The mission of the Rockford Symphony Orchestra is to enlighten, educate, and entertain through symphonic music.
The Rockford Symphony Orchestra is one of the leading cultural institutions in Northern Illinois, performing over sixteen classical and pops concerts annually. The RSO was founded in 1934 and incorporated in 1943. The RSO's first Music Director and Manager, Arthur Zack, who led the orchestra for twenty-seven years. During this time, the Rockford Area Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Rockford Symphony Orchestra Guild were established. The RSO continues its commitment to fulfilling its mission to lead in the creation of vibrant musical experiences that enlighten, educate, and entertain.
In 1970, the Board of Directors appointed Crawford Gates its next music director, bringing renowned guest artists to perform with the orchestra including Van Cliburn (1972), Victor Borge (1973), Phyllis Diller (1974), and Benny Goodman (1975). Upon the retirement of Crawford Gates, the RSO Board named Charles Bornstein as music director in 1986. Bornstein’s intellectual and artistic vision was characteristic of his tenure.
In 1991, the Board named Steven Larsen as the RSO’s fourth music director. Described as a “Renaissance musician,” Larsen went to work and expanded the orchestra’s repertoire, attracting musicians of the highest caliber. The RSO has hosted such notable classical and pops artists as Peter Schickele, Rick Nielsen, Dionne Warwick, Andre Watts, Eugene Fodor, Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, Rachel Barton Pine, Alon Goldstein, Daniel Rodriguez, and Stefan Jackiw. During his tenure, Larsen added a pops series, an outdoor summer performance series and youth concerts to the Symphony’s concert rosters. Through creative and innovative programming Maestro Larsen has endeavored to bring the RSO’s performances to wider audiences by performing in new and non-traditional venues. His accomplishments have been recognized through numerous awards, including the Illinois Council of Orchestras’ 2006 Conductor of the Year and the 1999 Mayor’s Arts Award for individual achievement.
Under Larsen’s artistic leadership, the orchestra continues to develop the audiences of tomorrow through a wide variety of other educational programs involving the entire Rockford community. Continuing to reach out to more people in our community, the RSO frequently performs in collaborations with other community arts organizations, such as the Rockford Dance Company; Mendelssohn Chorale; Kantorei, the Singing Boys of Rockford; Rock Valley College; Highland Community College; and collaborates on education programs with the Rockford Art Museum and the Rockford Area Arts Council. In past years, the RSO has performed special concerts in area communities such as Freeport, Dixon, Belvidere, and Roscoe. In addition, radio audiences throughout Northern Illinois enjoy delayed broadcasts of all RSO Classic Series concerts on WNIU 89.5 FM, reaching more than 50,000 listeners six times a year.
The RSO offices are located in the Riverfront Museum Park. The orchestra performs in the Coronado Performing Arts Center, originally constructed as a 1927 atmospheric movie palace. This state-of-the-art facility boasts a large stage and orchestra pit, 2,200 seats, a fully restored interior, an acoustical enhancement system, and full accessibility for audience members with special needs.