Margo and Mike Oberman seek to expand access to music via campaign gift

Margo and Mike Oberman at Symphony Ball on Sept. 23, 2023

Todd Rosenberg Photography

For Margo Oberman, few sights are more gratifying than seeing Orchestra Hall filled with senior citizens and veterans enjoying one of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s free open rehearsals. As a longtime member of the League of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA), she was instrumental in creating this engagement program to align with 10th music director Riccardo Muti’s vision of expanding access to music among Chicago-area communities.

“The people that attend are so appreciative and so thankful,” she said. “Many of them have attended [the CSO] when they were younger and for various reasons aren’t able to get here now, so this gives them the opportunity to come into Symphony Center.”

Margo and her husband, Mike Oberman, are longtime subscribers and donors to the CSOA. Mike began attending concerts when he moved to Chicago in 1966, and together, they have been classical music fans for their entire 53-year marriage.

One of Margo’s favorite concert memories is of Principal Percussion Cynthia Yeh playing the snare drum in Ravel’s Bolero, conducted by Muti. “I was just mesmerized, spellbound,” she recalled. As for Mike, he considers Muti’s interpretation of Verdi’s Requiem “one of the most engaging and powerful performances I’ve attended in decades.”

Margo joined the Women’s Association (now known as the League) in 2001 after learning about the CSOA’s volunteer opportunities from an acquaintance. Since then, she has been involved in many capacities, including working on the League’s annual Musicians’ Luncheon and Fall in Love with Music events. In 2017, she co-chaired A Toast to Gershwin, a special fundraising event featuring conductor Bramwell Tovey.

She also served on the committee for the Youth Auditions (now known as the Crain-Maling Foundation CSO Young Artists Competition) for nine seasons, three of which she was chair, and was the League’s vice president of education for two seasons. Margo currently serves on the League’s executive committee and the board of the Negaunee Music Institute at the CSO.

Meanwhile, Mike serves on the board of the Ryan Opera Center, Lyric Opera’s training program for young professional singers. In their retirement years, they have taken a “divide and conquer” approach to their volunteer activities by being involved in different organizations, Mike said. “I’m really kind of Mr. Margo Oberman [at the CSO],” he joked. “But I really enjoy being here. I love the people and the music is, of course, beyond wonderful.”

Recently, the Obermans made a generous gift to SEMPRE ALWAYS: The Campaign for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which is a $175 million fundraising effort intended to a secure a financially sustainable future for the CSO and continue its strong traditions of musical excellence, education and community engagement. Their contribution established the Margo and Michael Oberman Community Access Fund, which supports open rehearsals for seniors and veterans and other initiatives that expand community access to the CSO.

“We chose to support the SEMPRE ALWAYS campaign because, to me, music is a universal language and it speaks to your soul,” said Margo. “And especially in these difficult times that the world is in, it just brings joy to me sitting in there and listening to this gorgeous music and having a couple of hours to unwind and relax and just breathe in the beautiful sounds that our orchestra plays.”

“For me, supporting SEMPRE ALWAYS has a lot to do with the future,” said Mike. “I’m really concerned about the development of young audiences, young orchestra members, young conductors — and so we are hoping that our gift will enable the symphony to continue these kinds of engagement programs and also to foster the education of all these wonderful young musicians.”

“We live in a city that boasts the Cubs and the Bears, who can’t win very much, but we also have the CSO, which is the number one orchestra in the country,” added Mike. “It’s a privilege in life to be part of anything that’s number one. When it happens to be one of your personal favorite things, it couldn’t be more wonderful. We’re so proud of the CSO, and we are delighted to be some small part of helping that tradition to continue.”

Margo Oberman (fourth from left) joins fellow members of the League of the CSOA and musicians of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago at the annual Civic Scholar Donor Dinner on Nov. 8, 2023.

Eric Snoza — SnoStudios