Edit ModuleShow Tags

Spotlight on Women

Martha Gilmer, Chief Executive Officer, San Diego Symphony


Photos by Lauren Radack

Where did you grow up?

In a small town in the Midwest. My family owned a small corner dime store, and I worked at the candy counter to earn money for my college education. The small town has never left me. I was a geek in high school because I was a baton twirler.

What was your introduction to music?

I was a pianist. I figured out how to make enough money for my college education by teaching 15 students while in high school. My parents could not afford me the privilege of college, so I also worked part-time as an intern at the Chicago Symphony to help with tuition.

Did you have a mentor?

Yes, my junior high band director was my mentor. I was curious, and he encouraged me to find the answer, which led me to books for answers. I find that if you are curious, you are never bored. My mother was a strong woman. She raised three children alone and ran the store. She had to be decisive and profitable.

Did you begin your career with the Chicago Symphony?

No, I was with the Milwaukee Symphony for a short time, and then a position opened at the Chicago Symphony, where I stayed for 35 years. Over the years, the organization changed and grew, and I changed with it. It wasn’t that I was doing the same thing for 35 years.

"I am obsessive about what I do. I am competitive, and I had to mature into collaborating with others."

Tell us about your family.

We have three grown sons, and my husband is a music educator and also plays the bassoon. He is very supportive of my career, and in addition to cooking our meals, he is always there for me, which made the transition to San Diego seamless.

What do you do to mentor others?

I hope to mentor young musicians. I feel I have been privileged and want to share my experiences with others, administrative as well as musical. I like teaching and mentoring, and I hope I am able to give some of that back.

What is a day in your life like?

Well, some days I start at 6 a.m. and get home at 1 a.m. It’s all about money and programs, and business and art. I have to keep it in balance, which can be difficult. I am obsessive about what I do. I am competitive, and I had to mature into collaborating with others.

What are your goals with the San Diego Symphony?

I plan to continue the momentum the orchestra has now. I hope to engage even more audiences in community venues. Culture makes us human. Promoting what we do is not only important but it is significant to all of us. The Summer Pops is a wonderful venue for our orchestra and the Jacobs Music Center is a magical place. It is an inspiring place to listen to music. There is something here for everyone. Music moves you and goes to the heart. This is a real emotional place and we have fun.

And your personal goals?

So far I have been so busy in meetings with staff and community leaders, but eventually I hope to have time for kayaking, hiking, and walking on the beach. I am looking forward to the time when I can get to that.


Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

Alicia Gwynn on Her Next Big Moves—and Remembering Tony

The philanthropist and entrepreneur opens up about her wine line, music, and inspiring others

The Woman at the Top: Verna Griffin-Tabor

Meet the CEO of the Center for Community Solutions

Women Firsts in San Diego

16 women get candid about getting there first in their field
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. The Problem With Bright Red Tuna
    Many Americans still think bright red tuna means it’s fresher (it’s not)
  2. First Look: Animae
    Puffer Malarkey Restaurants unveil 5.5 million-dollar pan-Asian concept
  3. The Hunt For San Diego's Best Chicken Wings
    How wings became the No. 1 kickoff food in the U.S., and our hunt for the best
  4. Jason Mraz and his Historic Coffee Bean
    The singer and Bird Rock Coffee Roasters unveil the first California-grown Geisha coffee
  5. The Best Chicken Wings In San Diego
    The results of food critic Troy Johnson’s epic quest for the city’s best tiny chicken
  6. How San Diego Are You?
    Take our quiz to see where you land on the newcomer to old-timer spectrum
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Not Your Grandma's Orthotics

New year, new – shoe? Staying on your feet for long hours at a time just got a whole lot more comfortable with Wiivv’s BASE custom insoles

October is Rideshare Month

Join the Rideshare 2015 Challenge and get there together
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags


Private Dining Guide 2019

These private rooms and dining services are ready to treat you like family

San Diego Holiday Entertaining Guide 2019

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags