There’s a harmony between a city and its culture, and Scott Harrison fuses the two in his role as executive director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO), currently celebrating its 50th anniversary season.
Harrison, 37, took on the position in the fall of 2015, replacing Rachel Fine, who is now managing director of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.
“The orchestra is just fantastic,” Harrison told the Journal. “There’s such chemistry and a magnetism in the way they make music.”
Unlike most orchestras that perform in one space, LACO travels to venues throughout Los Angeles. It has longtime partnerships with UCLA’s Royce Hall, Glendale’s Alex Theatre, Santa Monica’s Moss Theatre, and the Colburn School’s Zipper Hall. Harrison significantly expanded LACO’s community reach to include new partnerships with the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) in Northridge, San Marino’s Huntington Library, Downtown Los Angeles’ Grand Performances, the Colburn School and Santa Monica’s St. Monica Church.
LACO prides itself on presenting a diversity of works, Harrison said, with up to 30 programs per season. Its repertoire covers everything from classical music (well known Mozart or Beethoven symphonies), to composers like Kurt Weill, whose music reflected his experiences escaping Nazi Germany, resettling in the United States and becoming part of the vanguard of artists speaking out about civil rights issues in this country.
“Music is a tool for sparking tolerance, confronting oppression and creating spaces where people of different backgrounds can unite.” — Scott Harrison
Harrison said that while music can be an equalizing force, it also can raise questions. “Can our music put an idea out there or make a suggestion for what a better world or a better society might look like? Music is a tool for sparking tolerance, confronting oppression and creating spaces where people of different backgrounds can unite.”
Harrison, who grew up on Long Island and went to Hebrew school and services at reform Temple Judea, was drawn to music at a young age. “I remember loving all the songs and the sounds of the services,” he said. “Music was just part of how we connected with our Jewish identity. The songs stay with you, whether from the services or from Hebrew school or various holiday celebrations.”
Harrison said he has “no doubt the way I approach my work and my connection to music is fully a reflection of my own Jewish identity and upbringing.”
He joined both his public school’s choir and band. His first instrument was the clarinet, followed by the saxophone. He eventually settled on the bassoon and studied bassoon and political science at Northwestern University before attending graduate school at Southern Methodist University. Before embarking on his administrative career, he played the bassoon professionally.
Of his eventual decision to follow a path in arts administration, Harrison said, “The truth is, to make it as a professional musician, [it’s] not unlike making it as a professional sports player. You can be incredibly talented and have a lot of desire, but the spots are very limited. The chances to make it are few and far between.”
As an administrator, Harrison saw the opportunity to serve the arts community and fulfill his passion for music by driving an organization, helping bring concerts together, and bringing people together through music events.
“I love the fact that LA has so many different opportunities,” he said. “I love being transformed and taken away. And it’s also an extension of my job. It’s a chance to see different programs and expand my mind, think [differently] and meet different artists.”