The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is consistently hailed as one of today’s leading orchestras. Live performances by the CSO are much in demand at home and in the most prestigious venues around the world. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra currently enjoys unique artistic leadership among international orchestras, with three of the world’s most celebrated conductors: eminent Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink, renowned French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, and Italian conductor Riccardo Muti. Haitink became principal conductor in 2006 and concludes his successful tenure at the end of the 2009/10 season. Boulez, whose long-standing relationship with the CSO led to his appointment as principal guest conductor in 1995, was named Helen Regenstein Conductor Emeritus in 2006. In May 2008, Muti was appointed the Orchestra’s tenth music director; his tenure begins in September 2010, and he currently serves as music director designate.
In collaboration with internationally renowned conductors and guest artists, the CSO performs well over 120 concerts each year at its downtown Chicago home, Symphony Center, and at the Ravinia Festival on Chicago’s North Shore, where it is in residence each summer. With its Institute for Learning, Access and Training, the CSO engages more than 150,000 Chicago-area residents annually. Since 1971, the CSO has undertaken 36 overseas tours: 27 to Europe, six to the Far East, and one each to Russia, Australia and South America. In 2007, three highly successful media initiatives were launched—the creation of CSO Resound, the Orchestra’s in-house record label; a return to the national airwaves with a new, self-produced weekly broadcast series; and the expansion of the CSO’s web presence through free video downloads of the innovative Beyond the Score presentations.
The Beyond the Score series has proved a highly popular and widely acclaimed audience-development initiative, designed not only for classical music aficionados, but also for newcomers looking to delve deeper into the world of classical music. Presentations offer a live multimedia documentary of one selected work, examining its context in history, how it fits into the composer’s output of works and the details of a composer’s life that influenced its creation, followed by a complete performance of the work by the CSO. Free video downloads of select Beyond the Score productions are available at www.beyondthescore.org.
Throughout its history, recording has been a significant part of the Orchestra’s activities. Since 1916, the Orchestra has amassed a discography numbering more than 900. In May 2007, CSO Resound, the Orchestra’s in-house label for CD and digital download releases, was launched. To date, releases on the CSO Resound label include Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, and Mahler’s First, Second, Third and Sixth Symphonies, all conducted by Bernard Haitink; Daphnis et Chloé, featuring the title work by Ravel and Poulenc’s Gloria with the Chicago Symphony Chorus and soprano Jessica Rivera, led by Haitink; Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, Four Études and Symphony in Three Movements with Pierre Boulez; Traditions and Transformations: Sounds of Silk Road Chicago, featuring the Silk Road Ensemble, Yo-Yo Ma and Wu Man; and a download-only recording of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony under Myung-Whun Chung.
Recordings by the CSO have earned 60 Grammy Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences—more than any other orchestra in the world. Most recently, the CSO Resound recording of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony with Haitink, which includes a DVD Beyond the Score presentation, won the 2008 Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance. Traditions and Transformations: Sounds of Silk Road Chicago received the Grammy for Best Engineered Album, Classical.
The CSO’s self-produced weekly radio broadcast series hit the national airwaves in April 2007 and is now syndicated to more than 300 markets nationwide on the WFMT Radio Network, as well as online at www.cso.org. These broadcasts offer a new and distinctive approach to classical music radio programming, with lively and engaging content designed to provide deeper insight and offer further connection to the music performed in the Orchestra’s concert season.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s distinguished history began in 1891, when Theodore Thomas, then the leading conductor in America and a recognized music pioneer, was invited by Chicago businessman Charles Norman Fay to establish a symphony orchestra here. Thomas’ aim to establish a permanent orchestra with performance capabilities of the highest quality was realized at the first concerts in October of that year. Maestro Thomas served as music director until his death in 1905—just three weeks after the dedication of Orchestra Hall, the Chicago Orchestra’s permanent home.
Thomas’ successor was Frederick Stock, who began his career in the viola section in 1895 and became assistant conductor four years later. His tenure at the Orchestra’s helm lasted 37 years, from 1905 to 1942—the longest of Chicago’s nine music directors. Dynamic and innovative, the Stock years saw the founding of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the first training orchestra in the United States affiliated with a major symphony orchestra, in 1919. He also established youth auditions, organized the first subscription concerts especially for children and began a series of popular concerts.
Three distinguished conductors headed the Orchestra during the following decade: Désiré Defauw was music director from 1943 to 1947; Artur Rodzinski assumed the post in 1947/48; and Rafael Kubelík led the Orchestra for three seasons from 1950 to 1953.
The next ten years belonged to Fritz Reiner, whose recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are still considered performance hallmarks. It was Maestro Reiner who invited Margaret Hillis to form the Chicago Symphony Chorus in 1957. For the five seasons from 1963 to 1968, Jean Martinon held the position of music director.
Sir Georg Solti, the Orchestra’s eighth music director, served from 1969 until 1991. He then held the title of music director laureate and returned to conduct the Orchestra for several weeks each season until his death in September 1997. Maestro Solti’s arrival in Chicago launched one of the most successful musical partnerships of our time. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first overseas tour came in 1971 under his direction, and subsequent European tours, as well as trips to Japan and Australia, have reinforced its reputation as one of the world’s finest musical ensembles.
Daniel Barenboim was named music director designate in January 1989, and he assumed leadership as the Orchestra’s ninth music director in September 1991, a position he held until June 2006. His music directorship was distinguished by the opening of Chicago’s new Symphony Center in 1997, highly praised operatic productions at Orchestra Hall, numerous virtuoso appearances with the Orchestra in the dual role of pianist and conductor, 21 international tours and an ongoing series of composer perspectives woven into the Orchestra’s subscription series. His tenure was also marked by a dedication to the next generation of orchestral musicians through his continued advocacy of the Civic Orchestra program, the training orchestra of the CSO.
Pierre Boulez, now conductor emeritus, is one of three musicians to have held the title of principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Carlo Maria Giulini began to appear in Chicago regularly in the late 1950s, and he was named principal guest conductor in 1969, serving until 1972. Claudio Abbado held the position from 1982 to 1985.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has long been associated with Ravinia, in Highland Park, Illinois, having first performed in Ravinia Park’s second season in November 1905 and appearing semiregularly through August 1931, after which the Park fell dark under the Great Depression. The Orchestra helped to inaugurate the first season of the Ravinia Festival in August 1936 and has been in residence at the Festival every summer since.