SoNA announces D. Riley Nicholson as new executive director

D. Riley Nicholson / Courtesy

The plume of white smoke released from the chimney atop the Walton Arts Center earlier this week can only mean one thing. The Symphony of Northwest Arkansas has hired a new executive director.

SoNA officials this week announced that composer and musician, and arts administrator D. Riley Nicholson has been hired to succeed Matthew Herren in the leadership role. Herren departed this summer to accept a position as executive director of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra in Pennsylvania

Nicholson is originally from Hot Springs, and returns to the state after spending time in San Francisco with the Center for New Music, and with Dance Film SF (San Francisco Dance Film Festival). Nicholson also served on the Board of Director at the Berkeley Balley Theatre and Post: Ballet.

“It’s wonderful to return to my home state to accept this position,” Nicholson said. “I’m profoundly honored for this chance to lead SoNA into its next chapter. Given Northwest Arkansas’ remarkable engagement with the arts, the visionary artistic leadership of SoNA Music Director Paul Haas, the talent of the musicians, and a fiercely loyal and ever-growing SoNA fan base, we are in a unique position to have an increasingly extraordinary artistic impact.”

Nicholson said his plans for SoNA are to continue some of the same programs locals have come to expect from the organization.

“My vision for SoNA, and really for the industry at large, is to continue honoring the beautiful classical repertoire we’ve inherited while actively working to build diverse communities and showcase contemporary voices,” Nicholson added. “By nurturing existing relationships and engaging new stakeholders, we can better serve our audiences, better support artists, make better art, and truly serve our entire community.”

Nicholson is also a pianist, and has composed and performed for a wide range of ensembles and venues. As SoNA Executive Director, Nicholson will handle operations for the organization, working alongside music director Paul Haas.

“Riley is an impressive person who has achieved incredible things at an early age,” SoNA Music Director Paul Haas said. “The fact that he’s forward-thinking, and that we share similar ideas about how to bring classical orchestral music into the 21st century, makes me think we’re looking at a new golden age for SoNA, as well as for the arts in Northwest Arkansas.”

Nicholson was chosen as SoNA’s Executive Director after a national search conducted by Aspen Leadership Group and overseen by the SoNA Board of Directors.

“On behalf of the SoNA board, I’m so pleased to welcome Riley as Executive Director, and I look forward to building upon the impressive momentum SoNA has continued these past few years,” SoNA Board Chair Julianne Brown said. “His energy, passion for the arts, and broad experience early in his career impressed the selection committee. SoNA has grown in strength over the past five years and it’s important to all of us that our next Executive Director be able to maintain our trajectory, serve our musicians, collaborate with artistic staff, and connect with our donors and audience. We feel confident that Riley’s skillset and background add unique experience to the organization, which will be particularly valuable as we enter a season at a time when arts organizations across the nation are navigating many unknowns.”