Galesburg Mayor Sal Garza stood at the podium on the stage at the Orpheum Theatre and declared, “I do hereby proclaim the weekend of April 17-18 2010 as the ‘Bruce Polay Weekend.’” The occasion was in honor of Knox College Professor and conductor of the Knox-Galesburg Symphony Bruce Polay.
This past weekend Polay received the Illinois Council of Orchestras’ Conductor of the Year Award, as well as special recognition of this achievement from the Illinois State Senate and House of Representatives, the Galesburg Symphony Society and Knox College in addition to the Bruce Polay Weekend proclamation.
People had gathered at the Orpheum not only to witness the awards, but also to hear the final performance of the season by the Knox-Galesburg Symphony. The evening included pieces by Clarice Assad, Charles-Camille Saint-Saens, Jennifer Hidgon and Alberto Evaristo Ginastera.
Before the performance began, however, the various awards were bestowed upon Polay. The Conductor of the Year Award was presented by Bryan Shilander, the Illinois Council of Orchestras Awards Chair.
Shilander said, “Bruce attracts soloists of local, regional, national and international caliber. The quality of music in the world is increased by Dr. Bruce Polay, and he accomplishes all this on a smaller budget than most other orchestras.”
Bob Clark, the former president of the Knox-Galesburg Symphony Society, Knox College Associate Dean Lori Haslem and Mayor Garza all spoke as well. Dean Haslem said, “Dr. Polay’s sustained excellence with the orchestra is a great point of pride, not just for the community, but also for Knox College.”
Polay said in an email “I am deeply gratified that the collective efforts of the members of the orchestra, the Galesburg Symphony Society Board of Directors and our Symphony administration have created such a positive image and reputation for our organization… I am humbled and pleased to have been recognized at this level which, from my view, is a recognition of the support given to me by the orchestra, the Board, the College and our community.”
The awards came as a surprise to Polay. “I knew that Pearl Strickland, the KGS Executive Director, had made an application on my behalf but was surprised to know that my name came out on top, particularly in the highly competitive “Professional Orchestra” category that placed the application alongside ensembles with budgets many times our own in much larger communities,” said Polay.
Following applause for Polay and the orchestra, the concert began as usual with the national anthem. The first piece of the evening was the Brazilian Fanfare by Assad. It was a Latin-flavored piece with brass fanfares and tambourines, reminiscent of a western with the warmth of Aaron Copland and West Side Story. The second piece of the evening was Saint-Saens’ Piano Concert No. 4 in C minor, Opus 44, performed by soloist Lisa Leonard. Her performance received a standing ovation.
The second half of the concert was made up of Blue Cathedral by Hidgon and Danzas Estancia by Ginastera, both continuing a seasonal theme for the evening. Each of the pieces had a sound of spring to them and contained Latin flavoring — lots of brass and rhythm.
During the second half of the concert, Polay himself played a solo piano piece in honor of Jack Barston. “Today we buried one of the finest men I’ve ever known… I’d like to play a tribute to Jack, a song I know he loved — The Sunny Side of the Street, 1931.”
Following the concert, there was a reception for Polay at the Orpheum office. Speaking about Polay’s awards, John Vallenga, Chairman of the Board of the Knox-Galesburg Symphony Society said, “I think it’s wonderful. It’s such a fantastic orchestra, especially for Knox College.”
Another board member, Dr. Church Borden, said, “He’s just an immensely talented guy, certainly deserving of this award.”
Faith Burdick, a violinist for the symphony spoke about working with Polay, “He is a really great guy. Lots of conductors have big heads. He doesn’t. He’s a genuinely nice person.”
Speaking about the declaration of the Bruce Polay Weekend, Polay said, “The complexities of life had our family celebrating four birthdays the day after the concert, so ‘BP Weekend’ was really a large family gathering of opening presents and great food at Chez Polay. Otherwise, with all due respect to such an honor, I put my legs into my pants one at a time, just like any other day.”