Catasauqua Press

Thursday, November 23, 2017
PRESS PHOTO BY PAUL WILLISTEINSheila Evans, left, with Angela Meade, soprano, center, and John Matthew Myers, tenor, right, at reception for Allentown Symphony Orchestra “Opera Arias” Oct. 7 concert, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown. PRESS PHOTO BY PAUL WILLISTEINSheila Evans, left, with Angela Meade, soprano, center, and John Matthew Myers, tenor, right, at reception for Allentown Symphony Orchestra “Opera Arias” Oct. 7 concert, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.

Allentown Symphony Association seeks successor for executive director Evans

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

An interim executive director is being sought to succeed Sheila Evans, who has resigned as Allentown Symphony Association executive director.

Evans’ resignation was accepted at a Nov. 10 meeting of the symphony association executive committee, according to association board President Philip C. Jackson.

“Sheila’s done an excellent job to getting us to where we are today. With Sheila’s resignation, it is our hope that we can even take it to higher levels,” Jackson said of Miller Symphony Hall during a Nov. 12 interview with The Press.

The association owns and operates Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown, and oversees operations of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra.

The resignation of Evans, symphony association director for nearly nine years, was effective immediately.

“We’re looking for someone who’s willing to serve as interim executive director, while we do a local and national search for someone to replace Sheila,” said Jackson.

“We have a very experienced staff. They will be able to keep the operation going without any reduction in service. Our staff is very good,” added Jackson.

“We’ve been looking at the overall organization, not just Sheila’s performance, and how we can expand our mission and visibility in the Lehigh Valley,” Jackson continued.

“We’re not going to innumerate in the press all the different decisions that we made,” said Jackson, noting, “We don’t discuss employee performances in public.”

Officials of most nonprofit and for-profit organizations do not discuss personal or legal matters in public.

“The executive committee has been meeting for some time and looking at the strategic direction and what was best for the organization,” said Jackson.

He said the executive committee meets monthly and, more recently, weekly.

“Sheila’s done an excellent job to getting us to where we are today. With Sheila’s resignation, it is our hope that we can even take it to higher levels,” Jackson said.

Under Evans’ tenure, in addition to erasing a debt, the hall was renamed Miller Symphony Hall, a $6-million fundraising campaign was launched in 2011 for a new main stage floor, lobby doors, third-level balcony seating, bathrooms, backstage improvements, and LED marquee. Concerts and other events were begun, including the “Jazz Upstairs” series in the Rodale Community Room, Metropolitan Opera simulcasts, and El Sistema Lehigh Valley, an instrumental music performance program for youth.

The building, which dates to 1899, was known as The Lyric Theater until purchased in 1959 by the symphony association, founded with the orchestra in 1951. In recognition of Miller family contributions, the hall was named Miller Symphony Hall in 2012.

When he arrived on the board eight years ago, Jackson said of the symphony association, “We had a substantial mortgage debt and we retired all of that.” At its peak, the debt was $4 million.

Jackson, president, Corporate Banking, Univest National Bank & Trust Co., is board president until the end of 2017, succeeded by Michael J. Torbert, board vice president. Jackson will continue on the 35-member association board. The executive committee has 12 members, including Diane Wittry, music director and conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, and, as executive director, Evans.

“When I say strategic direction,” Jackson explained, “we’re looking at all the things with delivering our product at the Symphony Hall. We’re not in anyway near announcing a major shift our direction.”

Jackson said Evans’ resignation is not related to the proposed 1,400-seat concert venue planned for Seventh and Hamilton streets, Allentown.

“We’re trying to embrace all the changes in downtown Allentown. It’s not only a symphony issue. All the nonprofits have to learn to coexist with the PPL Center and Sands [Bethlehem Events Center]. The acts we do at symphony hall are designed for a little bit smaller venues,” said Jackson.

“Our primary mission is classical concerts. We fill the hall with other rentals. We have found that with the right acts, they will fill the hall,” adding, “If we don’t sell tickets, we could be underwater.”

The Nov. 11 King Crimson concert, produced by BRE Presents, which rented the hall for the show, was a fast-seller and sold out the 1,100-seat Miller Symphony Hall.

“We’re remaining positive,” Jackson concluded. “We think we have the ability to enhance our programs and visibility that Sheila has done in the past. We wish her well. We’re going to have to find a really quality person who can take to us the next level.”