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Sunday Sit Down: Maestro John Devlin, Musical Director of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra

Photo by Rebecca Kiger Maestro John Devlin, Musical Director of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra

The Wheeling Symphony Orchestra has put together a robust and diverse lineup for its 2021-22 season, one that eventually will welcome audiences back to the Capitol Theatre for live performances. Maestro John Devlin, the Wheeling Symphony’s musical director, discussed what it was like to keep the symphony up and running during the pandemic, his plans and hopes for the upcoming concert season and how important he feels a diverse lineup — and the discussions that will result from it — are for the symphony and the community as a whole as he joins us in the Sunday Sit-Down.

What have been your impressions of Wheeling and the Ohio Valley since you’ve been here?

My wife and I met when we were both living in Washington D.C., which is certainly one of the most active arts and other types of environments that you find in our country. And then we actually relocated to Wheeling from Honolulu, Hawaii, so we have certainly lived three different types of lives in the last four years. But the thing that impresses me the most about being in Wheeling and the thing I love the most about it is the people. The people here really care deeply about the success of Wheeling as a city and as an institution and the Wheeling Symphony is one of the ones of which the city is most proud and, I think, deservedly so. And so what I found right away is that not only do people support the orchestra in the ways that you would expect, but they’re also very giving of the types of things they can provide to the symphony as help. We have great partners in Oglebay, who, as soon as the Capitol (Theatre) closed down, said, “We will be the hosts of your concerts.” We have great relationships with some of the places downtown, like Good Mansion Wines or Sarah’s (On Main) that put together food that can accompany our concerts. And we have board members from every slice of the city of Wheeling in terms of the types of people — young and old and people that love music or people that don’t love music, but love that we have an orchestra, and we love having them, too. We were welcomed with wide-open arms as we moved downtown to our apartment here, right on 12th and Eoff here in Wheeling. Great things are happening, even during the pandemic, like Elle & Jack’s opened a block away from us. We couldn’t be more excited for what the future holds post-pandemic.

You mentioned that some among the folks on the board may not be music aficionados but they love the fact there’s a symphony orchestra here. Wheeling, comparatively, isn’t a big city, but has its own symphony orchestra. What do you think makes that help this orchestra stand out nationally and what do you think that says about Wheeling as a city?

We take a lot of pride in the fact that, with a population of 26 or 27,000 in Wheeling proper, we support not a small orchestra, but a robust medium-sized orchestra which, nationally, gets a lot of attention because of the quality of the organization as a whole. And so if you look at the League of American Orchestras, which is our national entity, they break orchestras down to sizes 1 through 8 with 8 being the smallest. We’re actually in Group 5 because our budget hovers around $1.5 and $1.6 million. So that type of robust support for the arts is a huge credit to Wheeling. And one of the things that drew me here was that longevity of support, 90 years was the anniversary we were celebrating in my first year as music director. So that’s quite an accomplishment. And the building we’re in here also is a big testament to the type of support that the city of Wheeling wants to give to its orchestra and to its other artistic institutions, like the Oglebay Institute. The support of the board is a testament to that support of the community as a whole, because they are representative of that community. And the other thing that I would point out is, because the orchestra is medium-sized, we’re pretty nimble. One of the best things about COVID for our organization was the quick way we pivoted to continue performances, starting in May, every month during the COVID crisis, which nationally stood out quite a lot. Bigger orchestras than us shut their doors entirely. Part of that is a model for other orchestras that can look to us and say, maybe there’s an advantage to being in that middle realm, where you can design projects more quickly and be adaptive to the things that your audience is asking for, in this case, the conditions of the world. I’ve loved being a part of that and the community has embraced what we’ve done and it’s certainly been a joy to be a part of.

Mentioning the COVID pandemic, you had to make that pretty hard pivot when this pandemic hit. And you’re doing it just in your first year of being the director here. Not only are you trying to get your feet under you, we’re going to throw the monkey wrench of all monkey wrenches at you. How difficult was it?

