Sherrill Milnes (Dario Acosta photo)

Wishing a very happy eight-fifth birthday to the legendary American baritone Sherrill Milnes! A native of Downers Grove, Illinois, he also was a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus in the beginning of his professional singing career.

Milnes auditioned for Margaret Hillis in 1958 and became a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus in time for the beginning its second season. “I was knocked out by Margaret’s personality and musicality,” he said in a March 1976 interview with Winthrop Sargeant for The New Yorker. “Singing under Fritz Reiner could only be a great thrill for an amateur singer, and I was an amateur. It was pre-career. She had all the techniques of a modern choral conductor. For example, ‘staccato du.” It was the first time I had encountered it. To make sure you know the notes, you sing them ‘du-du-du’—each note very short. Also speaking the words to rhythm—in a monotone, with the rhythm of the music but without the melody. She was the first choral conductor I’d ever know who molded the sound of the chorus, making it change color, and so on. She had everybody sing the soprano part where there was a melody, and the same with the bass and other parts. She opened up a whole new world of musical ideas and rehearsal ideas. . . . I’m on the recording of Reiner’s Beethoven Ninth in the chorus [and] Alexander Nevsky with Reiner too. . . . I was hearing phrases thrown at me for the first time, and it was opening up a whole new world.”

Milnes has been a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of occasions, both in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, all listed below.

December 16, 1961, Orchestra Hall
BACH Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243
HAYDN Mass in D Minor, Hob. XXII:11 (Lord Nelson)
Margaret Hillis, conductor
Maria Ferriero, soprano
Teresa Orantes, soprano
Lili Chookasian, contralto
David Paige, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

February 15, 1964, Orchestra Hall
MENDELSSOHN Elijah, Op. 70
Margaret Hillis, conductor
Lillian Garabedian, soprano
Marion Vincent, soprano
Julia Diane Ragains, soprano
Robert Johnson, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

December 19, 1964, Orchestra Hall
BERLIOZ L’enfance du Christ, Op. 25
Margaret Hillis, director
Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprano
Seth McCoy, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
John West, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

HAYDN July 18, 1965, Ravinia Festival
ORFF Carmina burana
Seiji Ozawa, conductor
Julia Diane Ragains, soprano
Pierre Duval, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Alfred Reichel, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Chicago Children’s Choir
Christopher Moore, director

August 7 and 9, 1969, Ravinia Festival
VERDI Aida
Giuseppe Patanè, conductor
Sheldon Patinkin, stage director
Robert Hale, bass-baritone
Lili Chookasian, contralto
Martina Arroyo, soprano
Richard Tucker, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Ara Berberian, bass
Herbert Kraus, tenor
Carolyn Smith-Meyer, soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 15 and 17, 1971, Ravinia Festival
VERDI Rigoletto
István Kertész, conductor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Patricia Wise, soprano
John Alexander, tenor
Robert Hale, bass-baritone
John Walker, tenor
Bernard Izzo, baritone
Edna Garabedian, mezzo-soprano
Susan Lutz, mezzo-soprano
Eugene Johnson, bass
Phyllis Kirian, soprano
Julia Diane Ragains, soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 1, 1972, Ravinia Festival
PUCCINI Tosca
James Levine, conductor
Teresa Kubiak, soprano
John Alexander, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Bernard Izzo, baritone
Charles Anthony, tenor
Andrew Földi, bass
Eugene Johnson, bass
Joseph Caccamo, boy soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Theatre Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

July 24, 1976, Ravinia Festival
WALTON Belshazzar’s Feast
André Previn, conductor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus
John Currie, director

July 9, 1978, Ravinia Festival
MENDELSSOHN Elijah, Op. 70
James Levine, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Beverly Wolff, mezzo-soprano
Isola Jones, mezzo-soprano
Philip Creech, tenor
Kirk Stuart, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
John Cheek, bass-baritone
Philip Kraus, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

