David and Dolores Nelson

Barbara Levin

David and Dolores Nelson have been CSO subscribers for nearly fifty years and frequently attend Civic Orchestra of Chicago concerts. They are supporters of the CSO Annual Fund and the Negaunee Music Institute, and members of the Theodore Thomas Society. David is an accomplished pianist and piano teacher, and past student of recently retired CSO Principal Piano Mary Sauer. Dolores served as a math teacher for thirty-seven years and also volunteered with the Elgin Symphony. Last season, the Nelsons generously named a seat in Orchestra Hall in honor of Margaret Hillis, the founding director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus.

What inspires your support of the CSO and Institute? It’s important for us to see audiences grow and young people engaged in music. These audiences need our support, as does the orchestra itself. Donating is an easy way for us to help. The CSO has brought us so much joy and music plays such a large role in our lives. As we grow older, if we don’t support our orchestra and music and the arts, we won’t be able to pass that joy to younger generations. Young people will sustain this art form for the future. We are so grateful to feel a part of the CSO community.

What makes you such big fans of the Civic Orchestra? It’s such a joy to watch these young, talented musicians at work. We love going to the Civic open rehearsals and watching their interactions with the conductors’ different personalities! These talented young people are as good as any other orchestra in the country. The training they receive is extraordinary.

What inspired you to name a seat in honor of Margaret Hillis? We knew a lot about Hillis and her musicianship through the Elgin Symphony, where she was music director from 1971–85. Dolores served as ticket chairman there from 1976–82, sending out tickets to all the Elgin subscribers. In the 1970s, Margaret asked David to perform as a soloist alongside the Elgin Symphony on multiple occasions. In 1976, for the U.S. bicentennial, Margaret asked David to play Edward McDowell’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor as part of an Elgin Symphony program of American composers. This piece is very difficult, so he called Mary Sauer, who also accompanied the Chicago Symphony Chorus and knew Hillis very well. David continued to play under Margaret’s baton with the Elgin Symphony and occasionally accompanied rehearsals with the Elgin Choral Union Chorus. Four of his piano students even won young artist competitions she held! When we heard about naming a seat to honor someone at Symphony Center, she was the first person we thought of.

What was it like working with Hillis closely? Margaret was a very serious individual. Rarely did you see her laugh, but she smiled a lot and was very professional and respectful. When she wasn’t conducting, she was studying an orchestral score—always busy. She was just as serious when working with a chorus as she was with an orchestra. She was easy to work with, but everybody had great respect for her, and you learned a lot.

Any advice for those looking to become more involved? Anybody who truly loves music and the CSO should become involved beyond attending concerts. Learn more about becoming a donor or a volunteer, or joining a group like the Theodore Thomas Society. The CSO and the arts need the support of the people, and it’s our responsibility to ensure the CSO and music are available to the next generation of musicians and audience members.