The Rockford Symphony Orchestra offers “more than just a date night”
The Excelsior Prize has been awarded every year since 1979 to an organization that exemplifies community service and excellence, and that works to make a difference in the Rock River Valley. The Rockford Symphony Orchestra is an Excelsior finalist.
Organization: Rockford Symphony Orchestra
Address: 711 N. Main St., Rockford (Located on the second floor of Riverfront Museum Park)
Foundation year: 1934
Executive Director: Julie Thomas
Total workforce: 59 musicians, 6 administrative staff, 4 artistic staff
Annual budget: $ 1.3 million
Mission: To lead in the creation of dynamic musical experiences that enlighten, educate and entertain.
Answers below by Rockford Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Julie Thomas
The pandemic has taken its toll on the entertainment industry. How did the Rockford Symphony Orchestra react? The past year and a half, two years have been incredibly difficult for everyone, but especially for the performing arts. What we do is bring people together to make music for a live audience. It was completely cut off at least from the way we traditionally played. So what I really believe the Rockford Symphony has done so well is that we have found a way to continue to carry out our mission during this time. It was different getting together at the Coronado Theater and performing in front of over 1,000 people, but we really found ways to employ our musicians who had really been cut off from most of their work opportunities. We’ve created virtual content that we’ve made available to our community for free so that we can at least continue to deliver great music experiences. And when we were able to do it safely, we had live performances. And did it in a really safe way that was incredibly meaningful.
What makes the RSO deserve an Excelsior award? Our goal is to be more than a simple meeting night for individuals. I think we are trying to provide enrichment. We try to offer a respite from everyday life. There is so much that music can offer. It is a way of providing comfort. It’s a way to relax. It is a way of having an experience that can be so meaningful and can help people relax or really understand the most important things in life. It can be so many different things depending on what you need. The Rockford Symphony Orchestra truly adds to the quality of life in our community by providing this very high quality artistic experience.
Three-time Illinois Conductor of the Year, Music Director Steven Larsen is retiring this season after 30 years at the helm of RSO. What would it be like to win an Excelsior award in his final season? What an exciting way to be recognized for leading the organization for 30 years. I think we’re in our 86th season and running continuously throughout this time is really a legacy. But for Steve Larsen, he really took the orchestra to a whole new level, which means that the quality of the ensemble has been dramatically increased. We began to present many other concerts during his tenure. We have introduced more varied concerts, a pop series. We did concerts for young people, and everything really grew during its time. A prize would be just the icing on the cake.
About the award
The Excelsior Award, established by the Rockford Register Star in 1979, honors an organization or institution whose work has a positive impact on life in the Rock River Valley. The winning organization receives a plaque and $ 500.