David Whitehill New ASO Executive Director
By Ilana Fiorenza
David N. Whitehill is the new executive director for the Asheville Symphony Orchestra, replacing Steven Hageman who is retiring after 16 years with ASO. David most recently held the same position with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra in Maine where he succeeded in inspiring countless members of the community to have a new appreciation for the symphonic orchestra. He successfully grew the attendance, and had the orchestra running “in the black” by the end of his six years there.
David says he is looking forward to infusing orchestral music into the community, getting to know what the Asheville community needs, and providing that in musical form. He said he feels like he has truly “struck gold” with Asheville, as one of the orchestra musicians told him after their first meeting.
“I think what’s really special about the Asheville Symphony Orchestra—and orchestras in communities like Asheville—is we get to think very locally,” he noted in a phone interview from Bangor. “It’s not about competing on a national or even international level. We are here to serve the community, not only serve the art form, but the community. And our work is very important because great societies are remembered by two things; arts and culture.
“The systemic problem with classical music is we have to get over ourselves,” he said with a laugh. “Sometimes we take ourselves way ... too ... seriously. And we should have a lot more fun with what we do and find entry points for different audiences.”
As far as modern composers, he’s a fan of John Adams and Philip Glass, and the young up-and-comer Israeli composer, Avner Dorman. “I look forward to becoming a partner with the conductor to talk about the artistic initiative of the orchestra. What we want to be doing, what’s important, and what music we want to be championing.”
David said he began his musical career playing cello and piano. “I realized early on, I didn’t want to spend my life in a practice room, but I knew I wanted to very much be involved in the art form.” Besides the Bangor Symphony, he has worked in California with both the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.
He says he really enjoys and respects Daniel Meyer, ASO’s conductor and music director. “What he brings to the podium, not only his knowledge and base of music but a certain energy and excitement—it can be really electric!”
David said he is impressed with the support Asheville has for live music, and has especially enjoyed the city’s buskers. In fact, he says he and his wife look forward to their infant daughter, Sadie Rose, growing up in a city where it is normal to have live music around every corner.
Mostly though, he is looking forward to bringing a heightened orchestral experience to the people. “I can’t tell you the countless number of times I have encountered patrons who have come for the first time (to see the symphony) and then say to me after, ‘I never knew that I was missing this in my life. I have gone once, and now I can’t live without it.’”