The Elgin Symphony Orchestra is one of the preeminent regional orchestras in the United States. Since its founding in 1950, the organization has developed a reputation for artistic excellence, innovative programming, and a deep commitment to the social advocacy and economic development of the diverse communities that it serves.
Named “Orchestra of the Year” an unprecedented four times by the Illinois Council of Orchestras, (1988, 1999, 2005 and 2016) and winner of a 2010 Elgin Image Award, the Elgin Symphony Orchestra is respected for exceptional performance, innovative education programs, and community outreach initiatives.
Founded in 1950 by Douglas Steensland at Elgin Community College, the Orchestra has benefited from the contributions of many talented conductors and musicians during its history. With the appointment of Grammy Award-winning conductor Margaret Hillis as Music Director in 1971, the Orchestra’s artistic growth advanced significantly. The Orchestra became fully professional in 1985 under the direction of conductor/composer Robert Hanson, who was named Music Director that year. Maestro Hanson held the position until his retirement at the conclusion of the 2010-2011 concert season.
Andrew Grams was named Music Director in 2013, after a two-year international search. A graduate of the Julliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music, Andrew’s experience leading orchestras throughout the United States and across the globe elevated the ESO and brought notoriety to the City of Elgin. He was named Conductor of the Year in 2015 by the Illinois Council of Orchestras.
Andrew quickly became a favorite with local residents and patrons alike, as he charismatically embraced the community, volunteering his time for local charities and offering a warm smile and hello on the street or after a concert. After eight seasons with the ESO, Andrew announced his departure in 2021 to pursue guest conductor opportunities across the world. While a search for his replacement takes place, the ESO is excited to welcome world-renowned guest conductors to the stage for the 2021-22 season.
Believing music and the arts have the power to inspire individuals, support communities, and enrich society, the ESO launched Elgin: Home for the Holidays, and has partnered on other events with Rotary International, Feeding Greater Elgin, Sherman Hospital, Downtown Neighborhood Association, and the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce. In 1987, the ESO began Kidz Konzertz, now called Ainsworth Concerts for Youth, a children’s program that currently draws nearly 9,000 youth from nearly 60 communities. The ESO’s Musicians Care program, which began in 2010, takes musicians out of the concert hall and into the public and patient spaces of Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin every Thursday, including holidays, from 12-2 pm. In addition, our musicians visit Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington every first and third Wednesday from 12-2 pm. In 2014, the ESO partnered with Gail Borden Public Library to provide free Family Concerts, and extended its Listeners Club to the Greenfields of Geneva.