Conducting Elgin’s Symphony into a New Era

As he sets off on his debut season, the new music director of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra is blending tradition with innovation and stretching his work beyond the stage.

Elgin Symphony Orchestra photo.

Taking up the baton of an established symphony orchestra involves more than finding a modern take on an intricate, often-beloved composition. It also means guiding a respected organization into an exciting and dynamic future.

Chad Goodman, the recently appointed music director of Elgin Symphony Orchestra (ESO), is doing just that as he launches a new era of artistic growth and community engagement while living up to the orchestra’s stellar reputation.

“It’s surreal,” says Goodman. “The beauty of getting to be in a position like this, as a music director of an orchestra with such a rich history, is building upon that.”

What began in 1950 as a community ensemble led by Douglas Steensland, director of the Elgin High School Band, has transformed into a professional ensemble woven into the rich tapestry of Elgin’s history.

That history looms large as Goodman takes up the conductor’s baton. Throughout the ESO’s 74-year tenure, the orchestra has seen just five artistic leaders. Each made an indelible mark. Steensland paved the way for Grammy-winning conductor Margaret Hillis, followed by Robert Hanson, whose 37-year tenure saw ESO named Orchestra of the Year three times by the Illinois Council of Orchestras. That same council named Hanson’s successor, Andrew Grams, Conductor of the Year in 2015. Now, as Goodman steps onto the podium, he’s prepared to further build on the strong foundation laid by those before him.

“Something I find so special about Elgin is this orchestra is of such a high level. It’s respected around the country and the world,” says Goodman. “I’ve met people all around the world in the field who know ESO. It has such an important legacy for the quality of music it shares with its community. My goal is to inject the organization with the enthusiasm and overpowering amount of love I have for this craft and this music.”

Taking bold steps forward is nothing new for the 34-year-old Goodman. Lauded for his imaginative programming and commanding stage presence, Goodman garnered acclaim for “reshaping the landscape of classical music,” in a 2016 article from Forbes Magazine. In his role as conducting fellow of Miami’s New World Symphony from 2019 to April 2023, Goodman continued making strides by orchestrating a diverse array of performances.

Since 2018, Goodman has also served as an assistant conductor to the San Francisco Symphony. His background also includes positions like conducting fellow for Festival Napa Valley, music director of the Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra, conducting fellow of the Atlantic Music Festival and rehearsal conductor for the San Francisco Ballet.

He also teaches workshops to emerging musicians at music schools, universities and conservatories nationwide. In 2022, he penned a comprehensive guide for music school graduates entitled “You Earned a Music Degree. Now What?”

“So often what happens as a young musician is you go to college, and they train you to be a great musician,” says Goodman. “You put in the practice time, you have private lessons with great teachers and mentors, you play in orchestras and chamber ensembles and things like that. Then you graduate with your degree, and you have to figure out how to make a living.”

That hasn’t been a problem for Goodman, who graduated from Eastman School of Music in 2011 and San Francisco State University in 2013. In his new role, he’s kicking things off with a burst of excitement. The season premiere Oct. 7 and 8 brings together Mozart’s lively “The Magic Flute Overture,” Strauss’ romantic “Four Last Songs,” and Rachmaninoff’s evocative “Symphonic Dances.” The synergy between these pieces creates a deeply moving experience, says Goodman.

“This music is romantic and heart-wrenching. There’s a real beauty to these works,” he says. “All three of these pieces were among the last pieces these composers wrote.”

The enchantment continues on Nov. 4 and 5, as Goodman and the orchestra join with violinist Stephen Rose and cellist Brant Taylor in a program featuring R. Halfter’s “Obertura festiva,” Brahms’ transcendent “Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra,” and Beethoven’s vibrant “Symphony No. 2.”

“Beethoven’s second symphony is incredibly beautiful and charming,” says Goodman. “It’s an upbeat, lively symphony that focuses more on what it means to feel happy and alive. I think it’s going to be a great pairing with the Brahms double concerto, which is much moodier, darker and ominous, and this Beethoven is like a glass of champagne.”

As December brings colder weather, ESO shifts gears for its beloved “Holiday Spectacular” on Dec. 9 and 10. Goodman promises holiday enchantment with contributions from the Integrity School of Dance and the Elgin Master Chorale.

Ringing in the new year, acclaimed flutist Brandon Patrick George graces the stage Jan. 13 and 14, alongside guest conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya, for a mesmerizing performance that includes Ibert’s graceful “Flute Concerto.” Then, prepare for a cinematic experience on Feb. 3 and 4 with “The Magic of Hollywood,” where Goodman and the orchestra bring iconic movie melodies to life.

Violinist Isabella Lippi then joins Goodman and ESO March 2 and 3 for a performance of the evocative “Janitzio” by Revueltas, Mozart’s “Violin Concerto No. 4” and Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 5.”

Experience ESO’s captivating performances on April 6 and 7 as Goodman and pianist Orli Shaham bring to life Brahms’ spirited “Academic Festival Overture,” R. Schumann’s “Piano Concerto” and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 2, ‘Ukrainian.’”

To close the season, Goodman and the Elgin Master Chorale produce a stirring program on May 4 and 5 featuring Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus,” Jessie Montgomery’s inspiring “Hymn for Everyone” and Beethoven’s triumphant “Symphony No. 9.”

The Hemmens Cultural Center in downtown Elgin is the venue for the majority of ESO’s performances this year. Goodman recalls feeling an immediate connection with the orchestra during his audition concert there. The center’s atmosphere fosters a powerful connection between performers and the audience, leading to unforgettable musical experiences and forged connections, he says.

“I want our concerts to feel like a way of unifying the community,” says Goodman. “There are so many differences people may have, but when you come together over something as beautiful and universal as music, you put everything else aside.”

Despite his strong connection to Hemmens, Goodman is excited about ESO’s expansion plans. A new Friday Favorites series takes place Oct. 13 and April 12 at Elgin Community College’s Blizzard Theatre. These programs focus on well-known classical music found in popular culture.

The orchestra’s woodwind and string sections enjoy their own road show this fall at First United Methodist Church of Elgin. On, the Music for Winds concert puts the woodwind section centerstage. Then, on March 23, the string section offers Music for Strings.

Additionally, members from ESO’s brass and percussion sections plan to delight audiences with a free holiday performance on Dec. 3 at the Saint Anne Catholic Community church in Barrington.

“Not being a stationary organization, being one on the move, is important because sometimes it might be hard for a family to commute and get to a concert,” says Goodman. “The idea that we are out and about in the greater community only helps with achieving the accessibility that we want to have for the organization.”

Goodman has high hopes for a transformative journey, where tradition merges with innovation to enrich the lives of northwest suburban residents. And, since this is his first year as an Elgin resident, he welcomes new friendships, too.

“Everyone is welcome to come to any of our concerts, whether they love classical music or it’s a new thing,” says Goodman. “Be open to just getting lost in the moment, and if you ever see me around town, please come and say hello.”