David Ellis, General Manager of the Evanston Symphony Orchestra for 18 years, knew all of the musicians and all of the ESO’s subscribers, including their concert hall seat numbers.
He had an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music and a head filled with a galaxy of facts ranging from every Mozart Köchel number to which recording of a Mahler symphony – he had them all – was the best, to arcane, funny anecdotes about eccentric conductors.
Ellis, 75, died on July 26 from heart complications. The loss to his family, friends and the Evanston Symphony is immeasurable.
Ellis was born in Johnson City, Tenn., into a military family. His parents and four younger siblings eventually settled in San Diego where Ellis would attend the University of California San Diego, earning a BS in geology (with a minor in music) followed by an MS in geological oceanography from Oregon State.
Throughout his professional life he wore many hats, making use of his science degrees at Northwestern University before receiving an MBA from the University of Chicago. He transitioned into a career in finance while at Harza Engineering, then was hired by Consolidated Foods (now Sara Lee) where he worked for many years in the position of Assistant Treasurer.
Ellis participated in several marathons and was a lifelong tennis player, but was known foremost for his love and knowledge of classical music.
An article about Ellis in a 2021 edition of the ESO’s Noteworthy, a column which ran into the concert program notes, read:
“David can tell you about the differences in sound quality created by various conductors. He knows which conductors emphasize the strings and which favor the brass. He talks about how the brightness of sound changes if you tune the orchestra a few hertz higher (a 445 Hz makes a brighter sound than 440 Hz), and he easily compares the sound quality of music venues from [among many others] Chicago’s Orchestra Hall and Auditorium Theater to the ESO’s homes of Pick-Staiger and the ETHS Auditorium.”
All that and so much more. A long-time subscriber to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera, he was able to combine his deep knowledge of music with his experience in finance when, after leaving Sara Lee, he accepted the role of General Manager of the Evanston Symphony.
His many accomplishments over his 18 years with the orchestra included growing the ESO’s subscriber base, facilitating the recording of a live CD, providing interesting details at the orchestra’s Musical Insights pre-concert lectures and keeping the organization solvent during the pandemic lockdown. It was a job he threw himself into fully, did exceptionally well and immensely enjoyed.
In 2013, he was named the 2012 General Manager of the Year award from the Illinois Council of Orchestras.
Ellis is survived by his wife of 46 years, Marcia, whom he met on a tennis court in Evanston; his children Michael, Matthew, and Peter; and his siblings and their families.
The Evanston Symphony Orchestra is dedicating its Feb. 12, 2023, concert to Ellis. The program includes Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor with Irina Muresanu, one of Ellis’ favorite soloists, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, another Ellis favorite.