New Elgin Symphony Orchestra CEO says he wants to reflect the city and 'people to have fun'

  • Elgin Symphony Orchestra CEO Marc Thayer says he wants the organization to become a bigger part of the Elgin community.

    Elgin Symphony Orchestra CEO Marc Thayer says he wants the organization to become a bigger part of the Elgin community. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • The Elgin Symphony Orchestra's 2021-22 season is underway with a cast of rotating guest conductors.

    The Elgin Symphony Orchestra's 2021-22 season is underway with a cast of rotating guest conductors. Courtesy of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra

 
 
Updated 12/10/2021 4:15 AM

New Elgin Symphony Orchestra CEO Marc Thayer wants you to know that yes, you can wear jeans to the symphony. Or go formal. He doesn't care.

He just wants to see you there.

 

"The challenge is changing the perception of what an orchestra does and who it's for," Thayer said.

"For 100 years, orchestras encouraged the perception that it was for the elite. But it didn't used to be that way and doesn't have to be now. It can be fun, and we want people to have fun."

Thayer took over as CEO in July, replacing Executive Director Erik Malmquist. He has since hired four new employees who have all moved to Elgin.

"We're very much about Elgin," he said. "We are very much involved in giving to the community and getting to know people here as quickly as possible."

That desire to show his connection to the community prompted Thayer to speak unexpectedly at a recent city council meeting.

Last week, the Elgin City Council voted to forgive a $161,841 loan debt the ESO owes to the city.

The council had agreed in 2017 that the ESO wouldn't have to repay the debt, so the forgiveness was little more than an accounting move.

Still, it was met with some pushback by council member Tish Powell, who said Elgin has "been giving and giving and giving to ESO."

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She also took issue with the fact that the orchestra markets itself as ESO, rather than Elgin Symphony Orchestra, and was concerned that the money only benefitted "a select few" people who attend the symphony.

Thayer wanted the council and the public to recognize that wasn't his vision for the orchestra.

"I have very different goals for the next few years, and I wanted them to hear that," Thayer said. "Some people think the orchestra is just for a select few, and I know that's how it has seemed in the past. It's very much not that way now."

Thayer said he wants the orchestra to reflect the community.

"I'm glad that the orchestra started doing a mariachi concert once a year for the past two years," he said. "That's a nice start. But if your community is more than 50% Hispanic, that's not enough.

"It's not about what you play," he said.

"It's about making them feel welcome and inviting them to come."

So the ESO started doing its communications in both Spanish and English, trying to become a fully bilingual organization.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"This organization hasn't really taken the time to get to know its community and the way it's evolved, and accepted how it's evolving," he said. Thayer, who is bilingual, said a translator is among those recently hired.

The ESO is developing a community advisory committee to better engage with the community.

"We're going to do concerts in churches and community centers," Thayer said.

He also wants to add more school programming. Lower prices, especially for young people, are also in the works.

Thayer said the organization isn't going to ignore neighboring communities, noting it has a lot of supporters and patrons from Barrington, the Dundees, Schaumburg and the Tri-Cities. But he wants more emphasis put on the 'E' in ESO.

"I feel as if the orchestra has focused on those communities more than Elgin, for various reasons," Thayer said. "We're going to be better members of this community.

"We don't want to be the West suburban orchestra," he said. "We are the Elgin Symphony Orchestra."

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