History of the CSO

Beginning with the incorporation of The Orchestral Association in 1890, find out more about the CSO’s distinguished history.

CSO Biography >
Former Musicians (PDF)
Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center (PDF)


  • THEODORE THOMAS

    In 1889, Charles Norman Fay encountered Thomas in New York and inquired, "Would you come to Chicago if we gave you a permanent orchestra?" Thomas’s reply: "I would go to hell if they gave me a permanent orchestra."

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  • FREDERICK STOCK

    Stock and the Orchestra made their first recoding in 1916, and during the 1919-20 season he inaugurated a regular subscription series of youth concerts as well as the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, a training orchestra.

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  • DÉSIRÉ DEFAUW

    Defauw introduced Chicago audiences to the works of several contemporary composers, including Barber, Bloch, Carpenter, Chadwick, Copland, Elgar, Goldmark, Milhaud, Sibelius, Walton and Warlock.

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  • ARTUR RODZINSKI

    The highlight of Rodzinski's tenure was a full-scale performance of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde with Kirsten Flagstad at the Civic Opera House.

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  • RAFAEL KUBELÍK

    Kubelík made his American debut with the Chicago Symphony in November 1949, and the success of those appearances led to his appointment as the Orchestra’s fifth music director.

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  • FRITZ REINER

    Under Reiner’s leadership, the Orchestra made several landmark recordings for RCA Records including Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben and Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky.

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  • JEAN MARTINON

    Martinon directed the Orchestra away from the Germanic in favor of the French style that was more fluid than bold; he also conducted a series of contemporary concerts and led a baroque music festival.

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  • SIR GEORG SOLTI

    Solti served as music director for twenty-two years and is credited with greatly extending and enhancing the Orchestra’s worldwide reputation, leading the first overseas tour in 1971.

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  • DANIEL BARENBOIM

    Barenboim’s music directorship was distinguished by the opening of Symphony Center, highly praised operatic productions, and numerous appearances in the dual role of pianist and conductor.

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