From the moment he shook hands with Concertmaster Rachel Stegeman and conducted the first phrase of Brahms, John Devlin felt that the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra “might be my orchestra.”
That’s what he told his wife Camille Cintrón Devlin when he got home from his first rehearsal with the orchestra back in March.
And now, it’s true.
Today, after an 18-month search, it was announced that Devlin — one of five finalists for the job — was named music director of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra.
It was at that first rehearsal, he said, that he experienced a unique connection with the players — that the orchestra responded well to him, and to the gesture of his conducting.
“When I conducted my concerts with the WSO this spring, I felt an electric musical connection with the players of the orchestra, all of whom are world-class artists,” he said. At that concert, he conducted Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 and a series of songs performed by bass Soloman Howard. His second concert, “Once Upon a Time” featuring Broadway star Sierra Boggess in April, was a huge hit with audience members.
In March, “I was auditioning,” he said of his introduction to the orchestra. “They were figuring out, ‘who is this person as a musician and as a leader,’” he said. “Now that the ‘marriage’ is complete,” he’s looking forward to working together with the musicians to help the orchestra be “the best version of itself.”
And now he feels certain he’s “found a perfect musical home with the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra,” he said.
Devlin’s first appearance at “home” as music director will be at the Music Under the Stars concert on Sunday, Sept. 1, at the Anne Kuchinka Amphitheater at Oglebay Park.
“I hear Music Under the Stars is quite an event,” he said. And right he is — it’s a magical night with thousands of people with their picnic baskets and blankets waiting for the music to begin.
At the upcoming Labor Day weekend event, he’s looking forward to two things.
First, to reconnect with the musicians. And second, to play those first few notes of the evening’s concert.
The first notes that are played will make it “feel real” to him, he said — that indeed, he is the next music director of the 90-year-old Wheeling Symphony Orchestra.
“It will be a very special moment,” he said.
His journey to that moment started about a year and a half ago.
He recalls getting the job posting, and “like any good conductor,” he did some research and wondered if Wheeling would be a good fit.
Once he discovered the high quality of the musicians and the decades-long history of the orchestra, he decided to apply.
He noticed a “uniqueness” about the application process, he said. “The requirements were more extensive than any I’ve seen.” He was to submit detailed information about past programming, but what stood out to him was that he had to send a video talking about himself.
“They cared enough to explore the applicant as a person,” Devlin said. As a young emerging conductor — just 31 when the process began — he knew other applicants would have more prestige, more tenure than he did. But, the video gave him a chance to express himself, and he thought, “This is a place that might pick me,” he said.
He was able to explain via video about his innovations, how he programmed across musical genres. And he believed the search committee was on the same page. They were receptive to his thinking. “Our ideals collided in exciting ways,” he said.
It’s no surprise to Devlin that the orchestra has been around for 90 years. He was impressed by how dozens of musicians stay after the concert to meet the members of the audience and to talk with each other. “They like each other … they’re proud of their product.
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“I can’t wait to be a steward of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra,” he said.
At today’s announcement, Lou Khourey, president of the Wheeling Symphony Society’s board of directors, and Paul Tucker, chair of the search committee, spoke about Devlin and the decision to name him music director.
“For all of our committee, choosing a new music director became an unexpected journey of pride that we hope the entire community will share,” said Tucker.
Tucker noted that, often in a search, some withdraw from consideration. However, all five candidates “remained enthusiastically interested in the position.” That, he said, is a “testament to the musical quality of our orchestra and to the desirability of life in the Ohio Valley. … In the end, we had a tough choice to make because we had so many creative and talented options.”
Tucker introduced a video sent by Devlin from his home in Honolulu, Hawaii. Tucker said that Devlin and his wife will be moving to Wheeling “roughly” by October.
In Devlin’s video statement today, he said, “It is an honor to be named the orchestra’s next music director. My wife Camile and I felt so welcomed by your community during our visit there in the spring. We cannot to wait to start our musical life with you there in the fall. As just the organization’s ninth music director in its 90-year history, I feel responsibility and optimism of about the future of what this musical relationship holds.”
He and Camille “look forward to helping continue the WSO’s legacy of greatness into its 90th year and beyond,” Devlin stated. (Watch Devlin’s complete statement below.)
“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. He has found new ways to engage audiences in immersive and interactive events,” said Khourey.
“Probably the most important factor in choosing the new music director was his ability to communicate with the community,” Khourey said today. Also, what stood out to the search committee “was his ability to connect to the wider musical world of talent. He used that talent to bring two great artists to Wheeling.”
Devlin comes to Wheeling after serving tenures as cover conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra and the assistant conductor of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. In addition to his work with national and regional orchestras, Devlin designs concerts that frame orchestral music in new and innovative ways and has inspired many forward-looking concepts such as Gourmet Symphony, of which he is the Founding Artistic Director, Go-Go Symphony, Seamless Symphony, Interactive Symphony and the New Retro Project. Devlin is currently completing his tenure as the music director of the Hawaii Youth Symphony, a statewide program serving 650 young students, and as artistic director of the Pacific Music Institute.
• After nearly 38 years as reporter, bureau chief, lifestyles editor and managing editor at The Times Leader, and design editor at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, Phyllis Sigalhas joined Weelunk as managing editor. She lives in Wheeling with her husband Bruce Wheeler. Along with their two children, son-in-law and two grandchildren, food, wine, travel, theater and music are close to their hearts.