The Chicago Symphony Orchestra
A history of the CSO, CDs, review of a concert at the Lucerne Festival
Article added on
November 30, 2001
The History of the CSO
The first meeting for the foundation
of the Chicago Orchestral Association was held in December 1890. The Chicago
Orchestra itself was
founded the following year. Its inaugural concert, under the direction of
Theodore Thomas, the then leading American conductor, took place at the Auditorium Theatre on October 16, 1891.
The CSO quickly established itself as one of America's leading orchestras'
before becoming one of the world's best.
On October 22,
1892, the CSO presented the American première of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker
Suite. Another highlight in the early history of the orchestra
includes the appearances of composer-conductor Richard Strauss in 1904. He
directed, among other of his works, Also sprach Zarathustra and Till Eulenspiegel's
In may 1904, the construction of Orchestra Hall began. In December,
Theodore Thomas led the CSO in its first concert in
Orchestra Hall. On January 4, 1905, Thomas died of pneumonia at his home.
In his honor, the orchestra was renamed the Theodore Thomas Orchestra. On
April 11, the Board of Trustees unanimously elected Frederick Stock as his
successor for the post of music director; Stock's 37-year tenure is the longest in the
history of the CSO.
In November 1906, Camille Saint-Saëns made his only appearance with the
orchestra as a soloist in his own Second Piano Concerto. In April
1907, Edward Elgar did the same when he conducted his own In the South
Ouverture, Enigma Variations and one of the Pomp and
Circumstance marches. In December 1909, Sergei Rachmaninov made his
debut with the orchestra, conducting his Isle of the Dead and
playing his Second Piano Concerto.
Other memorable performances with the CSO include the debut with the
orchestra of the cellist Pablo Casals in January 1915 and of the violinist Jascha
Heifetz in November 1917. On December 31, 1920, the orchestra presented
the American première of Gustav Holst's The Planets. Igor
Stravinsky in 1925, Maurice Ravel and Vladimir Horowitz in 1928, Arnold
Schoenberg in 1934, Ernest Ansermet in 1936 and Isaac Stern in 1940 are
other famous artists' who have played with the Chicago Orchestra.
On November 20, 1942, the orchestra's music director Frederick Stock died
in Chicago. In November 1943, the Belgian conductor Désiré Defauw became
music director. In 1947, Artur Rodzinski took over, in 1950 Rafael Kubelik
was appointed, in 1953 Fritz Reiner began his tenure as music director. It
was Reiner who appointed Margaret Hillis, the founder and director of the
New York Concert Choir, to organize and train a symphony chorus for
Chicago. The Chicago Symphony Chorus made its subscription concert debut
in March 1958, under the direction of Bruno Walter.
In 1960, the CSO won the first of its 56 Grammy Awards (up to 2001): Best
Classical Performance for Orchestra for Bartok's Music for Strings,
Percussion and Celesta, conducted by Fritz Reiner (RCA).
From 1963 to 1968, Jean Martinon was music director. In 1969, Georg Solti
took over. In September and October 1971, the CSO embarked on its first
overseas tour, performing in nine European countries. In 1973, Sir Georg
Solti, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1972, appeared on the cover of Time
Magazine which declared that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was the leading
American orchestra. Solti won 24 Grammy Awards with the CSO (in total
31, more than any other recording artist). In 1995, Solti received the
Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1978, the Chicago Symphony Chorus won its first Grammy Award. Until her
death in 1998, Margaret Hillis won nine Grammies for her
collaborations with the Orchestra. In 1990, the CSO embarked on its first
tour of Russia. In 1994, Duain Wolfe became the second director of the
Chicago Symphony Chorus.
In September 1991, pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim began his tenure
as music director. On January 19, 1958, at the age of 15, he had presented
his first solo piano recital in Chicago. On November 4, 1969, he had
conducted the CSO for the first time at a concert at Michigan State
University. Barenboim had won four Grammies up to 2001. One of these was with
the CSO and another with members of the CSO as well as the Berlin Philharmonic
for the recording of Beethoven's Piano Quintet in E-flat major, K. 452.
(Read our article on Daniel
In 1995, conductor-composer Pierre Boulez was named the CSO's third
principal guest conductor, after Carlo Mario Giulini from 1969 to 1972 and
Claudio Abbado from 1982 to 1985. Pierre Boulez has won seven Grammy
Awards with the CSO and in total 23 Grammies until 2001.
Since 1916. the CSO has made more than 900 recordings, presented more than
260 world premières and commissioned more than fifty new works.
