Jennifer HughesChief Executive Officer, Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

Can you describe your career path and how it has led to your current work?

Looking back, I think I was an arts administrator before I even knew that was a career--as a high school and college student musician I was always the one helping to find the venue, make the posters etc. Making music happen has always been an instinct for me, but the summer between my junior year I had an internship with the Boston Early Music Festival and realized I wanted this to be my career, and I've been on that path ever since. In 2012 I took on my first leadership role in the arts as the Executive Director of Cantata Singers, a spectacular choir and orchestra in Boston, and in 2018 was appointed Executive Director of Boston Baroque, the six-time GRAMMY nominee and the first Baroque orchestra in North America. About a year ago I was reflecting on what I hope my contribution will be in the opus of my career--arts and culture has been a key way to connect with my Jewish identity, and it was something I wanted to contribute more concretely to in my next professional role. I'm now the CEO of the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic, where I have the honor of supporting the activities of this world-class orchestra and cultural ambassador in the US and Canada.

What advice do you have for current students as they embark on their job search?

Be brave. Putting yourself out there is hard and can absolutely be draining. However, no one is going to do the work of networking and advocating for yourself for you, and if you don't apply for that role there's a 100% chance you won't get the job.

Be open. The job you or I may have in 30 years likely doesn't exist yet. However degrees like Brandeis prepare you to think creatively and to make an impact in a constantly changing world. That type of education is the best career preparation anyone can receive. 

Put in the work. I was hired as an Executive Director at 28, and it's because I worked my way up and proved my worth and value.

Use your network. Institutions like Brandeis have powerful networks of alumni and friends, and you're now a member.

What skills from your Brandeis degree have you found most valuable in your current work?

I have a masters degree in Musicology from Brandeis, and people often ask me why I chose to get an academic degree instead of a MBA. I believe that my Musicology degree was the best career preparation. At Brandeis, I spent much of my time studying the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of how and why music means. When we listen to music and feel sad, nostalgic, or inspired, why does that happen? As an arts leader, the simplest way I describe my role is that I enable music to mean something for audiences today. My time at Brandeis prepared me to understand why making music matters at its deepest level.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently as a graduate student that may have made the transition to your career easier? 

I was a student at Brandeis while working full-time, and as a result had limited time to get to know my classmates. Your friends today are your colleagues tomorrow, and I wish I had spent more time getting to know and staying in touch with my peers, as I am continually in awe of the work they do as performers, academics and educators.