I am just one small piece of an enormous team that supports the orchestra. I want to share first and foremost a credit with the staff of the symphony. During that time, you talk about monkey wrenches, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Betsy Delk who, during that time, was our interim executive director and is now our director of institutional advancement. Bryan Braunlich, who was our general manager and now our executive director and the rest of the team. Very quickly, we went into crisis mode, and sometimes that’s a bad thing because you’re responding to a situation you’ve created for yourselves, but in this case, it was an opportunity. And what we did was we said, OK, there are some experiments that we wanted to take part in over the course of, let’s say, my first five years — smaller concerts, more intimate and inviting environments where people can hear our musicians play, combining food and drink with performance, which you can’t do as robustly in the Capitol. Because we were forced out of our home, we simply decided to accelerate the rate of those experiments. And we found some really positive feedback from our audience as we moved outside for concerts that typically would have been inside, or accomplished that combination of food and drink with the performances. We shortened the performances. We had our musicians take a more active role in programming the performances and their individuality could come through. And we’ve been very pleased with the results. And we have a committee made up of board members and community members called the audience experience committee, which we’ll be going to after this kind of COVID period closes and ask of them what did you enjoy most and we’re going to find a way to keep those active, which includes our Sound Bytes series, which has been the most successful thing. We already have a plan for that to come into our 2021-22 season as a fixture of what we do as an organization.

Maestro John Devlin conducts the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra in this file photo. (Photo Provided)

You’re going to talk to other people about what they’ve enjoyed. What have you enjoyed most about this?

That is a really, really good question. I haven’t thought about that, because my brain is always working to solve the problem on our agenda. But what have I enjoyed? A lot of the things that happen day to day with an organization like ours are person to person meetings asking for support for the symphony. And we were able to harness Zoom in a way that we were able to have the types of meetings we wanted to have but more efficiently. And what it allowed me to do is explore new music that I did not yet know. Because when we go to school, we learn a very firm set of repertoire that would be considered canon. But my mission as an artist and as the leader of this organization is to find great American music that is written by living composers. And during the pandemic, I was able to spend about three hours a day researching new music, because we didn’t have as rigorous a concert schedule and we were able to be more flexible in the way we operated as an organization, more efficient. As a result, I feel empowered with this entirely new set of repertoire that I’ve adjudicated. It’s very humbling to be able to look at a whole season for an orchestra and say I have to create an experience for each of these concerts that’s meaningful, and the choices I make of who performs as a soloist, who performs as an orchestra member and what music we play really matters, especially in a town like this, where we’re really the only orchestra that most people that live in Wheeling will hear in a given year. Now that I’ve had a chance to listen to 500 new pieces, I’ve picked like 13 or 14 that I think are the best ones I am concerned with my artistic tastes. And you’re going to see them on upcoming seasons, including this concert we have in a week and a half called Sunday Serenades, where we’re featuring a work by Stacy Garrop, who is a living American female composer and by Clarice Assad, who is also a female living composer, two pieces from composers that I did not know about in the beginning of COVID.

Looking at this upcoming season, what do you like most about this lineup that you’ve been able to put together?