Daniel Barenboim conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the
Lucerne Festival on September 12, 2001. Photo Copyright: Priska Ketterer/Lucerne
Further reading about Lucerne, Switzerland:
A history of Lucerne.
Gustav Mahler sheet music.
Daniel Barenboim conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Lucerne Festival on September 12, 2001. Photo Copyright: Priska Ketterer/Lucerne Festival.
Review of a concert of the CSO at the Lucerne Festival
On September 11, 2001, the day of the
terrorist attacks on America, the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra decided to perform at the Lucerne Festival, beginning
its concert with a short declaration by conductor Daniel Barenboim, a
minute of silence to commemorate the victims, followed by the playing of
the American national anthem before
executing the scheduled program.
The next day, the orchestra played Elliott Carter's Partita for Orchestra
and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5 (Gustav
Mahler sheet music.). Carter's composition was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
and Daniel Barenboim in 1993. The CSO regularly performs
the piece and, therefore, if any orchestra knows how to perform it, it is
the CSO. Unfortunately, that day's execution in Lucerne was "nothing to
write home about". The musicians probably could not concentrate.
After the pause, the CSO played Mahler's Symphony No. 5.
Somebody who closely follows the orchestra told me that he cannot think of a
finer Mahler orchestra today. To make a long story short: I can only
agree. Critics who covered all the three Mahler symphonies played in
Lucerne considered that the CSO's performance of the Fifth was the
weakest - I have never heard a better weak performance!
Written in 1901-02, Mahler's Symphony No. 5 premièred in Cologne in
1904. The opening long trumpet call begins a new chapter in Mahler's music.
Unlike the first four symphonies, it is not inspired by folk tale and
song, it does not call on the human voice and is not explained by the
written word. As Bruno Walter put it, Mahler "is now aiming to write
music as a musician". It was a switch to an exclusively instrumental
symphonic style and the Symphonies Nos. 5-7 need no programmatic
discussion. (Phillip Huscher).
The funeral march with the flawless trumpet in the beginning was
impressive - the precision of the wind section in general was outstanding.
The strings' sound was clear-cut too. At the same time, the CSO never
sounded "clinical", the music was emotionally engaging. There
was no superficial drama.
In the Scherzo, the forceful violins sounded more compact, more
unified. The lyrical flute, the thoughtfulness of the
orchestra's play, the intensification of the music with the wind section
joining the strings and the dramatic ending of the movement were a pure
joy to listen to. As Mahler himself put it: The Scherzo shows
"a human being in the full light of day, in the prime of his
life." The same could be said about the orchestra executing his
The concert's highlight came with the very slow Adagietto - known
to a larger public because Luchino Visconti used it in his 1971 film Death in
Venice. The harp was enchanting and its harmonic interplay with the
strings was perfect. The mix of despair, grief, tenderness and love opened up
the listeners' hearts.
The Rondo-Finale with its joyful and innocent Allegro was a
contrast to the previous movement. The orchestra's range of expression, never
one dimensional with Mahler, seemed to have no limit. After this
outstanding performance there is no doubt that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
is one of the leading orchestras in the world.
Since the CSO and the Lucerne Festival embarked on a long-term
relationship, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will be one of the
orchestras in residence in 2002. Therefore, you can expect future CSO
concert reviews by Cosmopolis.
Daniel Barenboim conducts the CSO; Maxim Vengerov, violin: Brahms
Violin Concerto op. 77. Teldec, 1999. Get it from Amazon.com,
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Boulez conducts Varèse: Amériques,
Arcana, Déserts, Ionisation. Deutsche Grammophon, 2001.
Get it from Amazon.com, Amazon.de,
Pierre Boulez has been interested in the music of Edgar Varèse
(1883-1965) for a long time. Some twenty years ago, he recorded his
complete works with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Ensemble
InterContemporain. The CD recorded with the Chicago Symphony shows Boulez
and his orchestra at the height of their technical abilities, making the
avant-garde music transparent in its finest details and complexity. After
arriving in New York in 1915, Varèse integrated Manhattan's whistles and
sirens into his composition Amériques (1921), opening the world of
music to the sounds of the new world he was trying to describe
musically. The last piece composed by Varèse to be recorded on the CSO-CD, Déserts,
was completed in Paris and, again, integrates new sounds:
electronic music. Déserts was first performed in 1954 by a young
French composer... Pierre
Daniel Barenboim and the CSO: Mahler Symphony No. 5. Teldec, 1998.
Get it from Amazon.com,
This is a 1997-recording from Cologne with the CSO conducted by Barenboim.
It is also the symphony they presented at the Lucerne Festival 2001.