By Kristi Casey Sanders
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra General Manager of Popular Venues Clay Schell may be new to the classical music world – he joined the ASO in December 2007 – but he’s been in the entertainment business since 1977.
Based in Atlanta, Schell frequently attended Chastain Amphitheater, but not as a patron. He was backstage with the band, working. “I’m looking forward to getting more acclimated to the Chastain experience, enjoying it as a patron in the front of the house and learning what the patron enjoys about coming to [this] facility,” Schell says. “I’m really interested in learning the social element as well as the music element and how we balance them. Chastain is [an experience] people absolutely love. How you enhance it by what kind of artists come to play becomes a part of that experience.”
The fact that Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre will host classical concerts as well as popular entertainers thrills Schell. “I’m very excited about the Symphony Orchestra playing at Verizon. Any time you can expand the horizons of people by playing music, it’s incredibly valuable. I love making people aware of different music.”
Having two amphitheaters with such different attributes gives the ASO tremendous flexibility in terms of programming. It also allows the ASO to serve its existing patrons while growing its audience north of Atlanta.
When asked if he thinks his rock ’n’ roll background has helped the ASO attract quality acts into Verizon and Chastain, Schell says, “I think it helps immensely. They understand [my] reputation and what I’ve been involved with. I’m pretty interwoven to, if not the production team [e.g., the roadies and tech staff], then to the artists coming in. I know a lot of the artists coming through.”
Schell toured with artists such as Joe Cocker from 1977 to 1997, and represented a roster of acts including Tina Turner, Sir Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Prior to joining the ASO, he managed concert bookings for House of Blues venues from Orlando to Cary, N.C. While touring, he was exposed to the European tradition of outdoor classical concert series, which are a popular form of entertainment. To him, it makes perfect sense that a classical music lover also would be interested in attending a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert.
“This season is incredibly affordable and incredibly diverse,” Schell says. “And there’s a lot of things going on for 2009 that I’m already involved with, a lot of big tours coming up next year that we’re already discussing.” So keep your eyes peeled — the ASO summer 2009 season should be announced near the end of the year.