David J. Hyslop '65 leaves a long career in music administration and starts down a new path.
by Kenny Berkowitz
By his sophomore year at Ithaca College, David J. Hyslop '65 had flunked out of trumpet class and decided on a new career path. He wasn't completely sure what an orchestra manager does, but he thought it sounded like the perfect job. Now, four decades later, he has just retired from a longtime position as president of the Minnesota Orchestra to devote the next stage of his life to travel, fund-raising for nonprofit organizations, and playing basketball.
"For 40 years, managing orchestras is all I've done," says Hyslop, talking two days before his first vacation in years, a cruise to South America with his wife, Sally. "It's a field with great rewards, but it's not for the faint of heart. With the economics of what's going on now in the industry and all the cutbacks of arts programs across the country, it's been enormously challenging. We're constantly raising money. It's a '24-7' gig. Now I want to see what else is out there in the world, and that's what I'm about to do."
After growing up in Schenectady, New York, Hyslop became the first member of his family to attend college. He was determined not to fail, even when James Burke flunked him in trumpet and voice teacher Lucille Baker suggested he think about becoming a booking agent instead of a musician. Hyslop knew that he loved music -- after all, he spent his free time hitchhiking around the country, attending concerts by his favorites orchestras -- but came to realize that his teachers might be right; he hadn't the discipline to practice eight hours a day, every day of the week.
At a time when schools hadn't yet begun to give degrees in arts administration, Hyslop decided to focus his efforts on becoming an orchestra manager. Hyslop's first job after graduation was as a music teacher in the Elmira Heights (New York) Elementary School. While there he also began his music administration career as the volunteer manager of the Elmira Symphony and Choral Society (now the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes). A year later, a Martha Baird Rockefeller orchestra management grant brought Hyslop to the Minneapolis Symphony (which would become the Minnesota Orchestra), first as an intern, and then as a full-time staff member. He stayed until 1972, when he was offered the job as general manager of the Oregon Symphony in Portland.
"I was very, very driven," says Hyslop of that time in his career. "I had a passion for orchestras, and I was focused on one thing: I wanted to have my own orchestra -- but only if it was a good one." After leading a good orchestra -- Oregon -- for six years, Hyslop left it to manage one on the verge of greatness: the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, which was then under the direction of Leonard Slatkin. It was the orchestra's artistic peak, and Hyslop spent a dozen years running the SLSO as it embarked on its first tours of Europe and Asia, won three Grammy Awards, and rose to prominence as one of the greatest orchestras in the world.
Then in 1991 Hyslop returned to Minneapolis to take over the presidency of the Minnesota Orchestra, where he'd first started as an intern. He doubled its education department, expanded its radio broadcasts, completed a $55 million dollar endowment campaign, and oversaw the hiring of current music director Osmo Vänskä. In the years since he'd first arrived in Minnesota back in 1967, Hyslop had seen the orchestra's budget rise from $1.5 million to $32 million and the season expand from 26 weeks to 52 weeks. The nature of the business had changed, but one thing had stayed the same: his promise to himself that he would stop before he'd spent 40 years in a single profession. So after a dozen years as president of the Minnesota Orchestra, Hyslop kept that promise and retired at the youthful age of 62.
Since then he's made a handful of visits to the orchestra, which is organizing a gala concert in his honor to be held on July 31 featuring Midori, Peter Schickele, Doc Severinsen, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Slatkin, Lawrence Leighton Smith, Vänskä, and André Watts, with whom he remains closest of the many luminaries with whom he has worked over the years. For pleasure, he's planning to join the orchestra on its spring tour of Europe. He is also doing consulting work for the Houston Symphony and fund-raising for the Minnesota State Fair and JazzMn Big Band. His trumpet-playing days are long gone ("First thing I did after graduating, I went down to Hickey's and hocked that sucker," he laughs) but there's plenty of time left for his other major passion: basketball.
Playing several times a week at a health club downtown, often against athletes half his age, Hyslop is proud of his on-court reputation as "Dangerous Dave." "It's really competitive, and I love it," he says. "Nobody there gives a damn about the Minnesota Orchestra or what I do in the rest of my life. All they care about is whether or not the old buzzard can play basketball."
Well? Can the "old buzzard" play basketball?
Answers Hyslop, who calls himself a pretty good defensive player who can still shoot well, "Yeah. Because if you're not in good shape, you're not going to last." Obviously this former trumpet player is built to last -- with nearly 40 years in the music business to use as a cornerstone for his next adventures.
Photo © Kerri Jamison 2002