In 1951, the Knox-Galesburg Symphony presented its first subscription season of three concerts at Beecher Chapel in Galesburg. As the Symphony audience grew, concerts moved to Central Congregational Church, then to Harbach Theatre, and finally found a home at the Orpheum Theatre. Over time, the Symphony added two subscription concerts and non-subscription events such as the annual Pops concert, and every spring since 1984, the Symphony has presented a free concert on the lawn of Old Main on the historic Knox College campus. Committed to arts outreach, the Symphony provides youth and adult education programs such as Music Mornings at the Galesburg Public Library, Music Memories for students at the Orpheum, the annual Young Pianists Competition, in-school tours, and music appreciation classes.
The Symphony draws outstanding instrumentalists from a 100-mile-radius, and features regionally, nationally, and internationally acclaimed guest artists. Though Galesburg is a small town, the Symphony presents a quality of music more common in a much larger city, with performances broadcasting often on public radio stations, helping the Symphony reach a wider geographical area.
In 1997, the Symphony toured Spain, with sold-out performances in Lleida, Reus, Girona, and at the world-famous Palau de la Musica in Barcelona. The following year, composer Eric Speier selected the KGS over eight other orchestras from across the United States and Europe to perform his film score for a Columbia Tri-Star Home Video. In 2001, as part of its 50th Anniversary celebration, the KGS performed The Nutcracker with the Saint Louis Ballet.
The Knox-Galesburg Symphony truly reflects the best of Galesburg and west-central Illinois. High artistic standards and innovative programming have earned the KGS numerous awards and honors from the Illinois Council of Orchestras — Orchestra of the Year, Conductor of the Year, General Manager of the Year, Cultural Leadership of the Year, Programming of the Year, Community Relations of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, Board President of the Year, and Contributor of the Year. In addition, the ICO has presented Meritorious Awards to Knox College, NAEIR, and Wells Fargo Bank for their support of the Symphony.
The Knox-Galesburg Symphony’s mission is “to foster, promote and increase the musical knowledge and appreciation of the public by organizing and presenting performances of music in programs chosen chiefly from the literature of symphonic music.” The Symphony supports contemporary music not only through performance, but by commission: they have commissioned several works by Illinois artists, including a symphonic tribute to August M. Bondi of the Galesburg Bondi family, composed by Symphony artistic director Bruce Polay based on text by the late Galesburg native Martin Litvin.