Bruce Carlson's longtime assistant, Sharon Carlson (no relation), still feels the presence of her old boss in his former office in downtown St. Paul's Landmark Center. Although she's been the acting director of the Schubert Club since last fall, when Bruce Carlson could no longer work everyday, she's kept his office the way he left it.
It's still cluttered with books and piles of papers. Family photos remain on a piano and his antique outboard motors can still be found propped up near the back wall behind his old desk.
"So far everything is pretty much the way Bruce left it," she says, "except for my jacket that's hanging next to his desk."
Sharon Carlson has worked at the Schubert Club for more than three decades. She started when Bruce Carlson was the only other full-time employee. As acting director of the Schubert Club, Sharon Carlson has taken over the day-to-day management of the organization and is carrying out plans Bruce Carlson made before his death.
The Schubert Club was formed in 1882 by a group of ladies who wanted to bring great music to St. Paul. But it wasn't until 38 years ago that Bruce Carlson became its first staffer. As executive director, he transformed the tiny organization into one of the Twin Cities' most important cultural institutions.
Board president Mary Probst says Carlson can't be replaced. "It's similar to an organization that has a founder who dies or leaves," she explains. "The challenge is to continue those programs without that personality or vision. In the short run the Schubert Club will carry on what it's been doing very well. But in the longer term there will be a need for someone with a vision that's compatible with Bruce's, but not necessarily the same."
In his tenure at the Schubert Club, Carlson managed to attract the most important names in classical music, such as Anne-Sophie Mutter. Artists who worked with Carlson say he spoiled them. They remember him as a discerning listener, devoted to his work promoting classical music.
The process of finding Bruce Carlson's successor is underway. The Schubert Club's board of directors recently formed a search committee and that group has just hired a consulting firm to hunt for possible candidates for the executive director position.
Twin Cities classical music writer Michael Steinberg says the Schubert Club needs to find someone who will grow into the job like Harry Truman. He says it's important to remember that Bruce Carlson had to grow into the position when he started nearly four decades ago.
"They're going to have to be very imaginative to find somebody who they can look at and see that this is somebody who is going to be something amazing and very different four or five years from now," he says. "Unless they can find somebody who is already amazing and wonderful."
Steinberg says Bruce Carlson assembled a good team of people with a strong commitment to the Schubert Club. He says it's important with the upcoming change in leadership that the organization hangs on to them.
For that to happen, acting Executive Director Sharon Carlson says the new leader will have to be a particular kind of person.
"We're kind of a family here," she says. "A lot of us have been here for many years and we all enjoy our work. We've had an easygoing time with Bruce and we're all used to that. I think that it's important to get somebody who respects those dynamics."
Malcolm McDonald agrees that working well with the existing team is an important concern, especially for the short term. McDonald has been a board member of several nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities. He directed an industrial real estate firm and worked with Bruce Carlson and others to help establish the Schubert Club's Song Festival three years ago.
He says Bruce Carlson made a big difference to the Schubert Club, but he points out that Carlson was not around in 1882 when the organization was founded.
"He didn't create the Schubert Club," McDonald says. "The Schubert Club gave him a platform and he took full advantage of it. He turned it into what we all think of as the organization today, but it's an evolution over 124 years that keeps on evolving."
The Schubert Club could have a new executive director hired by this spring, just in time for its 125th anniversary season next year.