You Can Go Home Again: New West Michigan Symphony executive director happy to be back in Michigan

After working odd jobs for a couple of years in Traverse City, Andy Buelow, a graduate of Wisconsin’s prestigious Lawrence University, wasn’t sure of his career trajectory or what to do with a music degree.

Buelow moved back across the lake hoping to break into freelance journalism, answering an ad in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that said, “Be a voice for the Milwaukee Symphony.” That led to a job in telemarketing trying to secure new season subscribers. The year was 1986, before cell phones, voicemail and the internet.

“I started in the trenches,” Buelow said. “But I discovered I really enjoyed it. I walked into the Milwaukee Symphony and thought it was the most amazing thing. The experience of seeing and hearing it live is a completely different experience than hearing it on a CD.”

Those humble beginnings blossomed into a career in arts administration and several relocations to head symphonies in Traverse City, Tacoma, Wash., and now Muskegon, being named West Michigan Symphony’s new executive director in November.

“There is a level of performance here that you would not expect,” Buelow said. “And there is such good momentum and energy here, I would like to tie the West Michigan Symphony into that. Muskegon is transforming itself very quickly. There’s probably a lot of people out there who don’t know all the things going on here.”

Led by Music Director Scott Speck, the symphony produces five masterworks and three pops concerts each year in Frauenthal Theater. As the orchestra winds down its 78th season with Tango Caliente on April 27 and Masterpieces on May 18, the two have started to plan for the 2019-20 season. 

“Andy is in love with West Michigan, and it shows,” Speck said. “He cares deeply for our community, and he is devoting himself to enabling our orchestra to serve this part of the world.”

A Wisconsin native, Buelow spent his summers at his family’s century-old cottage on Old Mission Peninsula. He was eager to get back to Michigan, take up sailing again and enjoy visits up north. He has realized life is too short to spend it sitting in traffic.

In Milwaukee, he rose from telemarketing up to director of public relations, eventually heading west for Washington. Under his leadership, Symphony Tacoma experienced increased patron loyalty and solid financial management, and hired Music Director Sarah Ioannides, one of the top female conductors in the world.

Buelow has a strong track record of strengthening symphonic arts organizations and enjoys having a collaborative relationship with the music director. He said he has long been a fan of Speck’s style and artistic leadership.

Likewise, Speck said he was impressed with the vibrant musical culture Buelow helped create in Tacoma, having great ideas and a thorough understanding of the orchestra industry.

“I'm looking forward to working with Andy to dream up more great things for our orchestra and our community,” Speck said.

And Speck is a maestro when it comes to bringing the musicians together for a week of rehearsals and turning out a “performance that stands up to any orchestra, anywhere.”

Buelow was equally blown away when he saw Frauenthal Theater, adding he believes it’s the best concert hall in the region. He is eager to spread the word to outlying communities that there’s free parking, a restaurant below the theater, and magnificent music and ambience inside.

“I walked into the Frauenthal and my jaw literally dropped,” Buelow said. “It’s a jewel, it’s a gem.”

Another goal is to help people realize the value of the Frauenthal and see the symphony isn’t some “high-brow, aloof thing, but this is something right in your community to be enjoyed.”