History of the Evanston Symphony Orchestra
In 1945, an influx of returning GIs filled all of the places in the various Northwestern University orchestras that had previously been open to local musicians. These musicians, some professionals but most dedicated amateurs, wanted an outlet for their musical talents, and thus the Evanston Civic Orchestra came into being. In 1961, the orchestra officially became the Evanston Symphony Orchestra (ESO) with its incorporation as an Illinois not-for-profit organization. In 1962, Frank Miller, principal cellist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, became the ESO’s conductor, bringing his expertise of having worked with such greats as Arturo Toscanini, Fritz Reiner, and Pablo Casals. He groomed the volunteer musicians into a highly accomplished community orchestra, which it remains today.
Maestro Lynn Schornick was the Music Director of the ESO from 1983 to 2002. In 1996 he was awarded the Conductor of the Year award by the Illinois Council of Orchestras. After Dr. Schornick’s retirement, the ESO launched a year-long search for a new Music Director. Maestro Lawrence Eckerling was appointed to the position in June of 2003, and the ESO has now enjoyed many seasons of ever increasing artistic and financial success.
From its beginning, the ESO has been a volunteer-managed and operated organization. It was named Orchestra of the Year 2010 by the Illinois Council of Orchestras (ICO) and has received numerous other awards from the ICO, including the 1998 Community Relations Programs of the Year and the 1999 Marketing Program of the Year. The ESO also won the 2012 General Manager of the Year award, the 2004 and 2009 Board President of the Year Award and the 2006 Volunteer of the Year Award. In 2007, it won Community Relations of the Year Award and Lawrence Eckerling was named the Conductor of the Year. The ESO continues to enjoy the support of Evanston and the surrounding communities as a leader in the arts, receiving the 2001 Evanston Mayor’s Award for the Arts.
The Evanston Symphony Orchestra works to provide diverse, enjoyable and accessible musical entertainment that enriches the audience, orchestra and community. The ESO created KidNotes, program notes for younger listeners that provide easy-to-understand explanations of the afternoon’s concert. The early education program, Music in Your World, is a collaboration among Head Start, Pre-Kindergarden, and the ESO to bring quality music education to underserved 3- to 5-year-olds, and is funded with community support.
To further expand its musical diversity, the ESO has joined forces with other noted community groups such as the North Shore Choral Society, the Evanston Dance Ensemble, the Evanston Children’s Choir, and the Music Institute of Chicago in a variety of musical offerings. The ESO also presents Musical Insights, a series of free pre-concert lecture recitals. These were sponsored for several years by Presbyterian Homes but now are presented at the North Shore Retirement Hotel. An Evanston Symphony Christmas, the symphony’s annual fundraiser performance, has become a firm family holiday favorite.
The 2010–11 season marked the 65th anniversary of the Evanston Symphony Orchestra as well as the world premiere, on January 30, 2011, of The Promised Land (Songs of the “Next Life”), a song cycle composed by Gywneth Walker specifically for the ESO and gifted soprano Michelle Areyzaga. The combination of the currently strong artistic standing of the orchestra and this world premiere provided the impetus for this, the ESO’s first CD. The May 8, 2011, concert supplied an additional three great American compositions: Bernstein’s Candide Overture; the Suite from Howard Hanson’s opera Merry Mount; and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Finally, an archive tape from the February 2008 concert provided a performance of Overture with Fanfares by composer and ESO bassoonist Donald Draganski, which was commissioned for the ESO’s 50th anniversary and received its world premiere in 1996. The program as a whole — five American compositions of the 20th and 21st centuries and two world premiere pieces never before recorded — exemplifies the ESO’s mission to educate its audience and to expand the concert repertoire. All of these performances are a tribute to the dedication and professional spirit of the volunteer musicians of the ESO.