We had the good fortune of connecting with Ben Cadwallader and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ben, how do you think about risk?
For me, taking calculated risks has always been the single most powerful driver for forward movement and momentum, both personally and organizationally. But in order to enjoy the great benefits that risk-taking can offer, I learned early on how important it is to establish and communicate the strategies that must accompany the risk. When contemplating a risk, whether it’s a major career move, a bold new project, or a major financial decision, I take into account my initial response to the idea, then take the time to craft an argument AGAINST that initial reaction. I think it is essential to have a complete picture of the potential risk, simultaneously comprehending a compelling case for both sides, even as you know you’ll ultimately only choose one. For me, risk-taking is not a disorganized, scattershot, in-the-moment process – it is deliberate, thoughtful, slow, socratic, and strategic.
What should our readers know about your business?
One of America’s finest ensembles, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) was founded by LA’s top studio musicians seeking a creative outlet. The “Chamber” in our name is a reference to size; because a chamber orchestra has a smaller number of musicians, we are able to be highly nimble and able to swiftly respond to our environment. This has been tremendously beneficial to LACO during COVID. Immediately after the pandemic hit, we began the shift from arts institution to media company. At no point did we consider shutting down, in fact, we viewed this time as an inflection point where we could swiftly evolve and reach an entirely new category of music lover through the limitless digital medium. We were among the first orchestras in America to successfully negotiate a comprehensive agreement with the American Federation of Musicians, the Union representing all professional musicians. This agreement, along with the support of LA County and the film and TV industry, allowed us to safely gather musicians to capture audiovisual content for widespread digital release. With the new agreement in place, we shot and released our first-ever set of summer concerts: LACO SummerFest. These concerts garnered over 150,000 views, dozens of new donors, and came in under budget. As an organization, we had to learn an entirely new set of competencies: if we’re no longer selling tickets, what does the box office department do? Without physical concerts to attend, how does the Production Department support the organization? How do you market free digital concerts on YouTube? How do you fundraise for them? And so on. Our competencies grew by leaps and bounds over the summer, and the learning continues as we launch our 16-episode 2020/2021 season: Close Quarters. Building on the momentum of SummerFest and applying what we learned, we hired an experienced film and stage director to direct all 16 episodes, which explore the interplay of music and other art forms. Each episode is a 30-40 minute short film featuring the musicians of LACO paired with LA-based artists from various different art forms. This season, we’ll work with dancers, scriptwriters, choreographers, actors, sculptors, fabric artists, painters, and many, many more. I’m tremendously proud of how our team has been able to turn on a dime and churn out this wildly inventive new series, all without compromising an inch on serving the mission that has propelled us forward for the past 50+ years.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My first day in the office was March 9, 2020 so I’d be a pretty terrible tour guide, sadly. That said, I lived in LA many years ago and have enjoyed re-acquainting myself with this awesome city, albeit through a COVID lens… I live near the LA River and absolutely love our bike path, so I’d probably insist on daily walks up to La Colombe and back. Their oat milk latte on draft is insane. Driving up the Angels Crest Highway is always a treat too – would probably pull off a few times for hikes with the dogs. A visit to the Hollywood Bowl would be required, of course. We’d eat the best tortillas on the planet from Guisados, probably get some Ramen at Daikokuya, Korean BBQ from Park’s BBQ, get a damn delicious french dip from Philippe’s, and maybe dress up for something special at Animal or Republique.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Troy Peters is the one person outside my immediate family who stands out as a consistent source for inspiration and light throughout my life and career. He has become one of the most sought-after youth orchestra conductors in America and we met in the mid-90’s when I started playing oboe in his youth orchestra. He’s responsible for me falling in love with classical music, but more importantly, he showed me how to authentically spread that love to others. He is a wise and empathetic leader who I will always admire both for his expansive, inclusive vision, and for his uncanny ability to bring others along with him.