Music Maker: Jeffrey Haydon ’97

As the new president and CEO of the Ravinia Festival, the country’s oldest music festival, Jeffrey Haydon ’97 is guided by a singular mission. “Music,” he says, “is a universal language that inspires each of us to come together, to listen more deeply, and to explore new ideas.” 

Ravinia, 30 minutes north of Chicago, had to cancel this year’s summer slate of classical, jazz, and popular music performances because of COVID-19. But look for Haydon to forge novel pathways into an uncertain future. At the Caramoor Center for Music and Arts in New York, where he had been CEO since 2012, Haydon created livestream concerts this summer for an online audience, as well as socially distanced in-person performances (50 people recently were invited to a performance on Caramoor’s lawn, which normally hosts 2,000 concertgoers). “Rather than just shutting down and bemoaning what we couldn’t do, we kept looking for things that we could do,” Haydon says.

He expects to apply some of those ideas in his new job and create some new ones, as well. Haydon brings an impressive track record: At Caramoor, he raised more than $40 million, quadrupling the endowment. He also launched various programmatic initiatives, including a collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center. 

Haydon grew up in the Bay Area with family who took him to symphonic and jazz performances. He enrolled at Puget Sound on a tuba and voice scholarship, majoring in the Business Leadership Program and minoring in music. On campus, he met student programs director Serni Solidarios, who hired Haydon to chair the student-run cultural events series. Haydon helped bring to campus such artists as Fred Hersch, Cleo Laine, Bela Fleck, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Making quality music performances accessible to the public became Haydon’s passion and, after graduating, he was selected for a yearlong competitive fellowship for executive training of orchestra managers. He later worked for the Aspen Music Festival, did fundraising for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Philharmonic, and was executive director of the Ojai (Calif.) Music Festival for nine years before taking the position at Caramoor. 

“There’s nothing about the business that should work on paper,” he says, noting that ticket sales usually cover less than half the operating costs for performing arts organizations. “It’s a creative challenge to figure out how to make the finances and operations work. I love the satisfaction of seeing an artist or audience member months or years later say, ‘That experience still inspires me today.’” 


By Andrew Fought
Photo by Gabe Palacio
Published Oct. 12, 2020