June 26, 1981, Ravinia Festival
VERDI Macbeth
James Levine, conductor
Renata Scotto, soprano
Giuliano Ciannella, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
John Cheek, bass-baritone
Timothy Jenkins, tenor
Gene Marie Callahan, soprano
Michelle Harman-Gulick, soprano
Sharon Graham, mezzo-soprano
Duane Clenton Carter, baritone
Rush Tully, bass-baritone
Terry Cook, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis and James Winfied, directors

June 27, 1992, Ravinia Festival
SAINT-SAËNS Samson and Delilah
James Levine, conductor
Denyce Graves, mezzo-soprano
Plácido Domingo, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone
Sergei Koptchak, bass
David Anderson, tenor
John Concepcion, tenor
Paul Grizzell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

Milnes also gave one recital under the auspices of Allied Arts (now Symphony Center Presents):

February 14, 1987, Orchestra Hall
Jon Spong, piano
MONDONVILLE Eole’s Aria from Titon et l’Aurore
LULLY Bois épais from Amadis
GRÉTRY O Richard, O mon roi from Richard Coeur-de-lion
SCHUBERT An die Leier, D. 737
SCHUBERT Die Liebe hat gelogen, D. 751
SCHUBERT Kriegers Ahnung from Schwanengesang, D. 957
SCHUBERT Die Allmacht, D. 852
SANTOLIQUIDO Le domandai
SANTOLIQUIDO Quando le domandai
SANTOLIQUIDO Io mi levai dal centro della terra
SANTOLIQUIDO Riflessi
MOZART Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo, K. 584
McGILL Duna
COPLAND The World Feels Dusty from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson
TRADITIONAL/Copland At the River
arr. Dalway Love Trapped Me
arr. Dalway Killiney Strand
DUKE Luke Havergal
SAINT-SAËNS Qui donc commande from Henry VIII
Encores:
MOZART Fin ch’han dal vino calda la testa from Don Giovanni, K. 527
TRADITIONAL Shenandoah
TRADITIONAL/Britten Oliver Cromwell (sung by Spong with Milnes at the piano)
GIORDANO Nemico della patria from Andrea Chénier

Happy, happy birthday!

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the death of the remarkable German tenor and conductor Peter Schreier, who died in Dresden on December 25, 2019, following a long illness. He was 84.

Schreier appeared in recital and with the Orchestra, both in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, as follows:

March 13, 1995, Orchestra Hall
SCHUBERT Winterreise, D. 911
Peter Schreier, tenor
Daniel Barenboim, piano

August 4, 1996, Ravinia Festival
SCHUMANN Scenes from Goethe’s Faust
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Rebecca Evans, soprano
Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano
Peter Schreier, tenor
Bo Skovhus, baritone
Alan Held, bass-baritone
Franz-Josef Selig, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director
Barrington Children’s Choir

March 6, 7, 8, and 11, 1997, Orchestra Hall
BACH The Passion According to Saint Matthew, BWV 244
Peter Schreier, conductor and evangelist
Julie Kaufmann, soprano
Monica Groop, mezzo-soprano
Steve Davislim, tenor
Klaus Mertens, baritone
Peter Lika, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, chorus director
Chicago Children’s Choir
William Chin, director

December 16, 17, and 18, 1999
BACH Parts 1, 2, and 3 from Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248
Peter Schreier, conductor and evangelist
Ute Selbig, soprano
Rosemarie Lang, mezzo-soprano
Thomas Cooley, tenor
Egbert Junghanns, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director

June 7, 8, 9, and 10, 2001
BACH The Passion According to Saint John, BWV 245
Peter Schreier, conductor and evangelist
Camilla Nylund, soprano
Annette Markert, mezzo-soprano
Marcus Ullmann, tenor
Jörg Hempel, baritone
Stephan Loges, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director

March 11, 12, 13, 14, and 16, 2004
HANDEL Messiah
Peter Schreier, conductor
Esther Heideman, soprano
Jane Gilbert, mezzo-soprano
Randal Rushing, tenor
Kevin Burdette, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director

Numerous tributes have been posted online at BBC News and AP News, among many others.

