Like many of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s longtime audience members, Laurie Frank Lieberman first encountered the ensemble through its concerts for children; she attended them on Saturday afternoons with her siblings and mother, who was an opera singer. “It was always an exciting time,” Lieberman recalled in a recent interview. “I always loved the music.”
After Lieberman got married in 1959, her grandmother and mother invited her to join them in attending Friday matinee subscription concerts. During the years when she was raising children, these performances were a “respite” — “my Friday afternoons of calm and relaxation,” she said.
Today, Lieberman holds subscription tickets in nearly the same location as her grandmother’s seats, with a minor adjustment due to the 1990s renovation of Orchestra Hall. To her, it doesn’t matter which pieces are performed at any given concert. “I just go because I love the music,” she said. “I love everything.”
However, she does have a favorite concert memory: the October 2019 U.S. premiere of Avner Dorman’s Eternal Rhythm, a percussion concerto featuring Principal Percussion Cynthia Yeh as soloist. She found it fascinating to watch Yeh, who was wearing high heels, run between the many percussion instruments at the front of the stage. “She’s just amazing — and I loved the piece,” Lieberman said.
Every season, Lieberman manages the allocation of an endowed fund that her parents established to annually support a Friday afternoon CSO concert. She tries to choose a program that her siblings and other family members — children, grandchildren and cousins — will enjoy. Attending the endowed concert together each year is “a big family thing,” she noted.
Lieberman also serves as a Governing Member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and volunteers for several other organizations: the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago (JCC) and one of its initiatives, Violins of Hope, as well as special projects at her synagogue and the Ravinia Festival.
Violins of Hope restores, preserves and displays a private collection of violins, violas and cellos that belonged to Jews before or during World War II; some were played in concentration camps during the Holocaust. The JCC presents concerts featuring the instruments. These performances serve as acts of remembrance and are accompanied by educational programs that share the individual histories of the instruments.
In Illinois, the JCC is planning a Violins of Hope performance and display in Urbana-Champaign, performances by local community orchestras and programs at public libraries. “It’s a project that everybody and anybody should see,” Lieberman said. The group is also working to create an educational video about the Holocaust to enhance school curricula.
This spring, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago — the CSO's training ensemble for young professional musicians — is partnering with Violins of Hope to present performances at several Jewish retirement communities and at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. A string quartet of Civic musicians will present works by composers impacted by the Holocaust, and the program will feature select instruments from the Violins of Hope collection.
Whether volunteering with Violins of Hope or supporting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as a donor and subscriber, music is a meaningful through-line for Lieberman. “Music is an important part of my life,” she said. “The CSO is so beautiful, and we are so lucky to have such a magnificent orchestra here.”