What the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra Wants You to Know About Their New Season


Next week, the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra will return to the Capitol Theatre stage for their season opener. The theme of this season’s lineup is Music at Play – a call to embrace the fun and whimsy that the symphony offers.

We spoke with Sonja Thoms, the WSO’s newly-appointed executive director, and WSO music director John Devlin to learn more about what you can expect from the symphony this season. Before we get into the specifics of this latest season, we’re going to take a step back in time to September 2022…

Great Collaborations

It seems like just yesterday that the city was buzzing with excitement for a once-in-a-lifetime guest performance with Yo-Yo Ma at the WSO’s season opener. In preparation for that performance, a brief phone call was scheduled between Maestro John Devlin and Ma. That quick call turned into a nearly two-hour conversation that left a lasting impression on John and his approach to his work at the WSO.

John reflected on this conversation and shared that “not once did we talk about the music we would perform together at the show. Instead, we talked about why we perform classical music and the impact it can have on our community and the people in it.”

Throughout their conversation, collaboration and trust were core components that Ma felt made the music mean something more – a sentiment that John has carried into the upcoming WSO season.

  • WSO season opener with special guest Yo-Yo Ma in 2022 (photo by Rebecca Kiger).

“This year I’ve put a lot of trust into our collaborators and our musicians in terms of picking the pieces and projects that we do which is normally just the purview of the conductor.” 

This trust is evident in the unique lineup John has curated for the 2023-2024 season. From a percussion quartet playing children’s toys to a film-with-live-orchestra performance, the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra continues to push boundaries while delivering high-caliber performances that symphony-goers have come to expect during its 94-year legacy.

Opening Night with Broadway Flair

With the Opening Night Concert and Celebration just over a week away, John and the rest of the WSO team have set the bar high by bringing Broadway star Sutton Foster to perform with them on the Capitol Theatre stage. Sutton is a Tony Award–winning actress, singer, and dancer and is perhaps best known for her starring roles in Broadway shows like Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Music Man, Anything Goes, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Young Frankenstein. Foster’s performance with the WSO will include Broadway selections alongside stories and other surprises.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off the season at the Capitol Theatre,” remarked Sonja Thoms, executive director of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra. “I think everyone’s going to leave really with a pep in their step and a smile on their face.”

Sept. 29 won’t be the first time Sutton Foster and maestro Devlin have shared a stage. They previously performed together with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra.

With masterful music performed by the WSO, Broadway-level talent, and some surprises along the way, the WSO season opening on Sept. 29 will certainly be one to remember. In addition to the show, the WSO has also planned a pre-concert celebration at the Capitol Theatre Ballroom with hors d’oeuvres catered by Chef Giuseppe DiGristina of Pastaio in Wintersville. Tickets are still on sale for both the concert and celebration on the WSO’s website.

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“Opening night is just the beginning, right?” Sonja succinctly points out. “We’ve got a whole season planned that we are very excited to present to the community.”

Music At Play

In the five years John has served as music director for the symphony, he’s observed the audiences, paid attention to ticket sales, and built relationships throughout the community to better understand what the people want. This has resulted in a season of playful performances that are entertaining and allow the audience to experience classical music in ways that feel personally relevant.

John shared that the concept of “play” was specifically chosen as the WSO’s season theme because of the multiple ways play could be interpreted. “Play can mean so many different things. It can mean putting on a play. It can mean playing an instrument. It can mean a gambit or risk you make when you make a play. It can be a child at play. We want to encapsulate all of these feelings and more this season.”

Opening night at the Capitol Theatre 2022 (photo by Rebecca Kiger).

“So often people think of orchestra events as very formal,” said John. “A lot of people that I’ve spoken to in the community feel out-of-touch with what happens in the high art realm at the theater. We want people to know that the whole point of our work is for people to enjoy themselves – and we especially kept that in mind as we built out this season’s concert schedule.”

This season is sure to offer diverse and memorable experiences. From the poignant Violins of Hope performance, which will delve into music’s resilience in the face of trauma, to the beloved Symphony on Ice, each event will offer a distinct mix of history, artistry, and celebration.

Supporting the Symphony

If you aren’t already convinced to buy tickets to a show this season, then let John persuade you: “This year I’m trying to spread the gospel about just how meaningful it is when people subscribe. We understand that nonprofits are asking for donations all the time – we have to and that’s our lifeblood. But the biggest thing people can do to support our ongoing work is to buy a subscription to the full season.”

John shared that it’s much more fun for both the musicians and the audience when more people show up, and a season subscription is the best way to guarantee a seat and pledge your support. “A full-season subscription starts at $78, which is what you might spend on one show in Pittsburgh. My hope is that people will take us up on that.”

If you’re a newcomer to the symphony, Sonja wants you to know that their team is committed to making your experience special. “We’re always happy to talk to people and find out which of our programs they might like best. We’d love to find the best-fit concert for a first-time attendee and we want to prioritize making sure they feel welcomed so they want to come back.”

With six expertly curated shows on the WSO’s regular season lineup and several subscription package options, there’s truly something for everyone to enjoy. You can learn more about the WSO’s upcoming season and get your tickets by visiting wheelingsymphony.com.

• Alex Panas is the Program Manager for Wheeling Heritage, where she works with artists, small business owners, and community stakeholders to provide technical assistance and create meaningful programs that enhance Wheeling. She also serves as the managing editor for Weelunk. Alex lives in St. Clairsville with her husband where they raise four cats and four spunky backyard chickens.