We have three artistic priorities as an organization. I’ve already mentioned the first, which is shine a light on living American composers. The second of those priorities is to experiment with concert format. We want to take the things that some don’t like about walking into a concert hall and maybe feeling a little uncomfortable with the format: sit here, clap at this time, listen to this music you don’t know a lot about and enjoy it. Of course, for some people, that’s exactly the type of experience they love most and we want to serve those people. But the Sound Bytes series is an excellent example of innovation in design. The third priority is that we want to have our musicians have a voice in what they play. They themselves are incredibly interesting artists. So next season, I think we’ve found a way to combine all three of those goals into that program. The thing I think I’m most excited about is that we’ll open our 2022 calendar year back at our home and we will do so by featuring the voice of Caroline Shaw, who at 30 years old, an American female composer, won the Pulitzer Prize. That is unprecedented and my favorite work of hers is called “Entr’acte” and it is religious in feeling, it is healing in ethos and it will be a perfect way to welcome our audience back. And we’re going to perform in a way in the Capitol that uses the building as part of the presentation of that piece in a different way. So I’m very excited about that. Also, one of the things I said I did over COVID was to find new pieces by some living composers, but there were some composers who were overlooked in our nation’s history throughout the decades as orchestras decided who were the people we were going to support. We’re very familiar with names like Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland, but maybe less so with Florence Price or William Grant Still, who are phenomenal artists that had some support during their lifetimes, but were largely forgotten during the latter part of the 20th century. We will feature a piece by Florence Price as the opener of our season finale concert and as the full second half, William Grant Still, his second symphony will form the benchmark piece for our second concert as we come back to the hall. And then a composer on our first concert that I’ve had a lifelong relationship with is Eric Nathan. He grew up in the same town as I did. We went to the same music school. We grew up at the same time. And he went onto absolute success. He’s had pieces premiered by the New York Philharmonic, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony. But I’ve premiered pieces of his all the way since I was a master’s student in grad school. And he’s going to visit Wheeling for a weeklong residency in January and we’re going to perform two of his pieces. And those types of opportunities to welcome artists to Wheeling and present their music if we believe in them as artists is really important to me.

When you have a relationship like that with a person, how does that change the way you interact with not just the composer, but the pieces that they have? Does that comfortability change the way you interact and work with them?

Yes. It enhances the way I can approach my study and interpretation of the pieces in many, many ways. I am a totalist. If I go into something, I want to know everything about it. I’m a die-hard New York Yankees fan. I grew up in the Bronx. I’ve watched every inning of every Yankees game this season because I just care about it so much. When it comes to music, if you study just the piece that you’re about to perform by a composer, it is a very shaky platform from which to interpret that work. You need to know about the composer’s life, the politics that were happening in the places they were living while they were writing, what they were responding to, their relationship with their families, their relationship with their peers, the types of things that were inspiring them as artists. And the more that you can know that about a composer, the better equipped you are to deliver the type of message that they intended as you perform their music. A lot of people ask me what I do on a day to day basis as the music director of the Wheeling Symphony and 50 to 60% of my working day is getting to know music better and learning about the people who make it. Because that’s how I can be a conduit to create programs that are compelling the way that they’re drawn together and then I can go out and speak to the potential audience members in our community and educate them about why I think it’s important to them to see what we’re doing here. So with Eric, for example, I know every single piece he’s ever written, and I’ve studied it. And because of that, I don’t say that I like them all, not all of them would be ones that I perform personally, but there are certain things about his style that I connect to incredibly well. And then when I have a question, I can call him. What did you mean here? This is unclear to me. Can you explain more about what you want us to do when we get to this moment of the music. And then when we’re rehearsing it, he’s going to be sitting right where you’re sitting. So if I have a question or something doesn’t sound right, we can interact. And with composers who are deceased, that’s not a possibility. Of course, you can’t blame them for being deceased, but to me the idea of working with a new composer who can interact with me throughout my learning process … Eric and I will do an interview that we’ll put up online ahead of the concert to get people interested in what we’re doing and he’ll be here. There’s nothing better than that and as a young American man who cares about our country, I say why do I owe a greater allegiance to Beethoven than to Eric Nathan? I don’t know Beethoven. He wasn’t a citizen of the place that I live. I view him as an important part of my artform, so of course I know everything he wrote and I study it carefully and I perform his symphonies, but I’m much more excited with my interaction with living composers.

You mentioned earlier that you really like having the players involved in the selection. About 30% of the repertoire this year was chosen by the players. How important is it for you to give them that voice?

