The Arts in Elgin


As the fastest growing orchestra in the country, the Elgin Symphony Orchestra (ESO) proudly enters its 58th season with the brand-new Friday Matinee Series available to its patrons. This unique program welcomes music lovers to downtown Elgin on six different Friday afternoons throughout the year.

“One of the things that is important to look at is how we can serve the city of Elgin,” said Michael Pastreich, ESO Executive Director, when speaking about the decision to add the matinee series to the ESO programming schedule. “There is room for more activity in downtown during the lunch hour; an orchestra can have a lot of economic impact on a community.”

Indeed, downtown Elgin has been experiencing a historic period of renovation over the past few years. Businesses are growing, housing is being developed, and a commitment to community development has had a great deal of impact on the success of local businesses. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

With 82 percent of the ESO’s audience coming from non-Elgin zip codes, the orchestra has the ability to affect the economy of downtown Elgin a great deal. Every performance offers both the city and downtown businesses the opportunity to give visitors a reason to come back again and again. With the addition of the Friday Matinee Series, the ESO has opened the doors wide for an entirely new audience demographic to visit downtown Elgin.

Not only will these patrons experience six wonderful afternoons of great music, they also have the rare opportunity to participate in another new program: Lunch with the Maestro. This optional program will be available for the lucky 200 individuals who sign up first. Participants will experience lunch in the magnificent Heritage Ballroom across from the Hemmens Theatre.

Maestro Robert Hanson, along with other special guests, will be present to discuss the day’s concert and answer questions during dessert. Readers only need to take a moment and read the accompanying story, A Day in the Life of a Maestro, to know what a privilege these lunch gatherings will be.

Maestro Robert Hanson is not only dedicated to the Elgin Symphony Orchestra — he began his 33rd year at ESO in August — but he is, in the end, dedicated to the performance, education, and distribution of great music to young and old music lovers alike. Recent honors received by the Maestro include the 2001 Conductor of the Year award from the Illinois Council of Orchestras and the 2004 Cultural Leadership Award, the Council’s highest honor.

violin player

This is what Maestro Hanson had to say when discussing the upcoming season: “Not only is our ESO season growing with the addition of matinees and a fourth pops concert, we are also growing the breadth and depth of our repertoire. The 2007-08 season has reached new heights — more musical superstars, more musical masterpieces, and more concerts — and all with the same high quality musicianship our patrons expect of us.”

The dedication to excel is obvious; what is less obvious is the Orchestra’s dedication to the city of Elgin. “The ESO is one of the biggest attractions to downtown Elgin. Its impact is especially important to the restaurant industry and we work with ESO and local restaurants to make sure the experience is a positive one for patrons,” said Norma Miess, executive director, Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin (DNA).

The DNA works with the symphony and downtown businesses to increase awareness and appreciation of the many opportunities downtown Elgin offers residents and visitors. Restaurants are a large part of the downtown economy; 17 call downtown home. However, retail and business opportunities are also a large part of the attraction downtown Elgin has for its

The past several years have seen a great deal of change in the landscape of downtown Elgin. Worn-down buildings have been replaced by new construction; the riverfront is being transformed with the development of Festival Park; and new housing opportunities, mainly condos and townhomes, are being built throughout the area.

Once completed, Festival Park is sure to draw many crowds to downtown Elgin over the years. Located between Prairie Rock Restaurant and the casino, Festival Park opened to the public in May of 2007, although the first official festival, Fox Fire Fest,
wasn’t held until August. With so much going on, it’s a privilege to have an organization such as the ESO participating in revitalization efforts.

“We really value the partnership and support we get through the ESO,” said Miess. Partnership and support is one of the key elements to the relationship the ESO has with the Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin and indeed, with the City of Elgin itself.

“One of our really core responsibilities of the Orchestra is to serve the community and bring people to downtown Elgin. We add shows as they are needed. First, we make the commitment to do the show and then, we figure out how to pay for it,” stated ESO Executive Director Pastreich.

It’s this level of commitment, not only to great music, but to the community that makes the Elgin Symphony Orchestra a treasure. The residents of Elgin, as well as the numerous patrons who support the Orchestra from outside the city limits, are lucky to have this magnificent organization in their midst.

A Day in the Life of a Maestro

Any conversation with Maestro Robert Hanson about his job will quickly reveal that there is no such thing as a “typical” work day. Indeed, this truth was an interesting twist in writing a profile of the Maestro’s day. So, instead of the typical day in the life article, readers will take a brief journey through the unpredictable nature of a Maestro’s life.

elgin symphony orchestra

To begin with, the job of a Maestro takes extreme talent and skill. This past April, Maestro Robert Hanson spent nearly the entire month studying an Aaron Copland Piano Concerto in order to prepare for an upcoming concert and recording. This difficult piece required a good deal of attention, and the Maestro acknowledges spending a great deal more time studying it than just the month of April.

