Charles N.W. Schlangen: The Innovation Interview

Charles N.W. Schlangen, Board President of the Santa Rosa Symphony and President of Charmar, LLC, a commercial real estate investment firm. Prior to launching a career in real estate, the Santa Rosa native was an attorney with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, LLP, practicing in the New York, Palo Alto, and Hong Kong offices where he focused primarily on securities and capital markets work for Fortune 500 companies and international clients.

After graduating from Stanford University with departmental honors and academic distinction in International Relations, he spent two years at the hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co. in their Strategic Growth department before going on to obtain his law degree at the University of Chicago.

Schlangen is also on the Advisory Board of the Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford, a member of the Council of Fellows and the Young Members’ Steering Committee of the Morgan Library in New York, as well as being Vice President of the Board of the Clarion Music Society.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

I define innovation as applying and/or integrating new ways of thinking, and new technologies, to existing challenges, or to explore ways in which we can do things better, more efficiently, and more effectively.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Among others, I would say that it needs to happen in the area of the performing arts. In order to stay relevant and reach new and younger audiences, adopting innovative practices and thinking will be crucial.

What is the best piece of advice you have given and received?

Given: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Received: Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

That’s tough to say, but the most recent one of which I am proud is my election as President of the Santa Rosa Symphony. I am grateful for the trust that my board members have placed in me despite my comparative youth, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to lead the organization at a time of significant change and opportunity.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?


When do you think that Operas and Symphonies will embrace new innovations to reach a younger demographic and expand the donor base?

Many are already doing exciting, innovative things. An excellent example is the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD simulcasts to movie theaters, which makes the medium more accessible, more affordable, and demystifies the art form.

I think that both the opera and the symphony are going to have to embrace new innovations as soon as they are able. The speed with which they can do so will vary from group to group, and it also remains to be seen whether and how much the innovations they adopt will move the needle for generating new audiences.

Acoustics are so important to the way that an audience experiences music. How do you feel about the experience in a new building constructed to enhance sound versus an older yet more storied location as La Scala?

The age of the building is much less important than the design and shape of the building. Without naming names, there are some concert halls in major cities that have very poor acoustics, while older buildings with the right design can be magnificent.

You have an extraordinary voice yourself. How has your voice training changed the way you listen to Operas and Symphonies?

You are far too kind. My own experience in singing has made me a much better listener, and therefore when a performance is truly exceptional my excitement, and appreciation for the musicians, is all the greater.

Conversely, I am much more apt to be aware of missteps and problems. But that is part of the joy of a live performance, which can’t be captured in a recording or MP3.

You speak six languages and impressed us when we were all in Italy together with your appreciation of languages. Why did you want to learn so many languages?

I don’t know that it was ever really a plan in any way. The school I attended in 5th and 6th grade started me early with French, and I had an aptitude for it. Spanish and Chinese were more strategic choices as I could see that they would be useful given population trends and the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

Portuguese and German were due to intellectual curiosity. And I also speak some Italian due to my study of opera.

As President of the Board of the Santa Rosa Symphony, what would you like the general public to know about the Symphony?

Having taken our place as the orchestra in residence at the acoustically superb Weill Hall at the Green Music Center on the campus of Sonoma State University, we are poised to cement our position as one of the country’s leading regional orchestras.

We are known for innovative programming, artistic excellence, and a deep commitment to our community as evidenced by our music education and appreciation programs, which touch the lives of 20,000 children in Sonoma County each year.