Wishing a very happy seventy-fifth birthday to legendary American conductor Michael Tilson Thomas! A frequent and favorite visitor to the podium for nearly fifty years, he has led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, on tour to Australia, and in the recording studio.

Michael Tilson Thomas (Art Streiber photo)

Tilson Thomas made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival, leading two programs:

July 12, 1970, Ravinia Festival
J.C. BACH Sinfonia for Double Orchestra in E-flat Major
HAYDN Symphony No. 60 in C Major
VARÈSE Intégrales
STRAVINSKY Suite from Pulcinella

August 1, 1970, Ravinia Festival
BACH Suite No. 4 in D Major, BWV 1069
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488
John Browning, piano
RUGGLES Sun-Treader
WAGNER Siegfried’s Rhine Journey, Siegfried’s Death and Funeral March, and Brünnhilde’s Immolation from Götterdämmerung

In Orchestra Hall, he made his debut with the Orchestra as follows:

May 21, 22, and 24, 1981, Orchestra Hall
BACH/Schoenberg Chorale Preludes (Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele and Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist)
IVES Symphony No. 2
STRAVINSKY The Firebird

Tilson Thomas and Solti at a press conference in Perth

Tilson Thomas also joined Sir Georg Solti and the Orchestra for the ensemble’s first tour to Australia in 1988. He led one program on four occasions as follows:

March 5, 1988, Perth Concert Hall, Perth
March 10, 1988, Adelaide Festival Center, Adelaide
March 15, 1988, Melbourne Concert Hall, Melbourne
March 18, 1988, Sydney Opera House, Sydney
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b
IVES Symphony No. 3 (The Camp Meeting)
RACHMANINOV Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27

Most recently, he led the Orchestra just last year:

December 13, 14, and 15, 2018, Orchestra Hall
STRAVINSKY Concerto in D for String Orchestra
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63
Nicola Benedetti, violin
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 (Pathétique)

For CBS and Sony, Tilson Thomas also recorded a number of works (all in Medinah Temple) by Charles Ives with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus:

IVES Central Park in the Dark
Recorded May 12, 1986

IVES New England Holidays Symphony
Fred Spector, Jew’s harp
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded May 10 and 12, 1986

IVES Symphony No. 1 in D Minor
Recorded April 15 and 17, 1989

IVES Symphony No. 4
Mary Sauer, piano
Members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded April 15 and 17, 1989

IVES The Unanswered Question (original version)
IVES The Unanswered Question (revised versoin)
Adolph Herseth, trumpet
Recorded May 10, 1986

Happy, happy birthday!

To commemorate Ludwig van Beethoven‘s 249th birthday, we’re sharing a new video that describes one of the most precious artifacts in the Theodore Thomas collection in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Rosenthal Archives—a bronze life mask of one of music’s greatest composers.

Beethoven was the favorite composer of Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s founder and first music director. Thomas programmed Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the Chicago Orchestra’s very first concerts in October 1891 and for the first concert in Orchestra Hall when it opened in December 1904. Among Thomas’s collection, there are four marked scores of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, along with this life mask of the composer.

The mask is cast in bronze from an original mold made in 1812 by Franz Klein, a sculptor who had been commissioned by Nannette and Andreas Streicher, Viennese piano makers and good friends of Beethoven.

Life mask of Ludwig van Beethoven in front of Franz Breitkopf’s portrait of Theodore Thomas on the eighth floor of the Richard & Helen Thomas Club at Symphony Center (Todd Rosenberg photo)

So, here we are in 1812. Politically, this was a time of huge uncertainty: Napoleon had failed in his invasion of Russia and war was engulfing Europe. Vienna was extremely tense and Beethoven was its most famous citizen, even though the composer was nearly deaf and had stopped performing in public.

By then, he had finished some of his pivotal works: the Emperor piano concerto, the Archduke Trio, and the Seventh and Eighth symphonies. Also, it is believed that he wrote the letters to his “immortal beloved” during the summer of 1812, and he was about to enter into a time of declining health, strained relationships with his family, and intense personal isolation.