“I spent much more than a month learning the piece because it was a new and very, very complex piece. As the conductor, you need to know every part that every piece is playing at every moment. Imagine how long it would take a person to learn a Shakespeare play in a foreign language well enough to perform it by heart,” stated Maestro Hanson.

It is this level of difficulty that keeps challenging conductors every year. New seasons bring new works to the orchestra members and its leader. Some pieces are familiar while others are not. Combine that with various levels of difficulty and it is not hard to imagine orchestra members spending days, weeks and months learning new compositions.

Learning musical pieces for performance is only one aspect of a Maestro’s job. Other duties include helping to hire full-time and temporary musicians; planning upcoming seasons; participating in special events; promoting the orchestra; rehearsals; and of course, participating in the actual performances.

As Maestro Hanson would tell you, “there is no typical day. Every day is its own adventure. We don’t do concerts in the summer, but that’s our big planning season. This summer will be spent planning the repertoire and guest artists for the 2008-09 season. We have to book the hall and the artists in advance.”

Although he has many responsibilities as the Elgin Symphony Orchestra’s conductor, Maestro Robert Hanson still finds time to pursue his love of composing music. When asked how many compositions he has created during his life, Maestro Hanson states that he has never counted, but definitely in the hundreds.


Possessing the talent and ability to do what you love every day is rare, but Maestro Hanson is one of those individuals who has been given this gift. He began his career as a young musician, studied composition in college, and has gone on to bring his gift to thousands of ticket holders throughout the years.

Maestro Hanson began his career at the Elgin Symphony Orchestra in August of 1974 and he has brought his passion and love of music to the public for nearly 34 years.

“I never veered from wanting to be a conductor. It was something that I knew I wanted to do from a very young age,” said Maestro Hanson. And those who have experienced your talents thank you for the dedication you have shown to great music over the years.

Growing by Leaps and Bounds

Having just completed its 31st season, the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra (EYSO) proudly moves into the next phase of its development with the addition of a fourth orchestra — Primo. This new orchestra will welcome musicians from 3rd to 8th grade who are not yet ready for the Prelude orchestra, which is presently comprised of more advanced musicians in 4th to 8th grade.

The addition of Primo reflects on EYSO’s mission of finding a place for every student who auditions for the orchestra. While this is not always possible, it is the ultimate goal and one of the reasons a fourth orchestra is being added. Another reason is because EYSO does not double all of the parts like many other youth orchestras.

youth orchestra

EYSO is unique in many ways. “We are a part of Elgin Community College [ECC]. We also have a comprehensive rehearsal process, but the most important thing is that every week in rehearsal the kids have a great experience. We want them to learn about themselves and the world through the study of great music,” stated Kathy Matthews, EYSO executive director.

This mission is accomplished through a variety of measures including innovative programming and the commissioning of new music, which brings composers to the orchestra to work with the children directly. Combined, these efforts, along with quality instruction and a caring staff, have helped grow the orchestra to over 200 kids from over 50 communities. Some members travel an hour or more to participate in rehearsals and performances.

Matthews points out the members of the EYSO have many advantages because they are an “in-resident ensemble at the ECC Arts Center.” Among these are access to state-of-the-art rehearsal and performance space and the ability to earn college credit through ECC when orchestra members turn 16 years old.

All of these advantages add up: the EYSO “is a wonderful opportunity for kids who are passionate about music to meet other kids who also have the same passion,” said Matthews. Just last year the oldest orchestra was able to take a two-week trip to participate in the Aberdeen International Youth Festival in Scotland.

The opportunity to travel, perform and be recognized on an international level speaks to the quality of the programming and instruction of the EYSO. The EYSO has also been recognized by the Illinois Council of Orchestras, who named them the Youth Orchestra of the Year in both 2000 and 2007.

To learn more about EYSO, visit Auditions and applications can be found on the website, or interested parties can call (847) 214-7302.

A Mission to Educate and Entertain

“Provide high quality theatrical experiences for children and young children and young adults” is the first statement of the mission of the Children’s Theatre of Elgin & the Fox Valley Theatre Company, showing that training at an early age is possible in the Fox Valley area. From first grade to eighth, the Children’s Theatre of Elgin provides children with the opportunity to improve their performance skills. The Fox Valley Theatre Company was founded as a result of the company wishing to extend the learning experience for kids into young adulthood up to age 20. All of the two companies’ productions are suitable and enjoyable for children and young adults.

