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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) was founded by Theodore Thomas in 1891. The ensemble makes its home at Orchestra Hall in Chicago and plays a summer season at the Ravinia Festival. The music director is Riccardo Muti, who began his tenure in 2010. The CSO is one of five American orchestras commonly referred to as the "Big Five".
In 1890, Charles Norman Fay, a Chicago businessman, invited Theodore Thomas to establish an orchestra in Chicago. Under the name "Chicago Orchestra," the orchestra played its first concert October 16, 1891 at the Auditorium Theater. It is one of the oldest orchestras in the United States, along with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.
Orchestra Hall, now a component of the Symphony Center complex, was designed by Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham and completed in 1904. Maestro Thomas served as music director for thirteen years until his death shortly after the orchestra's newly built residence was dedicated December 14, 1904. The orchestra was renamed "Theodore Thomas Orchestra" in 1905 and today, Orchestra Hall still has "Theodore Thomas Orchestra Hall" inscribed in its façade.
In 1905, Frederick Stock became music director, a post he held until his death in 1942. The orchestra was renamed the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1913.
Subsequent music directors have included Désiré Defauw, Artur Rodziński, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim.
On May 5, 2008, the CSO Association's president Deborah Rutter announced that the orchestra had named Riccardo Muti as its 10th music director, starting with the 2010–2011 season, for an initial contract of 5 years. His contract has been renewed for another five years, through the 2020 season.
The orchestra has also hosted many distinguished guest conductors, including Thomas_Beecham, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Edward Elgar, Morton Gould, Paul Hindemith, Erich Kunzel, Erich Leinsdorf, Charles Munch, Eugene Ormandy, André Previn, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Leonard Slatkin, Leopold Stokowski, Richard Strauss, George Szell, Klaus Tennstedt, Michael Tilson Thomas, Bruno Walter, and John Williams. Many of these guests have also recorded with the orchestra. Carlos Kleiber made his only symphonic guest appearances in America with the CSO in October 1978 and June 1983.
The three principal guest conductors of the orchestra have been Carlo Maria Giulini, Claudio Abbado, and Pierre Boulez.
The CSO holds an annual fundraiser, originally known as the Chicago Symphony Marathon, more recently as "Radiothon" and "Symphonython," in conjunction with Chicago radio station WFMT. As part of the event, from 1986 through 2008, the orchestra released tracks from their broadcast archives on double LP/CD collections, as well as two larger sets of broadcasts and rarities (CSO: The First 100 Years, 12 CDs, 1991; CSO in the 20th Century: Collector's Choice, 10 CDs, 2000).
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra maintains a summer home at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois. The CSO first performed there during Ravinia Park's second season in November 1905 and continued to appear there on and off through August 1931, after which the Park fell dark due to the Great Depression. The CSO helped to inaugurate the first season of the Ravinia Festival in August 1936 and has been in residence at the Festival every summer since.
Many conductors have made their debut with the Chicago Symphony at Ravinia, and several have gone on to become Music Director at Ravinia, including Seiji Ozawa (1964–1968), James Levine (1973–1993), and Christoph Eschenbach (1995–2003). Currently, the position of Music Director of the Ravinia Festival is unfilled; the last Music Director, James Conlon, held the title from 2005–2015.
The Chicago Symphony has amassed an extensive discography. Recordings by the CSO have earned 62 Grammy Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. These include several Classical Album of the Year awards, awards in Best Classical Performance in vocal soloist, choral, instrumental, engineering and orchestral categories.
On May 1, 1916, Frederick Stock and the orchestra recorded the Wedding March from Felix Mendelssohn's music to A Midsummer Night's Dream for what was then known as the Columbia Graphophone Company. Stock and the CSO made numerous recordings for Columbia Records and the Victor Talking Machine Company, renamed RCA Victor in 1929. The Chicago Symphony's first non-acoustic electrical recordings were made for Victor in December 1925, including a performance of Karl Goldmark's In Springtime overture. These early electrical recordings were made in Victor's Chicago studios; within a couple of years Victor began recording the CSO in Orchestra Hall. Stock continued recording until 1942, the year he died.
In 1951, Rafael Kubelík made the first modern high fidelity recordings with the orchestra, in Orchestra Hall, for Mercury. Like the very first electrical recordings, these performances were made with a single microphone. Philips has reissued these performances on compact disc with the original Mercury label and liner notes.
In March 1954, Fritz Reiner made the first stereophonic recordings with the CSO, again in Orchestra Hall, for RCA Victor, including performances of two symphonic poems by Richard Strauss: Ein Heldenleben and Also sprach Zarathustra. Reiner and the orchestra continued to record for RCA Victor through 1963. These were mostly recorded in RCA's triple-channel "Living Stereo" process. RCA has digitally remastered the recordings and released them on CD and SACD. Jean Martinon also recorded with the CSO for RCA Victor during the 1960s, producing performances that have been reissued on CD.
