Photo: With Maestro Yuri Temirkanov, Music Director of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic,
backstage at Chicago Symphony Center, April 2016
Celebrating 20 Years
by Philip Simmons
It was a hot summer day in 1997 when I met Maestro Temirkanov, backstage at Ravinia. Already I had a great admiration for the man--and a keen desire to learn about his music-making. However I arrived with an agenda: to explain how I was invited to organize the first “American Music Festival in Saint Petersburg,” and to ask for his permission to hold it in the Great Philharmonic Hall.
I received a resounding yes! Whether it was his profound intuition, my courage, or the optimism of the time, there would now BE an “American Music Festivals,” and it would start with a bang! Twenty years later we continue to reach out around the world in much the same way that that led to the successful presentation of that first Festival in 1998. Making lasting friendships, collaborating with world class performers and institutions, and being in the right place at the right time.
After three annual festivals of American orchestral music in Russia, in 2001 we presented “American Music Festivals visits Eastern Europe,” branching out to the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. The expanding diversity of our outreach led to flexibility and wider support. It mirrored the make-up of our home base Chicago, rich in cultural vitality, and attracting wonderful musicians from around the world.
The events of September 11 made our exchange efforts more relevant and created new challenges. To streamline orchestral activities, American Music Festivals merged with the Lincolnwood Orchestral Association, placing a greater priority on reciprocal concerts. Although it has gone through a number of phases, our Chicago program continues to evolve, with the Lincolnwood Chamber Orchestra remaining a solid anchor.
In 2009 my wife Jennifer and I relocated to Hawaii. Working with musicians from the former Honolulu Symphony, we presented concerts as the Orchestra of the Hawaiian Islands and realized our first exchange with Asia. Here we have learned a great deal about sustainability, Pacific cultures, and a respect for world music. And we have racked up the miles, flying back and forth to Chicago and keeping our program in Europe strong, with American music in places like Sarajevo and Minsk.
Now in 2018 we build new relationships, working closely with the Polish community in Chicago and reaching out to China (from both Chicago and Hawaii). Regardless of which way the pendulum swings, American music and culture is ALWAYS well received around the world, opening the door for all kinds of exchange and good will. Let us know how we can collaborate with you.
Over the last 20 years we have demonstrated a keen persistence and ability to adapt and change course. We continue to look around and reexamine our environment, coming up with new solutions and paths forward. There are so many to thank, who have contributed to the success and continuity of American Music Festivals, which has touched so many people around the world. As we say in Hawaii, “mahalo!”