In the last three decades, just two men have served as music director of the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, the 15th-oldest orchestra in the nation. In 1999, David Commanday took the helm, succeeding the retiring Dr. William Wilsen, whose 21-year tenure marked the longest reign since that of its founder, Harold Plowe. Commanday grew up in a musical household: his father was a conductor and music critic, his mother a professionally trained musician.
A graduate of Harvard University and the Vienna Hochschule fur Musik, Commanday was associate conductor of the New Jersey Symphony and San Diego Symphony, principal conductor of the Richmond Ballet and music director of the Boston Ballet and Greater Boston Youth Symphony prior to his arrival in Peoria.
Building on a solid classical foundation, Commanday has brought his unique vision to the PSO, and his passion and dedication to his craft is readily apparent throughout his performances. He has introduced a remarkable succession of soloists to town—including former Harvard classmate Yo-Yo Ma—and his fondness for contemporary composers and unconventional programming has significantly expanded the scope of the Symphony’s repertoire.
The Journal Star put it well: “Commanday has soul. He takes risks. And he has what it takes to make his musicians soar.” He lives in Peoria with his wife, Karla Commanday-Mirosav, their three children and four Scottish terriers.
1. Three things I’d want on a deserted island: My family, our dogs and my cello!
2. Proudest moment/achievement: Our wedding, and then the birth of our kids. Concerts, honors, and degrees come well after these…
3. Famous person, dead or alive, I’d like to meet: Mozart or Beethoven. First, I’d say thank you, and then I’d ask what the next composition would have been!
4. Top pet peeve: TV commercials, always too loud and obnoxious, often inappropriate, and far too frequent and long. Also, background music in public places, and waitpersons who won’t give an opinion of the choices on the menu!
5. Favorite vacation spot: A beautiful beach on a South Pacific island, rarely visited by anyone—including, unfortunately, me.
6. Three words that best describe me: Musical, ambitious, self-critical.
7. Favorite aspect of central Illinois: A great arts environment, so far above every visitor’s expectations! Oh, and the easy, gracious way we can get anywhere in our traffic…
8. What are your quirky habits? I crave silence before performances—sometimes it’s a pillow over my head, or earplugs…generally absence of input, because the dark is very welcome then, too.
9. What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Modesty—a poor counterfeit for humility.
10. Words to live by: I like a prayer, which I’ve heard in different ways: Lord, give me the courage to change what must be changed, the serenity to accept that which cannot be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.