The Seattle Symphony Board of Directors announced the unanimous decision on Tuesday (March 20); Philion "will begin a transition" into his new role on April 1, according to a statement.
The 54-year-old Vermont native succeeds Paul Meecham, who resigned abruptly in June and is now executive director of the Baltimore Symphony. Mary Ann Champion, president of the board of trustees, has been interim executive director during the nearly 10-month search.
Philion has already collaborated closely with Seattle Symphony music director Gerard Schwarz, who serves as principal conductor of the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina. According to The Seattle Times, Schwarz recommended Philion to the search committee. "Our relationship is relatively recent," Philion told the paper, "but Jerry respects my opinion and the vision we've created [at the EMF]. We have a great working relationship."
During his tenure in North Carolina, Philion is credited with revitalizing the EMF's reputation and improving its finances (the festival almost went bankrupt in 2000). According to a statement, in the last seven years, concert revenues have more than tripled, and the festival now has a program that includes over 100 events in five weeks.
Philion will have his work cut out for him in Seattle. The orchestra has an accumulated deficit of more than $3 million and the relationship between musicians and Schwarz has been tense recently, particularly after it was announced last summer (evidently without any advance notice to the musicians) that his contract had been extended to 2011.
Acting board chair Susan Hutchison told the Times that Philion is "an unflappable guy who has been exposed to every problem, every crisis possible in an orchestra. I feel he will be embraced by the players, donors, audience members and all the symphony stakeholders. He's trustworthy, hardworking and solid."
Philion, who plays bass and guitar, regularly serves as a panelist for various state arts agencies and currently serves on the board of the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro. He has held senior management posts with the Cleveland Orchestra and National Symphony Orchestra and is a graduate of George Mason University, where he majored in English.