“Encourage family support and participation in theatre.” This is the second idea of the companies’ mission. When pursuing a dream it can be very important to have the support of family and friends and this is what this part of the mission statement is referring to. The parents of the children and young adults participating in the companies are encouraged to play an active role in their children’s interests by performing as volunteers to help the with many aspects of the production process and are vital to the success of each production. There are many important roles for parents to play, from costume organization and set building to publicity and cast parties. Parents can offer their time and efforts to show support for their children’s pursuits.

“Make live theatre affordable and accessible.” It can be somewhat costly to attend a theatrical performance these days, depending on the venue. One may be discouraged to purchase tickets for such an event because of the monetary repercussions of it. Luckily there are options available that don’t break the bank. The Children’s Theatre of Elgin & the Fox Valley Theatre Company work to make theatre affordable. For about $10, a fun time out with the family in a culture-rich atmosphere is in reach, very inexpensive.

“Instill a standard of performance excellence.” To make viable performers, they must be instilled with a standard of excellence. In order to excel as a actor, the companies have coupled an excellent program with family support to make for confident, accomplished young entertainers who can go on to become players in the outside world of theatre. Because of this philosophy of greatness, audiences are sure to be impressed by the quality of the acting and want to come back again and again.

Children’s Theatre of Elgin & the Fox Valley Theatre Company reside at the Elgin Community College Arts Center and hold a number of performances at the Hemmens Cultural Center. For more information please call (847) 214-7152.

Elgin Opera

opera singers

Founded in 2001, Elgin OPERA (formerly O.P.E.R.A.) is located approximately one hour west of Chicago in the city of Elgin. What started out as a little company has grown quickly, and established itself as a polished performing group that is able to tackle large productions and attract sizeable audiences. In addition to last year’s triumph of doing a fully-staged production of La Traviata where they sold approximately 2,000 tickets, Elgin OPERA has a training ensemble, an outreach program and has taken on Madama Butterfly and Die Fledermaus as full-scale operas since their inception.
The Executive/Artistic Director of the company is Solange Josianne Sior. Hailing from Montreal, Canada, this French-speaking, 5’4” dynamo came to America in 1988, with barely a word of English in her repertoire and no job lined up. By 1991, she was at the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists and sang in the chorus at the Lyric for two years. Before long, she was both teaching and singing, eventually forming her own studio and booking agency in 1994. Solange hired singers and musicians to perform at dinner concerts and various country clubs and hotels, and began to expand her connections in the industry in addition to the valuable ones forged in her time at Lyric Opera.
When she made the decision to found Elgin OPERA, it was to give singers the chance to perform, and to bring her beloved art to both those who already enjoy it and to those who may not have experienced it yet. Solange highlights the Opera Training Ensemble as the “backbone” of the organization, and indeed, the company’s roots truly began there.          
Solange originally started Elgin OPERA with some students from the ensemble performing in the chorus for the big shows. These students would also have their own opportunity to perform in some of the outreach shows in larger roles, giving them, as she says, “a chance to stretch a little bit.” Productions have been staged in Elgin, Huntley and also at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium in Evanston, among others.
The opportunity to perform in a professional group such as Elgin OPERA has been a draw for classical singers both from the area and beyond. Auditions for the company’s most recent production of Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly drew singers from across the United States to compete for a role in the cast. The company also attracts gifted and well-known conductors, such as Philip Moorehead from Lyric Opera Chicago and Francesco Milioto, assistant conductor at Ravinia. 
Elgin OPERA hopes to expand the audience for this classic art form, and wants to educate more people about opera music. The organization has outreach programs that work with schools and senior residential facilities, and they make sure that company productions are affordably priced to keep them accessible to the public. The use of humor and the decision to perform popular operas are other things that the company and outreach groups have done to make overtures to a broader audience. Solange also is aware that creativity makes things fun, such as the “OPERA Goes To The Movies” performances. This approach explored opera excerpts that were used in Hollywood movies for the past 50 years.  The variety seems to be working for them, and their attendance has increased steadily with time.


When asked if there was a certain point when she knew that the company had “made it,” Solange sighed, and said happily, “Being double-cast for Traviata—we were sold out. I got to sit back and watch an entire cast sing, it was great!” Asked where they will go from here, it is no surprise that Solange is ready with her answer and she says, “I would love a full orchestra and a full-time, paid staff.” She has recently been signed by Orion House Artists Management, and her own career appears to be taking off in tandem with the company.
Elgin OPERA has enjoyed a quick rise to success and established itself as a professional company with a reputation for quality performances and a dedication to sharing their art form with others in the community and beyond. For more information on upcoming performances or on how to join the Opera Training Ensemble, call 847-214-8340 or send an e-mail to operaoffice@

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