The Skokie Valley Symphony Orchestra (SVSO) was founded in 1962 by Dr. Paul Hurwitz and a group of local musicians in Skokie, Illinois. As the group’s first conductor, Dr. Leon Stein was hired. The first concert was performed at Niles East High School with a fairly full orchestra, and some exceptional musicians from the area began attending rehearsals.
The Skokie Valley Orchestral Association was incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation in the state of Illinois that same year. It is a 501(c)(3) organization, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Since then, it has served as the Symphony’s parent organization, with the goal of promoting and supporting community orchestras. The organization is governed by a Board of Directors, which meets at least 10 times per year. The Symphony Orchestra’s season consists of four (sometimes five) concerts.
Dr. Leon Stein was the conductor of the Skokie Valley Symphony Orchestra from 1962 to 1966. He was followed as conductor of the Symphony by Leo Krakow, who held the role for 27 years. The Orchestra grew into a superb performing ensemble with a reputation that extended far beyond the local community, attracting more talented musicians.
Following the departure of Daniel Boico, who served as conductor and music director from 2002 to 2006, the SVSO conducted a search, and the Board of Directors named Francesco Milioto as the new Music Director and Conductor, effective with the 2007-08 season.
Guest soloists with the SVSO have included Itzak Perlman, Leonard Pennario, Eugene Istomin, Emanuel Ax, Pinchas Zuckerman, Rudolf Firkusny, Jeffrey Siegal, Rachel Barton, Gil Shaham, Mathieu Dufour, and Daniel Barenboim.
The SVSO’s other goal has been to encourage young great musicians to provide their generation with high-quality classical music. Since 1980, the SVSO has held an annual Bonnie and Lee Malmed Young Artist Competition to choose the top student musicians from across the country. The winners get a monetary reward and have their work performed by the SVSO throughout the season.
The first prize went to Gary Stucka, a cellist who is currently a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Another winner, Frank Rosenwein, is now the Cleveland Orchestra’s principal oboist and has recently performed as a soloist with the SVSO.
In cooperation with the Talented Artist Competition, the Orchestra sponsors an annual competition for young string players. The Harvey E. Mittenthal Scholarship was established in 1987 by Mr. Mittenthal’s family as a living memorial to Mr. Mittenthal, a long-time member of the orchestra and Board of Directors. The winners will be awarded a music scholarship and will spend a year performing with the symphony.
In 1997, the SVSO established a permanent home at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. The SVSO has participated in numerous community events. Among these are the Bicentennial of the United States, the Village of Skokie Centennial, and the Morton Grove Centennial. Special concerts by the SVSO have taken place in local parks, in the Old Orchard Shopping Center, and at the Joseph Jefferson Awards ceremony. Gil Shaham participated in a memorial performance for Yitzhak Rabin presented by the Israeli Consulate General in the Midwest in October 2003. Outreach efforts for children and the elderly have been ongoing.
In recent seasons, the orchestra has continued its outreach efforts, giving a free concert for over 700 schoolchildren and welcoming residents from Freidman House, a blind facility, as well as Wounded Warriors members, at our concerts.
On June 18, 2018, the Skokie Fine Arts Commission presented the SVSO with the Award for Artistic Excellence in celebration of the Orchestra’s outstanding talent, visibility, and positive impact on the community during the past 55 years.
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