Classical Music & Dance

The man who helped create KC Symphony growth and Flint Hills concerts is retiring

2016 Symphony in the Flint Hills

Five thousand ticket holders from as far away as California and New York converged on a remote prairie pasture in Chase County, Kan., on Saturday, June 11, 2016, for the Kansas City Symphony's 2016 Symphony in the Flint Hills.
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Five thousand ticket holders from as far away as California and New York converged on a remote prairie pasture in Chase County, Kan., on Saturday, June 11, 2016, for the Kansas City Symphony's 2016 Symphony in the Flint Hills.

Frank Byrne, credited with bringing growth and stability to the Kansas City Symphony as its executive director for the past 16 years, will retire from the position at the end of the 2018-19 season, the Symphony announced.

"This organization is among the most stable and successful orchestras in the nation, and that has resulted from very intentional work by our board and all of the people who have helped make that a reality," Byrne said Friday.

Symphony board Chairman William M. Lyons said in a statement that during Byrne's tenure, "all aspects of symphony operations have grown dramatically and have achieved new levels of excellence. It is undeniably at the center of the performing arts in Kansas City."

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Kansas City Symphony Executive Director Frank Byrne will retire at the end of the 2018-19 season.

Byrne spent 27 years with the U.S. Marine Band, initially as a tuba player and then executive assistant to the director and acting chief administrator before coming to the Kansas City Symphony as general manager in 2000. Then-Symphony board Chairwoman Shirley Helzberg asked him to take on the executive director role in 2002.

Since then the Symphony's budget has grown from $8 million to nearly $19 million. Last year the Symphony successfully completed a $55 million fundraising campaign to strengthen its endowment.

In 2006 Byrne took a gamble when Flint Hills leaders approached him about a concert on the prairie.

"They had such a compelling case and had such passion behind it, I thought why not give it a shot?" Byrne said later. The Symphony in the Flint Hills is now a highly popular annual event.

Byrne's departure will take effect Aug. 31, 2019. The Symphony board will undertake a national search for the next executive director. Byrne said that he had no plans to take another position and that he and his wife, Debbie, will remain in the Kansas City area.

"I've always approached this job as a kind of sacred responsibility and I want only the best for the organization," Byrne said. "I love music, and it is the animating force that enables me to do my job well."

Symphony Music Director Michael Stern said that is clear in Byrne's accomplishments.

"Frank thinks like a musician and lives like one," Stern said in a statement, "and he will leave an indelible mark on the Kansas City Symphony. His organizational insight and fiscal stewardship are abundantly evident in our growth and our stability."

As it does every Memorial Day weekend, in 2015 the Kansas City Symphony performed its Celebration at the Station at Union Station, followed by a fireworks show over Liberty Memorial.

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