Sir Georg Solti recorded with the CSO primarily for Decca Records. These Solti recordings were issued in the U.S. on the London label and include a highly acclaimed Mahler series, recorded, in part, in the historic Medinah Temple—some installments were recorded in the Krannert Center in the University of Illinois (Urbana, IL), as well as in the Sofiensaal in Vienna, Austria. Many of the recordings with Daniel Barenboim were released on Teldec.
In 2007, the Chicago Symphony formed its own recording label, CSO Resound©. After an agreement was reached with the Orchestra's musicians, arrangements were made for new recordings to be released digitally at online outlets and on compact disc. The first CSO Resound CD, a recording of Haitink's rendition of Mahler's Third Symphony, was released in the spring of 2007. Releases that followed included Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, Mahler's Sixth Symphony, and Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony (Grammy winner), all conducted by Haitink; Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony led by Myung-Whun Chung; "Traditions and Transformations: Sounds of Silk Road Chicago" with the Orchestra's Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant Yo-Yo Ma (Grammy winner); and recordings of Verdi's Requiem (Grammy winner) and Otello, under the direction of Muti.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus have recorded the music for two movies: Fantasia 2000 conducted by James Levine and Lincoln (2012 film) conducted by John Williams. Selections from the Orchestra and Chorus's recording of Johann Sebastian Bach's St Matthew Passion, conducted by Sir Georg Solti, were used in the movie Casino.
The Chicago Symphony first broadcast on the radio in 1925. Though often sporadic, there have been broadcasts ever since. With the 1965-1966 season, Chicago radio station WFMT began regular tape-delayed stereo broadcasts of CSO concerts, running through the 1968-1969 season. They resumed from 1976 through the 2000-2001 season before ceasing due to lack of sponsorship. In 2007, the broadcasts once again resumed with a 52-week series. The broadcasts are sponsored by BP and air on 98.7 WFMT in Chicago and the WFMT Radio Network. They consist of 39 weeks of recordings of live concerts, as well as highlights from the CSO's vast discography.
The CSO appeared in a series of telecasts on WGN-TV, beginning in 1953. The early 1960s saw the videotaped telecast series Music from Chicago, conducted by Fritz Reiner and guest conductors including Arthur Fiedler, George Szell, Pierre Monteux, and Charles Munch. Many of these televised concerts, from 1953 to 1963, have since been released to DVD by VAI Distribution.
Sir Georg Solti also conducted a series of concerts with the Chicago Symphony that were recorded for the European firm Unitel and were broadcast in the 1970s on PBS. They have subsequently been reissued by Decca Video on DVD.
Civic Orchestra of Chicago
Frederick Stock founded the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the first training orchestra in the United States affiliated with a major symphony orchestra, in 1919. Its goal is to recruit pre-professional musicians and train them as high-level orchestra players. Many alumni have gone on to play for the CSO or other major orchestras. It is currently the only training orchestra sponsored by a major orchestra in North America.
The Civic Orchestra performs half a dozen orchestral concerts and a chamber music series annually in Symphony Center and in other venues throughout the Chicago area free of charge to the public.
Music directors, conductors
Honors and awards
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was voted the best orchestra in the United States and the fifth best orchestra in the world by editors of the British classical music magazine Gramophone in November, 2008. The same was said by a panel of critics polled by the classical music website bachtrack in September, 2015.
Recordings by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have earned sixty-two Grammy Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Riccardo Muti, music director, has won two Grammy Awards, both with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, for the recording of Verdi's Messa da Requiem on the CSO Resound label. Duain Wolfe, chorus director, has won one Grammy Award for his collaboration with the Chorus, also for Verdi's Messa da Requiem on the CSO Resound label.
Bernard Haitink, former principal conductor, has won two Grammy Awards, including one with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the recording of Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony on the CSO Resound label.
Pierre Boulez, former conductor emeritus and principal guest conductor, won twenty-six Grammy Awards including eight with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Boulez is the third all-time Grammy winner, behind Sir Georg Solti (thirty-one) and Quincy Jones and Alison Krauss (twenty-seven each). Boulez also received the Academy's 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Sir Georg Solti, former music director and music director laureate, won thirty-one Grammy Awards—more than any other recording artist. He received seven awards in addition to his twenty-four awards with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. In addition, Sir Georg Solti and producer John Culshaw received the first NARAS Trustees' Award in 1967 for their "efforts, ingenuity, and artistic contributions" in connection with the first complete recording of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen with the Vienna Philharmonic. Solti also received the Academy's 1995 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Margaret Hillis, founder and longtime director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, won nine Grammy Awards for her collaborations with the Orchestra and Chorus.
African American Network
Governing Members (established 1894)
League of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (formerly the Women's Association, established 1934)
Overture Council (established 2009)
List of museums and cultural institutions in Chicago
Chicago Symphony Orchestra Sounds and Stories
From the Archives blog
Chicago Symphony Chorus website
Silk Road website
Interviews with Sir Georg Solti by Bruce Duffie, May & October, 1988
Interview with Margaret Hillis, founder of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, by Bruce Duffie, July, 1986
Chicago Symphony Orchestra "From The Archives" Marathon/Radiothon/Symphonython index
Other performers at this event:See all of Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Past Concerts
Chicago Symphony Orchestra