served as assistant manager for about
three years before the family relocated again.