I have an incredible opportunity here. The Wheeling Symphony, I will always feel a huge debt of gratitude here and to the supporters of the organization, because they picked me. This is my first job as a professional music director. But I’ve been in the industry for 15 years. And I’ve seen how people who are ahead of me have operated and I talk to musicians all the time. How does it make you feel to do this or to do this or to do this? And I’ve seen musicians get very dispirited as they progress through their careers if they are orchestral musicians because they have to sit in the same chair every week, play music someone else picked and play it in the way that someone else is asking. And if you allow that to become stale as an experience, your creativity can diminish. And therefore the quality of being in an orchestra can diminish. And I don’t want that to happen here. We have an incredibly vibrant group of people who are artists of the highest caliber and we talked about sports, football’s pretty big and there are only 11 on the field (on one team) at any time. Baseball, nine. Here, I have 70, 80, 90. There’s so much talent. There’s so much learning. There’s so much training. There’s so much spirit. And what I want to do is find ways that are responsible to create empowering situations for them. Picking the music we will perform and being able to tell the audience why they love it is important to me, because every single one of them has a favorite piece. And wouldn’t it be very interesting to you as an audience member if one of the musicians came to the front of the stage and said this is my favorite piece of music and I am so excited to perform it for you. It’s probably not my favorite piece, so I’m probably not the best person to explain what turns them on about the music. It makes sense for there to be somebody at the top of the pyramid because, of course, I need to unite all those visions into something that can be organizationally prioritized. But I really want a lot of input from people. And they know that I won’t always take their suggestions, but to not ask for the suggestions would be very irresponsible. So I want to create that culture where all the musicians know they can talk to me about their ideas and that they will be considered. But we do have 12 concerts a year and not everything is going to work. But when it does come to fruition that a musician’s suggestion is accepted and we do program one of those pieces, we want them to be heard during that process and then on the stage at the performance.

Maestro John Devlin and the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra at the 2019 Symphony On Ice

You mention the player coming up and saying, “This is why this piece is my favorite.” At symphonies for me, there has been a space between the orchestra and the audience. But when you make the personal connection, you draw everyone in closer. From your perspective, how much does that change the audience experience?

That is such an important observation, because I feel that space, too. Because I’m in the audience for more concerts than I’m on the stage. I go to as many concerts as I can and I think you hit on it exactly. My mission is to reduce that space and in some cases eliminate it. At our second concert of the pre-pandemic year, there was extra room on stage, because the orchestra was small. So I looked at the team and said, “Can we put 50 chairs on stage and have the audience sit on stage with us?” And we did it and those people will never forget that concert. At the Sound Bytes concerts, the orchestra, when we do it without the COVID restrictions, will be in the middle of the room and the audience will sit 360 degrees around the orchestra and there will be an empty seat at each table. Between the pieces, the musicians are going to come and sit and eat and drink with the audience. The audience is going to hear from the musicians directly and our social media, which is a huge new opportunity area for orchestras as we modernize, I try to tell as personal a story about each piece that we’re performing and each artist we’re featuring as I can through that channel. And we’re finding ways for our musicians to do the same thing. For our most recent concert which was called “Musicians Takeover,” every group was required to create a video that went up on our social media and our website that explained why they had picked the piece and what they were excited about and people got really excited in advance of the night of the concert because of that personal interaction. So what we do requires a little bit of space between the audience and the orchestra, but not a lot and in every way we can, I want to draw us closer to the people that care the most about what we’re doing.

You mentioned social media. You’re looked at as one of the youngest in the country in doing this. How much do you feel that youth and that experience in your generation help the way you look at the job?

