How it All Began
The Peoria Symphony, the 15th oldest orchestra in the United States, originally known as the Bradley Symphony Orchestra, began in 1898 under the direction and vision of musician, conductor Harold Plowe. November 24, 1898 the Peoria Star wrote:
"An orchestra is to be organized under the auspices of the Bradley Institute for the study of orchestral compositions of the best masters, classic and modern. It will be open to all persons who possess the requisite musical skill and are otherwise suitable for membership. The orchestra will be under the general supervision of Dr. C.T. Wyckoff of the Institute. It will be directed by Harold Plowe, whose experience as a teacher and conductor especially fit him for this service. It is hoped to make this a permanent feature of the educational work of the institute and Peoria."
Seventeen years after its inception the Bradley Symphony Orchestra incorporated to become the "Peoria Symphony Orchestra" and presented its first performance at the Shrine Temple, December 5, 1916 with 60 musicians and three soloists. Included in the playbill was a notice reading
"The Peoria Symphony Orchestra is not a money making enterprise. Its members are giving generously of time and ability with a desire to cooperate making Peoria broader and better. Financial help and moral support are necessary to further the aims of this institution. Will not our citizens contribute these essentials in this worthy cause"
A question the Peoria community answered and continues to answer with a resounding yes!
Plowe retired as conductor from the PSO in 1927. For approximately the next fifty years nearly a dozen different conductors directed the Peoria Symphony until 1978 when Dr. William Wilsen took the podium and remained for 21 years, the longest reign since that of Harold Plowe. Under his direction the orchestra rose to a new level, experienced its centennial celebration and was acclaimed nationally and internationally when in 1989 the orchestra received an invitation to play in Germany at the International Bodensee Festival. After Wilsen's retirement a new Music Director, David Commanday, took the helm summer of 1999 and remains today. As each Music Director before him, Commanday has brought his own vision and appeal to the PSO and struck a new chord with the community. Today season ticket sales and awareness are at a high the symphony hasn't experienced in over a decade.