The highly accomplished Canadian arts leader was formerly the CEO of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has announced today that Sophie Galaise has been appointed as its new Managing Director. Galaise comes to the MSO with an impressive pedigree of leading major symphony orchestras – she was formerly the Executive Director of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra in her native Canada and is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

During her tenure at QSO, Galaise has been credited with substantially enlarging the orchestra’s revenue as well as its audience, with more than 1.1 million people attending performances by the Brisbane-based orchestra in the past year – the most attended season in its history.  The key to this success is “collaboration,” Galaise says. “MSO has a great team, a great board with a wide ranging capacity, extraordinary musicians and a world renowned Chief Conductor. My ambition is for all of us to work together to achieve the best outcomes.”

The news of Galaise’s appointment to the top job at MSO will come as a surprise some to concertgoers in Brisbane, as this will mean the premature end of her current five-year contract with QSO, less than three years after taking up the CEO position. However Galaise says the timing of the move has been fortuitous for all parties. “When I took the QSO job we developed a strategy with big goals and objectives to achieve,” Galaise shares. “We reviewed these in October last year and even I was surprised to discover we had succeeded in everything we had set out to do, and in half the time – just two and half years.” Galaise parts company with the QSO on excellent terms. QSO Chair Greg Wanchap praised the outgoing CEO for leaving the company in strong artistic and financial health. “The QSO is well into an era of renewed success at all levels. Sophie played a major role in reinvigorating the company and we thank her for this,” he added.

The speed and fluency of Galaise’s accomplishments with QSO is perhaps unsurprising. In addition to her substantial corporate credentials, Galaise is also an experienced orchestral musician herself, as well as having a PhD in musicology. This artistic insight coupled with her nearly 20 years leading major cultural organisations is key, she believes, to her fruitful working practice. “I’m known for my commercial and financial focus, but also my capacity to innovate and develop an organisation,” Galaise says. “Being a musician myself, first a flautist and then a musicologist, helps me have real conversations with our conductors, musicians and the artistic planning team. I can be a very good sounding board and that allows for a closer collaboration.”

The recent death of French composer, conductor and globally revered champion of contemporary music, Pierre Boulez, has resonated strongly with Galaise, who shared a close friendship with the celebrated maestro. His death last week at the age of 90 has prompted some moments of personal reflection from Galaise during this transition from Brisbane to Melbourne. Many of the qualities that have been the foundation of her management style she attributes to Boulez. “I learned so much from him. He was very focused, very hard working, very intelligent, and had a wonderful sense of humour,” she explains. “He was a great leader of so many orchestras, so when I think of my own life managing similar organisations, I often think of him and the way he would have approached this or that.”  

Galaise believes that successful artistic leadership, as was so consistently displayed by Boulez, is a combination of respect and empathy. “He was extremely demanding but that was alright because you understood that you were working with someone of such capacity and intelligence, who was also very human. It’s vital to also possess sensitivity, as he did, and a sense of humour. Also, you must not be afraid to innovate. I think I’m nearly the opposite of that – I probably got that from Pierre Boulez too.”

Galaise takes up her new position in Melbourne from April this year.