Conductor Sees Wheeling as Good Fit

WHEELING — Conductor Silas Huff thinks Wheeling would be the right place for him to pursue the next phase of his musical career.

Huff, who also is a teacher and composer, is one of five candidates for music director of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra.

He is conducting the WSO’s next pops concert, “Super Heroes!” at the Capitol Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18. He also is leading the orchestra’s season-ending Masterworks concert at 7:30 p.m. May 17.

Huff, Andres Franco, Timothy Hankewich, John Devlin and Roger Kalia are finalists for the position, which was vacated by Andre Raphel at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season.

Currently, Huff is teaching at the University of Colorado at Boulder and working with the Colorado Pops Orchestra and the Boulder Concert Band.

“I’m looking for the next big thing in my career progression. I think the Wheeling Symphony is the place for me,” he said. “The next appropriate step in my career progression would be as music director of an orchestra about the size of Wheeling.”

As Huff prepares to visit this month, he said, “I’m very excited about looking into the programming and finding out what the orchestra and the musicians need and what the community is interested in, and melding the two.”

Noting audiences like to hear “war horses” and old favorites, he warned that if orchestras play only traditional fare, they could become “irrelevant museums.”

Huff said, “I’m looking to American music and pops programs and things that are interactive. I’m very interested in technology.”

He commented, “Orchestras that don’t program in that direction are not doing themselves or the industry any favors. I suspect Wheeling also wants to be on the cutting edge of programming in the 21st century.”

For a concert in Boulder, he programmed an interactive pops program that involved technology. Concert-goers used their smartphones to take a survey during the performance. “The audience felt totally engaged. They were not only listening to the music on stage, but also having a conversation,” he said.

He observed that when people visit museums now, they receive electronic devices that provide information about the exhibits.

“Why is going to the orchestra an exercise in sitting still for 45 minutes and not an interactive experience? There must be some way to engage the audience in technology but not interfere (with the performance),” he said.

If selected for the WSO position, Huff said he and his wife Taylor Morris intend to reside in the Wheeling area.

“I think it’s really important for artistic leaders to be part of the community and get to know them,” he commented. “When you become a member of the community, you know what they need. You get feedback with community leaders, parents, shopkeepers. You get the heartbeat of a city and what makes the orchestra tick.”

He added, “I love to live in the city where I’m working — to have the little daily interactions instead of just flying in.”

Huff remarked, “I’ve lived in a different city for two years for about a decade. It’s time to settle down. I would not mind settling down for a decade or longer.”

The timing for a move is right because his contract with the university runs out in May.

Huff visited the Friendly City several years ago when his cousin married a woman from Wheeling. They now reside in Canton, Ohio, while her parents live in the Wheeling area.

Regarding his upcoming visit, Huff said, “I’m really excited to get there and meet the community and the orchestra and the staff.”

The Jan. 18 program will feature “the best theme songs from the best super hero movies,” he said, adding, “I’m hoping the audience comes wearing costumes. There will be trivia questions and interactive survey questions … It’s going to be a multi-media extravaganza.”

Huff anticipates having more interaction with the community when he returns for the May Masterworks concert. “I’ll be in town a few more days. You can learn a lot about an orchestra and about a conductor in a three-hour rehearsal,” he added.

The May 17 concert will conclude with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, an “ebullient, very exciting piece of music” that will provide “a slam-dunk finish” to the season, he said. Also on the program will be “United Artists” by composer Kenneth Fuchs, who wrote a commissioned piece for the WSO a few years ago, and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, featuring guest pianist Soyeon Kate Lee.

Huff’s varied career has included service as an Army music officer. “I had a great time in the Army. It was a great honor to serve my country,” he said.

During his Army stint, he said, “I spent a little time doing musical support in the Middle East … I got to see what military musicians do in combat zones. Music heals the soul and bolsters the spirit of people who need it the most. They do not have much entertainment. It was pretty important work.”

Reflecting on his musical journey, he said, “I’ve done a little bit of everything … Everything is fresh and new. I taught little kids for a while, big kids for a while. I was an opera producer in New York for a couple of years and conducted the Astoria Symphony Orchestra in Queens.

“I haven’t had the same job two times in a row. I kind of know how to do everything. I’ve written grants, press releases and scripts for school kids. I’ve just kind of done it all.”

The Texas native also helped to launch the Round Rock Symphony Orchestra in Texas and conducted performances of the Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Albany and Baltimore. He studied at Texas State University and earned a Master of Music degree in music theory and composition from the University of California at Los Angeles.

An outdoorsman, he enjoys bicycling, camping and hiking. “It’s why Colorado suits me now and why I think West Virginia might suit me, too,” he remarked.

Huff has been reading about Wheeling’s bike trails and the city’s revitalization. “It seems like a pretty exciting time in Wheeling and I’m excited to be part of it,” he said.

His wife is a successful author and editor. “She works a lot. She’s such a great partner for me. She’s an artist, not a musician, but we ‘get’ each other,” he said. “She’s really flexible; she works mostly from home. She’s ready to go wherever my career takes me because her career is not impacted by that.”

Huff and Morris have been together for over 20 years. “Our career paths have paralleled a lot,” he said. “Slowly, brick by brick, we built careers parallel to each other. We’ve taken turns being breadwinner.”

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