I don’t think that my being younger than many of my peers is an advantage in and of itself. But I do think that I am able to relate to what people love about classical music who already love it, but also relate to what people don’t like about classical music who are not already subscribers or audience members for our orchestra. And as I mentioned before, I love sports, I love a lot of other things. I am able to interact with people in Wheeling one at a time — my barber, my auto mechanic, I love going to The Bridge and just have conversations with people about things they’re interested in, and that they assume are things an orchestra conductor would never know about. Because there’s this idea that maestros, just even that title, are contained in this world of high art and don’t enjoy things other people enjoy or understand what we might not like about sitting in a chair for two hours and hearing unfamiliar music. So what I try to do is leverage any channel available to me. Social media reaches 10% of the people I want to reach. My interview with you may reach 15% of the people I want to reach. I’m going to go to a donor’s farm next month and that’s the way she likes to get to know what we’re doing at the orchestra. Great. I’ll do all those things. And as we cast that net over and over and over again. People say cast a wide net. I say cast many nets because you want to target people exactly the way they want to be spoken to and brought into the symphony and you have to do hard work to think about what that entry point can be and deliver it. And then maybe you’ve got a new person. And then you go to the next person. And I really enjoy that process.

How big do you think social media is going to be as a delivery process for symphony orchestras in the future?

I think it’s going to be something that can attract people to the things that we as the artists love about our artform. I don’t like it as the delivery method for the concerts themselves. During COVID, many orchestras did advance their streaming capabilities, their video and audio capture capabilities and the way they direct concerts from a production standpoint to better that because that was what we had to sell. I watched some of those concerts. But then I ask, does it really matter that that’s happening today rather than a YouTube video of the same piece from the same orchestra from five years ago? To me, not really. What I would argue is that social media can be used as a tool to create intimacy and familiarity between our organization and its artists and our audience. But to me, it’s just that, a tool, and not a replacement for delivery of the product. We want people here, listening to the music live, because that’s the thing orchestras do better than any other type of musical group, is deliver stunning live performances. But we have to be aware of what other industries do better than us, which is figure out how the audience wants to feel, communicating with them during the concert. We have to care about every aspect from how it feels to buy a ticket on the website to how the parking is going to be to how you can get dinner around the area beforehand and what it feels like to come in and hear our music and what’s available to do in the city after the concert. We’re part of an experience and the more we think about it from that standpoint, that the audience doesn’t owe us anything. We owe something to them. A lot of orchestras think about that the other way around and I think that’s a big mistake.

Do you usually go that far to Clarksburg and Canaan Valley to do performances like the ones scheduled Independence Day weekend? It looks like there’s a real movement to broaden your scope.

We have several programs each year that bring our music outside of Wheeling to places where we want to have a presence throughout the Ohio Valley and this is one of them. Each year we do a July 4 tour. Of course July 4 itself, we’ll perform in Wheeling. Every year we go to a half-dozen schools for a young people’s concert tour. We bring an educationally designed program to students who maybe are seeing an orchestra for the first time. And then we have a program called WSO On The Go where smaller ensembles, chamber ensembles of three to six people will go to interesting places all over the Ohio Valley and perform at coffee shops and bars and wineries and that helps us attract a different audience and spreads the word of what we’re trying to do here in Wheeling.

How important was the diversity of this season’s repertoire for the orchestra?

Diversity is a priority for me in my programming and in the guest artists we invite to share the stage with the symphony. But it is noteworthy, right, if a season is 40 or 50% x or y, then it’s considered diverse. Some other people would say that’s equal. Why is it odd to be half men and half women? And the season does have Shostakovich, Richard Wagner and Vivaldi on it. For me, I feel an obligation to explore composers that have not had a light shone on them in the proper way. We aren’t programming a Black composer’s piece because we said we need to program a Black composer, what piece can we find to put there? I’m finding the best symphonies that I think the audience should hear, and that one was by a Black man, and that’s great. In graduate school, I went to the University of Maryland for seven years — and this is OK, this is not exceptional — but I did not learn one piece by a composer who is of color during that time. And that to me must change, because we need to give equal voice to everyone — female, Black, white, diverse in every way. And I need to be an adjudicator not just of the pieces I know and love already, but pieces that I haven’t found yet, because the system perhaps has not wanted those composers to be featured. And we have to ask ourselves why. And I don’t think what we need to do is to get into an enormous discussion about the history there, although it must be acknowledged, but we need to change now and we don’t need to ask permission or have a big debate about it. We need to do what’s right. And I think the Black Lives Matter movement that happened during last summer is a big symptom of a larger problem, that there is systemic racism in our country and systemic racism even more so perhaps in the classical arts. Anything we can do to help make things equal, I’m in favor of.