So, this mask is the face of a man who was leaving behind the vision that made him the most famous musician alive and a few years later would produce some of the most profound music ever written.

But back to the artifact. For the mold, the technique Klein used involved lubricating the skin with oil, placing a straw in each nostril, and applying a thick liquid plaster over the subject’s entire face. The mold was used to create a bust, and the original remained in the possession of the Streicher family until the early part of the twentieth century, when it was given to the Historical Art Museum of the city of Vienna.

Life mask of Ludwig van Beethoven (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Several copies of the life mask and the sculpture were produced later in the nineteenth century, and this bronze version of the mask in Thomas’s collection is likely one of those copies.

Since Beethoven rarely had the patience to sit for portraits, artists would frequently look to Klein’s sculpture as reference instead. Another mold was taken two days after he died in 1827, of course, a death mask, but this mask remains the most accurate likeness of the composer during his lifetime.

Special thanks to Rachel Aka for video editing and Todd Rosenberg for contemporary photography.

In 1891, Theodore Thomas founded the Chicago Orchestra and served as its first music director for nearly fourteen years. But in 1864, he also founded an eponymous ensemble—the Theodore Thomas Orchestra—and for nearly three decades, they traveled around the United States, giving concerts from coast to coast.

Schedule for the Theodore Thomas Orchestra’s 1872-73 tour (* indicates concerts with Rubinstein and Wieniawski)

One of Thomas’s orchestra’s most extensive tours—with stops in Connecticut; Illinois; Indiana; Kentucky; Maine; Maryland; Michigan; Missouri; New York; Ohio; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; Washington, D.C.; and Wisconsin—was given between September 1872 and April 1873, culminating in a series of concerts in New York’s Steinway Hall. And for the last leg of the tour, Thomas was joined by pianist Anton Rubinstein and violinist Henryk Wieniawski.

“These great artists were the leading exponents of their respective instruments,” wrote Rose Fay Thomas in her husband’s Memoirs, “and Thomas knew that the houses would be sold out wherever they played. Consequently, he was able to make the programs without any consideration for the box office, and he was not slow to take advantage of it . . . It was the first time in his life that Thomas had permitted himself to make a series of programs exactly in accordance with his artistic standards . . . and this two weeks of great performance, in association with two of the most renowned executant musicians who ever came to America, was an inspiration to him such as he had never before enjoyed.”

Henryk Wieniawski

Shortly before ending the tour in New York, three concerts were given in Chicago. The programs were as follows:

March 17, 1873, Michigan Avenue Baptist Church
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b
RUBINSTEIN Piano Concerto No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 70
Anton Rubinstein, piano
MENDELSSOHN First Movement from Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Henryk Wieniawski, violin
LISZT Les préludes
HANDEL Air and Variations from Suite No. 5 in E Major (The Harmonious Blacksmith), MOZART Rondo, BACH Gigue, and SCARLATTI Sonate
Anton Rubinstein, piano
ERNST Fantasie brillante, Op. 11 (Otello)
Henryk Wieniawski, violin
WEBER Overture to Der Freischütz

March 18, 1873, Union Park Congregational Church
CHERUBINI Overture to Les deux journées
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 (Emperor)
Anton Rubinstein, piano
BERLIOZ Part 2 from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 17
WIENIAWSKI Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22
Henryk Wieniawski, violin
SCHUMANN Carnaval, Op. 9
Anton Rubinstein, piano
WAGNER Huldigungsmarsch

Anton Rubinstein

“Those who had the good fortune to hear [Rubinstein in the Emperor concerto] will long remember it, not only as one of the grandest of Beethoven’s compositions, but as the most superb musical performance ever heard in this city,” wrote the critic in the Chicago Tribune. “Wieniawski created a perfect furore by his masterly playing of his own violin concerto, which culminated in a very emphatic encore, to which replied with Paganini’s Carnival of Venice, which was such a marvel of technique that it called out even the loudest applause of the orchestra itself. . . . As a whole, the concert was the best ever given in this city.”

