Wheeling Symphony chooses John Devlin as next conductor

WHEELING — Wheeling Symphony Orchestra officials announced Thursday 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, 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.