CU People: Charlotte Levitt
Who She Is
Director of Marketing and Outreach, Miller Theatre
Years at Columbia
What She Does
Levitt cultivates an audience for the dozens of concerts put on each year at Columbia’s Miller Theatre, which The New York Times has described as one of the “city’s foremost new music venues.” “We’re mindful that people know what they’re getting into,” she says. “It’s this careful balance of wanting to showcase concerts that we’re really excited about while knowing that they’re not for everyone. So we have different offerings for different people.” In addition to contemporary music, the Miller has jazz and classical evenings, as well as pop-up concerts, which are free, hourlong performances each month. There are also special events, such as Morningside Lights, a weeklong series of lantern-building workshops, open to families from the surrounding community, which culminate each fall in a parade through Morningside Park.
For some of the “gnarlier concerts”—as Levitt calls the evenings of avant-garde music—she works directly with the artists, as she did recently with Grammy- and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams, who received the William Schuman Award for lifetime achievement from Columbia School of the Arts in October, when Miller hosted three concerts of his music.
Road to Her Current Position at Columbia
Levitt grew up in a musical family in Westchester County; her father—a professional musician—played keyboards and synthesizers in the family’s basement studio, and her mother and grandmother sang in choirs. Levitt studied vocal music at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Before her 2005 graduation she began working at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where she helped launch the museum’s first evening programming, a contemporary music concert series. These concerts were encore presentations of Miller’s Composer Portraits, so during the launch Levitt got to know Melissa Smey, who worked at Miller and became its executive director in 2009. Levitt tapped a new audience for the museum by targeting Boston’s many music students. “The job allowed me to combine my musical knowledge with my more left-brain strategic abilities to figure out who the audience was and how to capture their interest.” She left the Gardner in 2008 to work in communications at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. Then, in 2010 she got a call from Smey, who was looking for a marketing director and remembered Levitt from their collaboration at the Gardner. “It’s ended up being a great partnership,” says Levitt
Best Part of the Job
“Making artists happy,” says Levitt. “For example, there’s a Catalan composer, Benet Casablancas, who was here drinking wine in a blizzard until midnight because he was just so elated that we had presented this concert and had gotten all these people to come out and hear his music.” The theater often works with the same artists over several years. “I get to know them and their music well and really see their careers blossom. The list of people who have had their break-out moment at Miller Theatre is long.”
A benefit concert shortly after the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami with a number of performers, including Sonic Youth, Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, who played his father’s guitars. “We pulled it together in two weeks, and it sold out overnight and crashed our ticketing server. We raised a bunch of money and gave it all to relief efforts in Japan. The evening was fabulous.”
In Her Spare Time
Levitt is enrolled in the executive MBA program at the Business School. “Music is a very scientific language. I’ve found that interpreting a financial statement or spreadsheet is not so different from analyzing a musical score.” And she does a lot of homework. “I’ve become really productive between the hours of 6:30 and 9:30 in the morning,” says Levitt. She and her husband, Alex, a radiologist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, love to travel. They take their tandem bicycle on trips to Vermont, Montreal and California. They also scuba dive and are planning a trip to Iceland. “I’m slightly terrified about it, but I think we’re going to dive into this fault between the North American and European continental plates,” she says. “The temperature down there is 2 degrees Celsius.”