Wheeling Symphony Chooses John Devlin as Next Conductor

WHEELING — Wheeling Symphony Orchestra officials today announced that John Devlin has been selected as the organization’s new music director and conductor.

As the ninth music director in the Wheeling Symphony’s 90-year history, Devlin said he feels “responsibility and optimism for what the future holds.”

Devlin, 33, succeeds Andre Raphel, who resigned after the 2017-18 season. He was chosen from a field of five finalists for the position.

As the incoming music director, Devlin sees two equal tasks: “making sure the symphony meets the needs of the community” and “preserving the excellence of this ensemble.”

He added, “Andre (Raphel) has left us in a very good place in terms of the excellence of the orchestra. It’s one of the country’s finest orchestras … I know we can take the orchestra further, and they are responsive.”

Devlin’s goals are “maintaining that excellence and bringing some of my programmatic spirit” to the orchestra’s repertoire. He envisions an infusion of great young American music with the classical canon.

He also wants to design new concert experiences and provide opportunity for the musicians to share their stories about the music they love.

“The next thing, I see a surprise at every concert. We want it to feel like an event. We will not talk about it in advance,” he said. “They (concert-goers) can expect the unexpected. We’re really having fun planning that.”

With guest artists “of the highest quality” chosen for the 2019-20 season, he said it’s a fun challenge to select additional programming “to make a concrete artistic statement around those people.”

“John Devlin is not only a talented conductor and musician, but also someone who has demonstrated an ability to create innovative musical programs that combine different styles of music,” said Lou Khourey, president of Wheeling Symphony Society’s board of directors. “He has found new ways to engage audiences in immersive and interactive events.”

Khourey said the board and the search committee were impressed with Devlin’s ability to communicate with the community, connect with audiences and bring great artists to Wheeling.

Calling the Wheeling Symphony “a major institution,” Devlin said he and his wife Camille are excited to become part of the Wheeling community and part of the WSO team. They live in Honolulu, Hawaii, but plan to move to Wheeling in October.

“We felt so welcomed by everyone there … We love the fact that the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra is such an important part of the fabric of the Wheeling community. We’re excited to be part of that,” he said.

He believes the musicians’ warm welcome is “a key indicator of when a relationship is healthy.” He added that the WSO staff, board and search committee have been “absolutely supportive throughout the entire process.”

He joins the WSO after an 18-month nationwide search and a year of finalists conducting the orchestra. In the 2018-19 season, he conducted a Masterworks performance of Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 and a pops concert featuring Broadway star Sierra Boggess.

Devlin will begin his tenure as the full-time leader by conducting the orchestra’s free Music Under the Stars concert at Oglebay Park on Sept. 1. He will conduct all of the subscription concerts and Symphony on Ice.

Programming for Music Under the Stars will pay tribute to the orchestra across the decades, he said. Devlin promised that the year-long 90th anniversary celebration will include a surprise gift to the community.

“All five finalists remained enthusiastically interested in the position,” said Paul T. Tucker, chair of the search committee.

During his visits to the city, Devlin observed that “we are a community leader in the arts world. Wheeling has an incredibly curious and interested artistic community.”

Seeing the Centre Market filled with people for a WSO on the Go lunchtime performance by a cello trio “made me feel so optimistic,” he said.

“Many (in the crowd) had never been to the symphony or had stopped coming decades ago,” he said.

Devlin said he and his wife want to be ambassadors for the orchestra, engaging in one-on-one conversations with people who want to know more about the organization and recognizing “the long-standing support of those who have made the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra what it is today.”

Devlin has had a series of impressive appointments as assistant conductor and guest conducting appearances at major American orchestras. Currently, he is completing his tenure as music director of the Hawaii Youth Symphony and artistic director of the Pacific Music Institute.

He served as cover conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra and assistant conductor of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. With a talent for designing concerts to frame orchestral music in innovative ways, he is the founding artistic director of Gourmet Symphony, Go-Go Symphony, Seamless Symphony, Interactive Symphony and the New Retro Project.

“I feel certain that I have found a perfect musical home with the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra,” Devlin said.

When he conducted his concerts with the WSO this spring, he said he “felt an electric musical connection with the players of the orchestra, all of whom are world-class artists.”

“This connection will be the centerpiece of the journey ahead that I now embark upon, alongside the dedicated and talented board, staff, volunteers and musical community surrounding the WSO,” he said. “The Wheeling community has expressed to me a vision for the future of the orchestra that resonates with me completely as an innovator and as an artistic leader. I cannot wait for the work to begin.”

Khourey added that a music director is far more than just a conductor.

“A music director is the source of an orchestra’s artistic vision, its musical excellence and its connection and relevance to its community,” Khourey said. “This last role was a constant focus in our search process, and we expect that John Devlin will lead the WSO in bringing music and music education into communities throughout the Ohio Valley.”

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