Christopher Barton may be relatively new to the City Beautiful, but the executive director at the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra hit the ground running since arriving with his family in 2016. His to-do list has never been short of large tasks: Increase the reach of the Phil. Help program a season saying goodbye to the Bob Carr Theater. Collaborate with the other arts organizations here in central Florida.
Also, get in some family time, a non-work date night here and there, and maybe catch a show at the Plaza Live.
Who was your biggest role model?
My dad was and has always been my role model. I always think of loyalty, service, a good humor with him. He is also the first person I can remember noticing as a good public speaker when he was my Cub Scout leader.
Music is a big part of your life. Was your family musically oriented?
We didn’t have a musical family. I came into an interest in music in orchestras pretty late in the game as a teenager in high school. I was an orchestral double bass player and pursued that in college but found my way through some different opportunities as a student into managing a composer residency program and doing some concert festival behind-the-scenes work.
Was music something you saw yourself doing professionally?
I definitely got into it for fun and enjoyment. Being a musician became kind of a vehicle for studying music in college. I actually thought that I wanted to be a composer, maybe a conductor for just a little while.
Those are both really, really hard things to do.
As I was figuring that out, I was also finding the outlet and the opportunity to do some behind-the-scenes work. That’s when it all clicked for me.
You moved to Orlando in 2016. Do you and the family have some favorite places to visit?
Our kids are 11 and 12, so we have definitely spoiled them in these first couple of years. The theme park experience was definitely part of the sales pitch to move here.
We’ve been able to get out to the Space Center a few times, which is one of my favorite places, and our kids are more and more excited about that too.
What does a date night look like for you and your wife?
That’s something of a joke between us. Many of our date nights are what we call “work dates.” It’s a Philharmonic concert or a dinner fundraising event or the ballet gala or something at the Dr. Phillips Center.
For all of the social business that my job requires, we’re kind of homebodies. We are really happy with the neighborhood that we landed in where we’re very close to UCF. We have access to all of the things that the east part of the city and the county offers.
One of our favorite things is to just kind of relax from the business of two kids in school and a busy job.
You’re here at the Philharmonic, you’re with these incredible musicians all the time. What do you listen to when you’re in a car and at home?
Mostly what I listened to in the car is WMFE. When I’m at home, I listen to just about anything that matches my mood.
One of the cool things about having the Philharmonic involved in operating the Plaza Live is all of the different kinds of music and events that come through there really suits me. I am just as happy at a hard rock or heavy metal concert as I am to orchestral music.
How much does you being a musician yourself helped with your position as the executive director of the Philharmonic?
It’s absolutely invaluable. I have no aspirations anymore of being a professional musician. But I’m able to support them in the work that they do by being conversant in everything from what it’s like to play an instrument to what a rehearsal schedule feels like
Being able to talk programming ideas with Eric [Jacobsen, the Philharmonic’s Music Director] from a position of knowledge and experience that we can work together makes it a really rich relationship.
And it goes both ways. Eric as an artist is very business savvy and entrepreneurial himself. He very much understands the business back end and everything that drives the work that we do.
Your 2019-2020 season was just announced, and it’ll be the last in the Bob Carr Theater. Do you have anything special planned for the last show there?
We programmed next season with a farewell to the Bob Carr in mind, and it’s both looking back and looking forward.
Eric wanted to make sure that we went out with a really big bang, and so one of the most exciting pieces that he could program Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony to conclude the program. We’re also going to celebrate Central Florida’s connection to the Space Coast. There will be a contemporary piece that was inspired by the Deep Field images of the Hubble Space Telescope on that concert as well.
The Philharmonic’s homes are the Plaza Live, the Bob Carr, and eventually the new Steinmetz Hall at the Dr. Phillips Center. How do you approach community outreach to let people know that you’re here and to convince them to come to shows?
As the community spreads out, we hope that people will make a special trip to downtown or to the Plaza Live to a concert. But it’s also a responsibility of ours and serving the community to find ways to get our musicians either individually or in small groups or the full orchestra out as much as we can.
We’ve got a really great tradition of performing a couple of times a year in Oviedo and Celebration. We’ve had a real success in Apopka and are trying to make sure that we can get the orchestra out to the fantastic amphitheater in their park up there. With the emergence of Lake Nona and Horizons West, we’re actively looking for ways to bring the orchestra out to those communities.
A full schedule of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2019-2020 season is available on orlandophil.org.
Editor’s note: After this article was sent to print, we were informed by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra that Christopher Barton and the Philharmonic parted ways in late March. We will be sure to update our readers on who will fill Barton’s position as we get that information.