March 19, 1873, Aiken’s Theatre
SCHUMANN Overture to Genoveva, Op. 81
LISZT Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major
Anton Rubinstein, piano
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Henryk Wieniawski, violin
BEETHOVEN Finale from The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43
WAGNER Overture to Rienzi
MENDELSSOHN Songs Without Words and CHOPIN Nocturne and Ballad
Anton Rubinstein, piano
WIENIAWSKI Legende, Op. 17 and Airs russes, Op. 6
Henryk Wieniawski, violin
LISZT Hungarian March

In a letter to William Steinway of Steinway & Sons (who had sponsored the tour), Wieniawski wrote, “I shall take away with me from America one unexpected reminiscence. Little did I dream to find here the greatest and finest orchestra in the wide world. I have been in Munich, Brussels, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, and all the great European art centers, but never in my life have I found an orchestra and a conductor so in sympathy with one anther, or who followed me as the most gifted accompanist can follow a singer on the piano.”

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

Ray Chen is soloist in Wieniawski’s First Violin Concerto on December 5, 6, 7, and 10, 2019. John Storgårds conducts.

March 31, April 1, 2, and 3, 1873, concerts at Steinway Hall in New York

March 31 and April 1, 1873

April 2 and 3, 1873

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the loss of Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons, who died at his home in Saint Petersburg on November 30. He was 76.

Jansons appeared with the Orchestra on several occasions, both in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, and a complete list of his appearances is below.

Mariss Jansons (Peter Meisel photo)

July 26, 1991, Ravinia Festival
WEBER Overture to Oberon
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 5, A Major, K. 219 (Turkish)
Pinchas Zukerman, violin
SIBELIUS Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43

July 27, 1991, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15
Misha Dichter, piano
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36

June 25, 1993, Ravinia Festival
ROSSINI Overture to La gazza ladra
STRAUSS Four Last Songs
Alessandra Marc, soprano
BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14

June 26, 1993, Ravinia Festival
WAGNER Overture to Rienzi
BRUCH Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Itzhak Perlman, violin

February 24, 25, and 26, 1994
WEBER Overture to Euryanthe
KORNGOLD Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Samuel Magad, violin
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47

February 22, 23, and 24, 1996
SIBELIUS Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39
SCHOENBERG Piano Concerto, Op. 42
Emanuel Ax, piano
RAVEL Suite No. 2 from Daphnis and Chloe

May 27, 28, and 29, 2004
HAYDN Symphony No. 97 in C Major
STRAUSS Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59
BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15
Daniel Barenboim, piano

When Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra first toured to Russia in 1990, the Leningrad Philharmonic came to Chicago for two weeks of subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, as part of a cultural exchange. Podium duties were shared by music director Yuri Temirkanov and associate conductor Mariss Jansons. Leading the second week of concerts, Jansons made his Chicago debut with the following program:

November 16 and 17, 1990, Orchestra Hall
Leningrad Philharmonic
PROKOFIEV Excerpts from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, Op. 10
Dmitri Alexeev, piano
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64

On the Allied Arts and Symphony Center Presents series, Jansons also appeared with visiting orchestras as follows:

November 15, 1991, Orchestra Hall
Oslo Philharmonic
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 60 (Leningrad)

December 11, 1994, Orchestra Hall
Oslo Philharmonic
NORDHEIM Nachruf for Strings
STRAUSS Don Quixote, Op. 35
Otto Berg, viola
Truls Mørk, cello
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 9 in E-flat Major, Op. 70
RAVEL La valse

November 7, 1999, Orchestra Hall
Oslo Philharmonic
VERDI Overture to I vespri siciliani
GLASS Violin Concerto
Gidon Kremer, violin
MAHLER Symphony No. 1 in D Major

February 12, 2006, Orchestra Hall
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 60 (Leningrad)

November 6, 2006
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 54
SIBELIUS Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43

April 17, 2016
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 60 (Leningrad)

Numerous tributes have been posted online, including the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, The New York Times, Gramophone, and The Guardian, among many others.

