My good friend Bill Tyre, executive director and curator of the Glessner House and Museum, and I were interviewed yesterday by Channel 7′s Frank Mathie. The video is available here and a transcript of the segment is below.
Back in the late 1800s, the John Glessner family helped form the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
One family member even created a miniature orchestra to honor the symphony. Now, 100 years later, the tiny musicians have returned home to the South Side.
The historic Glessner House area at 18th and Prairie was the original Gold Coast for Chicago’s wealthy like John Glessner, whose money helped create the CSO.
Seventy-five miniature musicians playing miniature instruments under the direction of 5-inch-tall conductor Frederick Stock were also created.
“This is a model created in 1913 by Frances Glessner Lee as a birthday gift for her mother. And it represents the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as it appeared at that time,” said Bill Tyre, executive director and curator, Glessner House.
Frances Glessner Lee would become a famous miniaturist later in life, but this was her first big project. She was a perfectionist and made sure everything was perfect down to the last note, so she attended rehearsals.
“She would sit in the house and sketch the orchestra while they were rehearsing. But then also during the breaks she would go up to the individual musicians and usually taking one of the doll’s heads, she would sketch the facial hair . . . the hair on the top of the head,” said Frank Villella, archivist, Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
So the faces and body types you see now are what Frances Glessner Lee saw then as she made her little music men. The orchestra has spent most of the last 100 years in the CSO archives. But now it’s back home for public viewing starting Wednesday night and running until Sunday, February 24.
Some things never change. For instance, the CSO today plays the same symphonies played back in 1913. But other things do change. It was all white men.
“The orchestra now is about 65 percent men and about 35 percent women, and, of course, many more ethnic diversities are represented as well,” Villella said.*
On Wednesday night at a 7:00 p.m. lecture, descendants of conductor Frederick Stock and concertmaster Harry Weisbach will be there to welcome the orchestra back to Glessner House.
(Copyright ©2013 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)
*My numbers were a little bit off: according to the program book for this week (January 17-19, 2013), there are 103 rostered members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, of which 41 (39.8%) are women and 62 (60.2%) are men. To the best of my knowledge, this is the highest percentage of women ever in the Orchestra.