Mission and History


The Lake Forest Symphony aims to foster a community that is enriched, educated, and transformed by the power of music. The Symphony’s mission is to bring high quality, innovative musical performances to diverse audiences to inspire creativity, strengthen connections, and engage the community. Our ongoing commitment to access, educational opportunities, and partnerships ensures that orchestral music thrives and enhances the quality of life for all.

About the Symphony

Awards & Recognition

Illinois Arts Council

  • Orchestra of the Year, 2019 & 2006

  • Conductor of the Year (Vladimir Kulenovic), 2019

  • Executive Director of the Year (Susan Lape), 2014

  • Symphony Guild of the Year, 2006 & 2011

  • Conductor of the Year (Alan Heatherington), 2005 & 2012

League of American Orchestras

  • Featured Guest Orchestra at the 1991 American Symphony Orchestra Conference

The Lake Forest Symphony (LFS), founded in 1957 is a fully professional regional symphony based out of Lake Forest, IL. The Symphony, a 501c3 non-profit, performs throughout the Lake County area including at the Gorton Community Center and the James Lumber Center.

Robert Kalter and William English founded the Lake Forest Symphony in 1957 as a chamber orchestra of volunteer musicians. By 1965 the group had over 60 players, and in 1988 became fully professional. Under the visionary leadership of conductor Victor Aitay, then Concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Symphony continued to grow in its artistic ability and stature.

In 1991 the Symphony was chosen from twelve orchestras in the Midwest to be a featured guest orchestra at the American Symphony Orchestra League’s National Conference in Chicago. In October of the same year, pianist Andre Watts performed two benefit concerts with the Symphony to celebrate its 35th anniversary.

Photo by Elliott Mandel

Photo by Elliott Mandel

As the only fully-professional orchestra in Lake County, IL, the Lake Forest Symphony has been honored numerous times by the Illinois Council of Orchestras and the League of American Orchestras. In 2018, the Lake Forest Symphony’s debut commercial album, Liquid Melancholy, was nominated for a GRAMMY award.

After 60 years, the Symphony continues to grow and expand its reach in the community. In 2014, the Symphony welcomed it's 7th Music Director, Vladimir Kulenovic. Maestro Kulenovic has been hailed by critic John von Rhein as a “conductor with an uncommon passion”. The competitive selection process of a new Music Director was covered in a radio documentary by 98.7 WFMT called “The Search”. In 2015 he was the winner of the Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award and distinguished as the 2015 “Chicagoan of the Year in Classical Music”

development infographic.JPG

The Symphony performs five Masterworks Series orchestra concerts and four Salon Series chamber music concerts at its homes of the Gorton Community Center and the College of Lake County's James Lumber Center. Additional venues have held the Symphony, including the Lake Forest Academy's Cressey Center for the Arts and the Genesee Theatre.

The Symphony also provides a variety of community outreach and engagement programs including pre-concert lectures with musicologist Jim Kendros, performances in schools, and Musical Memories. The Lake Forest Symphony also celebrates the music of new and living composers, including its Composer-in-Residence, James Stephenson. An internationally renowned composer and resident of Lake Forest, Mr. Stephenson’s music has been recorded by the Symphony on the 2017 album with Cedille Records, Liquid Melancholy. The album was nominated for a GRAMMY award in 2018.

American League of Orchestras.jpg

Vladimir Kulenovic, Music Director

Vladimir Kulenovic

Designated by the Chicago Tribune as the “Chicagoan of the Year in Classical Music” and hailed by the distinguished critic John von Rhein as “conductor with an uncommon passion”, Vladimir Kulenovic is the winner of the 2015 Sir Georg Solti Award and is currently in his fourth season as Music Director of the Lake Forest Symphony on Chicago’s North Shore.  Under his leadership, Lake Forest Symphony has earned continuous critical acclaim, expanded its audience base and is currently producing its first ever commercially released CD recordings under the prestigious Cedille Records label in its 60 year history.  Having concluded four seasons as Associate Conductor of the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, where he conducted an average of one hundred performances annually, Mr. Kulenovic also served as assistant conductor with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Resident Conductor of the Belgrade Philharmonic in Serbia, and Principal Conductor of the Kyoto International Music Festival in Japan.

Mr. Kulenovic’s U.S. guest conducting engagements include the symphonies of Alabama, Chicago, Columbus, Grand Rapids, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Knoxville, Utah, San Francisco, Illinois and South Bend Symphony, as well as the Louisville Orchestra and Oklahoma City Philharmonic.

Worldwide, Mr. Kulenovic has appeared with the Beethoven-Orchester/Bonn, Bilkent Symphdony/Ankara Turkey, Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss, Leipziger Symphonie Orchester, Malaysia Philharmonic, Minas Gerais Philharmonic/Brasil, National Arts Centre Orchestra/Ottawa Canada, Orquesta Filarmónica de Jalisco/Mexico, Orchestra Sinfonica de Espana, Orchestra Classica de Santa Cecilia, Slovenia Philharmonic, Taipei Symphony, Zagreb Philharmonic, Macedonian Philharmonic, and the Macedonian National Opera.  This season, Mr. Kulenovic will conduct the French tour of the Basque National Orchestra of Spain.

Festival appearances include Aspen, Cabrillo, Finland’s Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival, Round Top/Texas, Salzburg Mozarteum, and Verbier, and critically acclaimed collaborations with such celebrated soloists as Leon Fleisher, Augustin Hadelich, Mischa Maisky, Joaquín Achúcarro, Barry Douglas, Philippe Quint, Joseph Silverstein, Akiko Suwanai, Stefan Milenkovich, William Burden and Sasha Cooke.  

In 2012, Vladimir Kulenovic was awarded the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Scholarship and the position of conducting assistant with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, which enabled him to work closely with the late Kurt Masur.  He has also assisted Bernard Haitink with the Boston Symphony, prepared orchestras for Zubin Mehta, and served as cover conductor with the Baltimore Symphony, Baltimore Opera, and Florentine Opera/Milwaukee.  

Mr. Kulenovic holds graduate diplomas in conducting from both The Juilliard School and the Peabody Institute where his teachers were James DePreist and Gustav Meier.  He earned a bachelor’s degree in piano performance and a master’s degree in conducting from the Boston Conservatory, where he graduated summa cum laude. Among his numerous awards are the 2012, 2013, and 2014 Solti Foundation U.S. Career Development Award and the Charles Schiff Conducting Prize for Excellence.  He was one of six top young conductors chosen by the League of American Orchestras for the 2013 Bruno Walter National Conducting Preview.

“Kulenovic is personable, charming, dedicated, and talented. His passion and infectious enthusiasm made the concert an incredibly moving experience.” – Lake Forest Symphony Subscriber

Conductor's graphic.jpg