Dr. Paul Hurwitz and a group of local musicians created the Skokie Valley Symphony Orchestra (SVSO) in Skokie, IL in 1962. Dr. Leon Stein was hired as the group’s first conductor. Several outstanding musicians from the area began attending rehearsals, and the first concert was performed at Niles East High School with a pretty full orchestra.
That first year, the Skokie Valley Orchestral Association was formed as a not-for-profit company in the state of Illinois. The Internal Revenue Service has designated it as a 501(c)(3) organization. It has operated as the Symphony’s parent organization since then, with the mission of promoting and sustaining a community orchestra. A Board of Directors oversees the organization, which meets at least 10 times per year. The season of the Symphony Orchestra consists of four (sometimes five) concerts.
From 1962 until 1966, Dr. Leon Stein was the conductor of the Skokie Valley Symphony Orchestra. Leo Krakow succeeded him as conductor of the Symphony, a position he held for 27 years. The Orchestra developed into a magnificent playing ensemble with a reputation that reached well beyond the local community, attracting additional outstanding musicians.
Following the departure of Daniel Boico, who served as conductor and music director from 2002 to 2006, the SVSO undertook a conductor search, with Francesco Milioto being named the new Music Director and Conductor beginning with the 2007-08 season by the Board of Directors.
Itzak Perlman, Leonard Pennario, Eugene Istomin, Emanuel Ax, Pinchas Zuckerman, Rudolf Firkusny, Jeffrey Siegal, Rachel Barton, Gil Shaham, Mathieu Dufour, and Daniel Barenboim have all appeared as guest soloists with the SVSO.
The SVSO’s other purpose has been to encourage young outstanding players to offer high-quality classical music to their generation. The Bonnie and Lee Malmed Young Artist Competition has been presented annually by the SVSO since 1980 to choose the best student musicians from across the country. The winners are awarded a monetary prize and are featured in SVSO performances throughout the season.
Gary Stucka, a cellist who is currently a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was the first winner. Frank Rosenwein, another winner, is now the principal oboist with the Cleveland Orchestra and recently appeared as a soloist with the SVSO.
The Orchestra hosts an annual competition for young string players in conjunction with the Young Artist Competition. Mr. Mittenthal’s family founded the Harvey E. Mittenthal Scholarship in 1987 as a living legacy to Mr. Mittenthal, a long-time member of the orchestra and Board of Directors. The winners will receive a music scholarship and will perform with the symphony for a year.
The SVSO moved into the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie as a permanent residence in 1997. The SVSO has taken part in a variety of community events. The United States Bicentennial, the Village of Skokie Centennial, and the Morton Grove Centennial are among them. The SVSO has conducted special performances in area parks, in the Old Orchard Shopping Center, and at the Joseph Jefferson Awards banquet. In October 2003, Gil Shaham performed as part of a memorial performance for Yitzhak Rabin organized by the Consulate General of Israel in the Midwest. Children’s and elderly citizen outreach programs have been ongoing.
The orchestra has continued its outreach activities in recent seasons, performing a free concert for over 700 school students and hosting a group of residents from Freidman House, a blind facility, as well as Wounded Warriors members at our concerts.
The Skokie Fine Arts Commission awarded the SVSO the Award for Artistic Excellence on June 18, 2018, in recognition of the Orchestra’s excellent talent, visibility, and beneficial effect in the community for over 55 years.
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