The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is consistently hailed as one of today’s leading orchestras. Performances by the CSO are much in demand at home and in the most prestigious music capitals of the world. In September 2010, renowned Italian conductor Riccardo Muti became the CSO’s tenth music director. His vision for the Orchestra—to deepen its engagement with the Chicago community, to nurture the legacy of the CSO while supporting a new generation of musicians, and to collaborate with visionary artists—signals a new era for the institution. French composer and conductor Pierre 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 collaboration with internationally renowned conductors and guest artists, the CSO performs well over 150 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. Through The Institute for Learning, Access, and Training, the CSO engages more than 200,000 Chicago-area residents annually. In 2007, three highly successful media initiatives were launched—CSO Resound, the Orchestra’s in-house record label for CDs and digital downloads; a return to the national airwaves with a new, self-produced weekly broadcast series; and the expansion of the CSO’s web presence with free video downloads of innovative Beyond the Score presentations.
In January 2010, Yo-Yo Ma became the CSO’s first Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant, appointed by Riccardo Muti for a three-year term. In this role, he serves as an invaluable partner to Maestro Muti and CSO staff and musicians; through his unparalleled artistry and unique ability to connect with others, Ma joins Muti to act as inspirational catalysts for the Chicago community, advocating for the transformative power that music can have. Ma will participate in the development and implementation of new initiatives, projects, and music series under the auspices of The Institute for Learning, Access, and Training.
Two new Mead Composers-in-Residence began two-year terms in the fall of 2010. Mason Bates and Anna Clyne, appointed by Riccardo Muti, curate the contemporary MusicNOW series, sharing their relevant and impactful work with audiences in Chicago. By collaborating with artists from other fields and other institutions, Bates and Clyne are committed to reaching across traditional barriers and into the Chicago community with fresh ideas for partnerships and creating unique musical experiences. In addition to the MusicNOW series, for which each composer has written a new piece (premiered in spring 2011), the CSO performed Clyne’s and Bates’ The B-Sides on subscription concerts in 2010/11.
Since 1916, recording has been a significant part of the Orchestra’s activities. Current releases on the CSO Resound label include Verdi’s Messa da Requiem led by Riccardo Muti and featuring the Chicago Symphony Chorus; Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben and Webern’s Im Sommerwind, Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, and Mahler’s First, Second, Third, and Sixth Symphonies, all conducted by Bernard Haitink; Poulenc’s Gloria (featuring soprano Jessica Rivera) and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé with the Chicago Symphony Chorus 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 62 Grammy Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. 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. That same year, Traditions and Transformations: Sounds of Silk Road Chicago received the Grammy for Best Engineered Album, Classical. Most recently, the recording of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem with Riccardo Muti was recognized with two Grammy Awards in 2011 for Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance.
The CSO returned to the airwaves with its self-produced weekly broadcast in April 2007, which is syndicated to more than 300 markets nationwide on the WFMT Radio Network as well as online at 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. 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 ten 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 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. Solti’s arrival in Chicago launched one of the most successful musical partnerships of our time. The CSO’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 (including the first to South America) and an ongoing series of composer perspectives woven into the Orchestra’s subscription concerts.
Pierre Boulez, who now is conductor emeritus, is one of three musicians to have held the title of principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Carlo Maria Giulini, who began to appear in Chicago regularly in the late 1950s, was named principal guest conductor in 1969, serving until 1972. Claudio Abbado held the position from 1982 to 1985. From 2006 to 2010, eminent Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink held the post of principal conductor, the first in CSO history, guiding the Orchestra with astute musical leadership and embarking on such notable ventures as the launch of CSO Resound and multiple triumphant international tours.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has embarked on 37 overseas tours since Sir Georg Solti led the first European tour in 1971, most recently visiting Europe in the late summer of 2011 (its 28th tour to that continent). The CSO has traveled to the Far East seven times—most recently in early 2009, visiting Tokyo, Yokohama, Hong Kong, and Shanghai and Beijing for the first time—as well as once each to Russia, Australia, and South America.
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 repeatedly 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 there every summer since.