President & Artistic Director


LeeLee Koonce
President & Artistic Director

Lee Koonce was appointed President & Artistic Director of Gateways Music Festival in July 2016.  He has chaired the Festival’s Artistic Programs Committee since the founder’s retirement in 2009, and has served on the Festival’s board of directors since 1997.

Prior to his appointment as President & Artistic Director of Gateways Music Festival, Koonce served as Executive Director of Ballet Hispanico in New York City for two years. He served as Executive Director of Third Street Music School Settlement from 2006 to 2013 and led efforts to strengthen the board and the School’s programs, increase the endowment, complete long range planning, increase enrollment and develop an effective management team. Founded in 1894, Third Street is the oldest community music school in the nation and serves more than 5,000 children and adults each year.  Instruction takes place both at the School’s main building in New York’s East Village and through partnerships with local public schools and community organizations across Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

From 2004 to 2006, Mr. Koonce was the Executive Director of Opus 118 Harlem School of Music in New York City.  Opus 118 uses music education and string playing to promote the love of music, improve academic performance, provide positive alternatives to drugs and violence, build confidence and self-esteem and help children explore the world.  Opus 118’s work was documented in the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Small Wonders and in the feature film Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep in her Academy Award-nominated performance as Roberta Guaspari, Opus 118’s co-founder and Artistic Director.

From 2001 to 2004, Mr. Koonce was the Executive Director of the Sherwood Conservatory of Music in Chicago, Illinois.  At Sherwood, he managed programs, staff, faculty and facility of the 106-year old, $2.5 million not-for-profit, community music school which provided music instruction to more than 2,500 children and adults.  Some of the school’s accomplishments during his tenure include achieving the organization’s first balanced budget in many years, increasing student enrollment by 40%, increasing contributed income by 16%, increasing earned income by 41% and initiating two satellite programs on Chicago’s South Side.

Prior to his appointment at Sherwood, Mr. Koonce served as Director of Community Relations for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1996 to 2001.  In this position, he was responsible for the creation and implementation of internal and external programs that enabled the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to reach more diverse communities.  Through his leadership, the CSO developed a long-range, organization-wide Community Engagement Plan called A Time to Engage.  In addition to his work on external programs, Mr. Koonce was also responsible for the CSO’s initiative to increase diversity among the entire CSO “family” (musicians, trustees, volunteers, staff, and audiences) and also artistic programs.

Mr. Koonce earned a bachelor of music in Piano Performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, a bachelor of arts in Spanish Literature from Oberlin College, and a master of music in Piano Performance and Literature from the Eastman School of Music.