Was there a point during that seven years at Maryland where you said, “You know what, when I get out of here, I’m going to learn on my own or while I’m here, and I’m going to look at the broadest spectrum I can of composers?”

While it was happening, I didn’t notice it. And I think that’s the problem. Because it just seems normal to learn Mozart and Beethoven and Brahms and Tchaikovsky and Ravel, and those are the greats. But why are they great? There were other composers writing at that time. For example, last winter, we discovered a piece by a composer that lived in the 18th century named Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who is a contemporary of Mozart and he wrote all of these wonderful violin concertos. So we performed one of them. And it goes all the way back. And so for me, not only did I do some intentional learning, but I have friendships with people in the industry who are female conductors, Black conductors and a dear friend of mine is Titus Underwood and is a Black oboist in the Nashville Symphony. He taught a course over the past year virtually that I took through the Richmond Symphony’s School of Music. And every week, we just talked about Black composers. He told me his favorite pieces and we researched them and there was homework and did homework. That type of work is something that as a conductor we’re constantly doing. Even if every piece of orchestral music was written by a white person, I’d still be learning new music every week. But now, it’s just becoming painfully acute to me how guided toward one specific canon we are. I’m empowered right now to make decisions so that 100 years from now, voices like William Grant Still and Florence Price and Chevalier de Saint-Georges and Caroline Shaw are considered equal to those of Beethoven and Brahms because it’s not their fault that they live right now with a canon behind them. People like me get to shape that future and I want to be a big part of making sure that all voices are heard.

The finale will surround a discussion between race, politics and music. This is probably exposing my ignorance, but orchestral music is not a genre where I normally see that. I see that discussion in hip hop, folk or rock. What do you think the audience is going to learn from that performance and how important do you feel this discussion is for the people who are going to see this in Wheeling?

I understand that we need to be accepting of every type of political view in this building. We are a non-partisan organization. I want to have a discussion and it would be irresponsible for me to have this discussion alone. So we’re bringing in community partners. Richard Wagner was a known anti-Semite. He wrote volumes of books about Jews that say horrible things, but his music is excellent. And it’s performed. So we’re going to partner with Rabbi (Josh) Lief and he’s going to come in and have a discussion with our community about the legacy of Wagner and what type of cushioning around a delivery of his art must take place so that you have a full picture of who he is as a person. And you can perform his music, but you also need to have that discussion. Ron Scott is on our board and he is an expert in the history of Black music in the United States of all types. He is going to be my partner in discussing the legacy of Florence Price. Florence Price was a composer of the highest caliber and everyone agrees on this now. But during her time, she wrote for example a letter to the director of the Philadelphia Orchestra saying, “I know that I’m just a Black woman, but would you consider looking at my symphony?” And the music director did not write back. This is the type of thing that makes our industry look poorly. And so I want to bring Ron Scott in and say there are many, many artists. Florence Price is lucky there is a revisiting of interest in her music. What about a lot of other voices and how did this happen and how can we fix this? Florence Price is still buried in an unmarked grave right outside of Chicago and her legacy is not fulfilled yet. We want to be a part of that fulfillment. Shostakovich, the final composer, my favorite symphony is his Fifth Symphony, which we’ll close our season with. People don’t know the story around it. You mentioned all these different types of music. What do they all have in common? They have words. You can tell a story through words. Why do you not know the story — that’s why we’re going to do this type of project — around a Shostakovich symphony? There’s no words. How do you know what he means? I’ve researched deeply into Shostakovich. I’m not kidding, the first notes of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony are tattooed on my left shoulder. I care about this music so much. I’ve read every biography about Shostakovich. I went to Russia and visited the places where he taught and he learned and he wrote. And I feel equipped to write about this. He was oppressed by Stalin. After he wrote his Fourth Symphony, he was almost sent to the gulags to labor and then die because Stalin disagreed with the message in Lady Macbeth of the Tenth District. He criticized the Soviet police. We don’t fight this battle in America, where the president is telling composers, “You can’t write that piece of music and that play can’t be performed.” We have freedom of expression. But it’s incredibly intriguing to me to look into places where that wasn’t the case. Can you imagine what it means to write a symphony when you know your very life is on the line. And he was not willing to back down in it. He wrote coded messages to the Russian people who were similarly suffering under the Soviet regime secret police. And they felt inspired in what they knew were the messages meant for them of hope and resistance and resilience. But Stalin stood up and gave the piece a standing ovation because he didn’t understand any of it. So that story is one that means a lot to me and I’m going to stand up and explain it to the audience where those messages are, why they matter — and I love saying this — and Shostakovich outlived Stalin and wrote 15 symphonies and became a legend and I think that’s a happy ending.

