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Kevin Hagen, former NMSO executive director, dies at 57

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Kevin Hagen, former executive director of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra whose fundraising prowess helped reignite Opera Southwest, died Saturday of a heart attack. He was 57.

The eldest of three brothers, Hagen spent his childhood in Wisconsin. He attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as a voice major, then got a master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati in arts administration, according to his brother, Daron Hagen.

Trained as an operatic baritone singer, he held positions ranging from operations director to executive director at the Milwaukee Symphony, the Florida Symphony, the Denver Symphony and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, his brother said in an interview.

In 1997, Hagen came to New Mexico to become executive director of the now-defunct New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, where he stayed until 2007.

When he showed up for his interview, the symphony was in dire financial straits.

“We were wondering how we could attract anybody good who could lead us out of that mess,” said Roger Melone, former associate conductor and chorus director who served on the board of the directors.

“When we sat down and started talking, it was evident that this guy understood the business inside and out.”

The choice worked for a decade, with Hagen as a maverick fundraiser, a key factor in his job until he retired.

“You need someone who knows how to go ask people for fifty thousand and a hundred thousand dollars,” Melone said. “That takes a very special person, and he knew how to do that. He had to inspire trust to get people to do that.”

One way he inspired trust was by helping write an endowment for the symphony, the charter of which stated that if it went out of business, the money would endow Albuquerque-based symphonic music.

“What this meant to donors was that no matter what happened to the symphony in the long run, their money would not go down the drain. That was one of the more important things Kevin had a big hand in,” Melone said.

His son, Ryan Hagen, 30, who lives in New York, said: “My dad took charge of the symphony when it was about to go under, and its turnaround was totally miraculous.”

After retiring from the symphony, Hagen opened his own consulting firm, Kevin Hagen & Associates, where until his death he provided fundraising consulting services to nonproftit organizations such as churches and retirement homes lacking fundraising departments, his son said.

Opera Southwest was one client. Tony Zancanella, managing director, said Hagen’s role shifted from consultant to company manager for two years; he was handling administrative and fundraising duties.

“In fiscal 2009, we were raising only $180,000 a year, and at the point Kevin departed, he had just about doubled that … he was just instrumental in supercharging our fundraising and our ticket sales,” Zancanella said.

He also helped the opera move from the KiMo Theatre to the National Hispanic Cultural Center, he said. “I just want people to know how grateful we are to him.”

Outside of music, Hagen’s interests included cooking medieval feasts and reading as many as three books a day, according to his brother. Hagen is survived by his son, his brother, and his ex-wife, Judith Hagen of Rhinebeck, N.Y.

Melone will deliver the eulogy at a funeral at 2 p.m. today at French Funerals, 1111 University NE.

Kevin Hagen