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In Memoriam: Mourning Richard Cisek

In November 2020 the Minnesota Orchestra family mourned the passing of Richard Cisek, one of the Orchestra’s most valued administrative leaders, whose dedicated service to the organization included more than three decades as a member of the Orchestra’s management, including 13 years as the Orchestra’s president from 1978 to his retirement in 1991. His decades of administrative leadership represent one of the longest such tenures among major American orchestras.

During Cisek’s tenure with the Minnesota Orchestra, he contributed to numerous achievements and programs, including the construction and opening of Orchestra Hall; the expansion of the Orchestra’s season to year-round, including the creation of Sommerfest; contract negotiations with recording companies; the hiring of Leonard Slatkin, Klaus Tennstedt and Charles Dutoit as principal guest conductors; and numerous major fundraising campaigns, including a $30 million endowment drive and securing a major gift from the Ford Foundation. His tenure overlapped with four of the Orchestra’s ten music directors, Antal Dorati, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Sir Neville Marriner and Edo de Waart, and his many years of dedicated service provided continuity during an era of enormous change for the organization.

Cisek, born in 1928 in Buffalo, New York, earned his MBA at the prestigious Wharton School, began his career in orchestra management at the Buffalo Philharmonic, then joined the Minnesota Orchestra’s administrative staff in 1958 as public relations director. He quickly rose through the organization’s ranks, as assistant managing director, manager and ultimately president—a rare career path in the field of major orchestras, which often hire presidents from outside the organization, rather than promoting from within. In 1983, the League of American Orchestras—then called the American Symphony Orchestra League—awarded him the Louis Sudler Award for “outstanding contributions to the profession of symphony orchestra management.”

Following his retirement from the Minnesota Orchestra in 1991, Cisek continued to provide leadership in the field as an arts management consultant, and supported the Orchestra as a generous donor, advocate and concert attendee. Of his time with the Orchestra, he told the Star Tribune in 1990 that “It’s been a fulfilling career made even more special by wonderful associations. But how could this job, with an orchestra like Minnesota, in a community like this, have been anything less?”

“Dick Cisek was a giant in the orchestral industry,” said Minnesota Orchestra President and CEO Michelle Miller Burns. “I first met him years ago when I served as a League of American Orchestras Fellow and his generosity to a newcomer in the field was exceptional. His remarkable stewardship of the Minnesota Orchestra across three decades built the Minnesota Orchestra’s connection and reputation in our community and across the nation. He leaves a great legacy in this organization.”

The Orchestra extends profound condolences to Richard Cisek’s wife, Kay Fredericks, and other members of his family.