How excited are you to return to as close to normal as we’re going to get from this pandemic?

COVID was a tragedy and the loss of life, including many people connected with the symphony contracting the virus and perhaps passing away, is a deep sadness and a period of time we will never forget. I don’t even think we understand the full gravity of what we’ve gone through. There’s going to be a period of mourning. My dad worked six blocks from the World Trade Center. On 9-11, I saw the smoke. I smelled the burning. At that time, 20 years before, it feels a little similar in terms of we don’t really feel safe and out gathering in large venues. When the Yankees came back, it was sign of normalcy a little for people in New York. But all of a sudden there were new restrictions, new worries, new fears. And I will admit that even as enthusiastic as I am about music and symphonies, I took some things for granted. I’m a little tired tonight, I don’t want to go to that concert. I’ll just conduct the rest of this rehearsal. I think in some ways, not COVID itself, but the act of pausing our normal lives is going to give us a renewed appreciation for things that perhaps we lost it for before COVID. And I think that symphonies are going to be one of those things. We are highly responsive and I programed every piece we’re going to hear next year thinking how do I want people to feel in this concert hall knowing full well that we’re going to be coming back from COVID and the messages I’m going to weave in these concerts are the ones I believe are going to make people feel like we are something that helps their recovery, helps their resilience and helps their feelings of normalcy come back, but also the appreciation of things we considered normal that we never thought would be taken away. I can’t wait to welcome our audience back and I have a feeling that once we feel safe gathering again, that the symphony’s importance in the city will be revitalized and renewed and I look forward to this hall being full when we are allowed to have it be that way.

Looking back at this past year, what have you been proudest of that you guys have been able to accomplish?

I have to turn to our staff and board once again. This group of leaders was faced with unprecedented challenges. And instead of taking the easy route, which was press pause and say we’ll see you when it’s safe to gather again, there wasn’t even a question of that among all the people were the decision-makers for this organization. We just said what is the best thing we can do and we did those things. So that is what I’m proudest of. The people that I work with here are inspiring courageous and incredibly hard working. And when you have people who are like that, we can accomplish great things and I look around the country and I feel very, very sad for my colleagues that didn’t get to work. But we didn’t lose a day of work. We kept going and I think that’s a testament to the city that we live in and the spirit of this city and it’s a testament to the ingenuity of the board and staff leadership that we continue to make music in every way we could. Throughout, even non-musical accomplishments were made. We raised a lot of money. We are building our staff and hiring new people and we’re expanding the amount of concerts we’re going to perform with the Sound Bytes series, and those are markers of an organization that wants to grow, wants to be there in its community during a time of need and the community has responded in turn with great support.

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