Theodore Thomas in the 1860s

There are conflicting accounts as to when Theodore Thomas—the Chicago Orchestra’s founder and first music director—made his debut as a conductor. Mostly self-taught on the violin, as a young teenager he toured the U.S. on his own, concertizing as a soloist. Returning to New York in the early 1850s, he performed as a member and leader of several theater, opera, and concert orchestras, working with Karl Eckert and Louis Jullien.

The name of nineteen-year-old Thomas first appeared on the roster of the New York Philharmonic Society at the beginning of its twelfth season on November 26, 1853, and early the following year, he was formally invited to be a first violin in the ensemble.

Based on a variety of sources, his conducting debut might have been in 1858 for Bernard Ullmann’s opera company. In April 1859, he was a last-minute replacement for conductor Karl Anschütz at the Academy of Music in New York for a performance of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, and three weeks later, he was reengaged for the composer’s La favorite; both operas featured Marietta Gazzaniga (who had created the title role in Verdi’s Luisa Miller in 1849 and Lina in Stiffelio in 1850). On December 7, 1860, Thomas again replaced Anschütz at the Academy, leading Halévy’s La Juive, having never before seen the score.

First-chair horn part to Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman (Theodore Thomas collection)

However, Thomas’s debut on an orchestral podium is well documented. On May 13, 1862, the twenty-six-year-old conductor programmed and led his first symphony orchestra concert (with a few more than forty musicians) at Irving Hall in New York. The program featured no less than four U.S. premieres(*), including the overture to Wagner’s opera The Flying Dutchman:

  • *Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman
  • Apell’s Lord, Be Thou with Us with the Teutonia Choral Society
  • *Liszt’s orchestration of Schubert’s Fantasy in C major, D. 760 (Wanderer) with pianist William Mason
  • Rossini’s “Bel raggio lusinghier” from Semiramide with soprano Eugénie de Lussan
  • The first movement of Molique’s Violin Concerto no. 5 in A minor, op. 21 with violinist Bruno Wollenhaupt
  • *Moscheles’s Les contrastes, for two pianos (eight hands) with pianists Mills, Goldbeck, Hartmann, and Mason
  • Verdi’s “Ernani, Ernani involami” from Ernani with de Lussan
  • *Meyerbeer’s Overture and Incidental Music from Struensee with the Teutonia Choral Society and harp obbligato (not credited)

The reception of Wagner’s overture was mixed. The reviewer in the New York World wrote, “Most of the audience expected dreary wastes of dissonant harmony and were agreeably surprised to find not merely defined ideas but actual bits of melody.” However, the New York Daily Tribune disagreed: “Ghastly rumpus was its main feature.”

Cello part to Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman (Theodore Thomas collection)

According to Thomas’s biographer Ezra Schabas, Irving Hall was “only three-quarters full . . . there was speculation that the one-dollar admission price was too high.” Despite the attendance, the New York Daily Transcript hailed the concert as, “undoubtedly the most intellectual and artistic musical offering of the season.”

Two years later in 1864, Thomas founded his eponymous ensemble—the Theodore Thomas Orchestra—and toured throughout the country for the next twenty-five years. He also served as music director of both the Brooklyn Philharmonic (1866–1891) and the New York Philharmonic (1877–1891) before leading the Chicago Orchestra as its founder and first music director from 1891 until 1905.

Theodore Thomas’s autobiography is available here, and his Memoirs (edited by his widow, Rose Fay Thomas) here.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman on November 7, 9, and 12, 2019. 

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the loss of British conductor Raymond Leppard, who died yesterday in Indianapolis. He was 92.

Raymond Leppard (Frank Espich photo for the IndyStar)

Leppard appeared with the Orchestra on several occasions, both in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, and a complete list of his appearances is below.

