The Elgin Symphony Orchestra is Illinois' premier regional orchestra, respected for exceptional performance and innovative education and community outreach initiatives. The Orchestra's season includes over 35 concerts annually (Classics, Pops, Educational Programming, and Holiday performances) at the 1,200-seat Hemmens Theatre in Elgin and the 440-seat Prairie Arts Center in Schaumburg. Audiences of over 50,000 are served each year: 20,000 students are reached and educated through several music education programs.
The Elgin Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1950 by Douglas Steensland at Elgin Community College. In 1971, with the appointment of Grammy Award-winning conductor Margaret Hillis as Music Director, the Orchestra’s artistic growth advanced significantly. Conductor/composer Robert Hanson was appointed the ESO’s Associate Conductor in 1974 and Co-Music Director with Hillis in 1983. Hanson became Music Director in 1985 and orchestrated much of the artistic and service growth of the Orchestra. During the same year, the ESO became a fully professional orchestra. In 1988, 1999 and 2005, the Elgin Symphony Orchestra was named Orchestra of the Year by the Illinois Council of Orchestras; the award acknowledges the Orchestra’s programming excellence, artistic quality and leadership. Maestro Hanson retired at the conclusion of the 2010-2011 concert year, but his legacy of artistic excellence, educational innovation and community outreach will continue to inspire. Stephen Squires, ESO's Resident Conductor, and guest conductors from around the world will lead the Orchestra during the 2011-2012 season. The ESO has recently begun the search for a new Music Director, working with Henry Fogel, prior President and CEO of the American Symphony Orchestra League and prior to that President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association.
In 1996, the Elgin Symphony Orchestra moved its administrative and box offices from Elgin Community College, the Orchestra’s home for nearly 50 years, to downtown Elgin. Shortly thereafter, the ESO’s Board of Directors committed to becoming Illinois’ highest paid orchestra outside of Chicago. In 1997, the Elgin Symphony Orchestra began broadcasting its Classic Series concerts on WFMT 98.7-FM, Chicago’s Fine Arts Station; performances are available on WFMT’s cable network in 38 states, and throughout the world on the Internet. The combination of such achievements enables the Elgin Symphony Orchestra to engage accomplished musicians and attract audiences from over 100 communities.