WALLA WALLA -- Leah Wilson-Velasco is more than ready for a trip back to her adopted home.
She graduated from Whitman College in 2003 with a major in music and married a hometown boy a few years after that.
Although she has been anchored in Boston for awhile, the New Mexico native has long loved the Northwest, she said this morning. And Walla Walla in particular, where she played in the Walla Walla and Mid Columbia symphonies, as well as the Whitman College String Quartet -- the viola her instrument of choice.
She brought music to the public by managing the school's Fridays at Four concert series with a focus on an informal accessible venue for enjoying music.
This week, Wilson-Velasco took the opportunity to take a step back into that time by accepting the position of CEO with the Walla Walla Symphony, a job that came open with the March resignation of Michael Wenberg.
She's kept her eye on the symphony here for a long time, Wilson-Velasco said this morning. "My intrigue was really piqued when they started the youth symphony a couple of years ago. That's my area of interest."
The musician left college with her diploma and headed East to work, most recently directing the education program for the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras -- a collection of six orchestras serving students ages 6-18.
Hearing of Wilson-Velasco's hire came as a thrill to Whitman music professor Susan Pickett. Not only did she mentor the new CEO in class, she served as the symphony's concert master for 20 years.
"Leah showed a lot of promise. She was one of the most mature students I've encountered and been I've been teaching here 30 years," she said.
Past symphony head Richard Simon agrees, although he can't say so in any official way since he no longer is on the board. However, his son Michael married Wilson-Velasco here in 2009 and getting the couple back to town is a win for everyone, he said.
"Leah loves music and is very good on the administrative side," Simon said. "She comes from a very musical family."
While the Walla Walla Symphony has had excellent leadership for much of its existence, "we've never had a CEO who understands music as well as business," Simon said. "And she's had educational roles ... that's one of the thing this community really wants, more involvement with children from the Symphony."