May 15, 16, and 17, 1980, Orchestra Hall
BACH Air from Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068
Performed in memory of Guido Rizzo, a member of the CSO’s viola section since 1947
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Serenade to Music
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS A Sea Symphony
Isobel Buchanan, soprano
John Shirley-Quirk, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

December 17, 18, and 20, 1981, Orchestra Hall
MOZART Serenade No. 13 G Major, K. 525 (Eine kleine Nachtmusik)
DEBUSSY Nocturnes
Chicago Symphony Chorus
James Winfield, director
SCHUMAN Three Colloquies for French Horn and Orchestra
Dale Clevenger, horn
STRAUSS Suite from Der Rosenkavalier

April 28, 29, and May 1, 1983, Orchestra Hall
BRITTEN Occasional Overture
DAVIES Stone Litany: Runes from a House of the Dead
Jan DeGaetani, mezzo-soprano
BAX Tintagel
ELGAR Symphony No. 1 in A-flat Major, Op. 55

January 9, 10, and 11, 1986, Orchestra Hall
CHABRIER Suite pastorale
BARTÓK Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion, and Orchestra
Anthony and Joseph Paratore, pianos
BIZET Symphony No. 1 in C Major

July 18, 1986, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21
HAYDN Piano Concerto in D Major, H. XVIII:2
Alfred Brendel, piano
LISZT Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major
Alfred Brendel, piano
STRAUSS Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28

July 19, 1986, Ravinia Festival
DVORÁK Symphonic Variations, Op. 78
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63
Cho-Liang Lin, violin
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Sheherazade, Op. 35
Samuel Magad, violin

Numerous tributes have been posted in The New York Times, NPR, and The Indianapolis Star, among several others.

Daniel Barenboim leads the applause following the world premiere of Ran’s Legends for Orchestra on October 7, 1993 (Jim Steere photo)

Wishing a very happy seventieth birthday to composer Shulamit Ran!

During her tenure as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s second composer-in-residence from 1990 until 1997, she worked closely with music directors Sir Georg Solti and Daniel Barenboim, along with principal guest conductor Pierre Boulez. Born in Tel Aviv, Ran became the second woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her Symphony in 1991.

Works by Ran have been performed by the Orchestra—all in Orchestra Hall—on several occasions, as follows:

October 20, 21, 22, and 25, 1988
RAN Concerto for Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

December 12, 13, 14, and 17, 1991
RAN Chicago Skyline
Pierre Boulez, conductor
World premiere. Commissioned by WFMT in celebration of the radio station’s fortieth anniversary

The world premiere performance of Legends was released on Albany Records in 2007

October 7, 8, and 9, 1993
RAN Legends for Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
World premiere. Commissioned for the centennials of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the University of Chicago by the AT&T Foundation and Meet the Composer Orchestra Residencies Program

October 26, 27, and 28, 1995
RAN Symphony
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

June 3, 4, 5, and 8, 2004
RAN Legends for Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

A staunch advocate for contemporary music, Ran laid the groundwork for the creation of MusicNOW, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s new music concerts, and her works have been programmed on the series as follows:

January 24, 2001
RAN Mirage
Cliff Colnot, conductor
Mary Stolper, flute
Larry Combs, clarinet
Baird Dodge, violin
Katinka Kleijn, cello
Amy Dissanayake, piano

Shulamit Ran (Dan Rest photo)

May 8, 2006
RAN Fault Line
Cliff Colnot, conductor
Tony Arnold, soprano
Jennifer Clippert, flute and piccolo
Michael Henoch, oboe
Eric Mandat, clarinet and bass clarinet
Wagner Campos, clarinet and bass clarinet
David Griffin, horn
Christopher Martin, trumpet
Joseph Rodriguez, trombone
Vadim Karpinos, percussion
Michael Kozakis, percussion
Amy Dissanayake, piano
Nathan Cole, violin
Akiko Tarumoto, violin
Yukiko Ogura, viola
Kenneth Olsen, cello
Michael Hovnanian, bass
World premiere. Commissioned for MusicNOW

October 2, 2017
RAN Birkat Haderekh—Blessing for the Road
J. Lawrie Bloom, clarinet
Yuan-Qing Yu, violin
Kenneth Olsen, cello
Winston Choi, piano

Happy, happy birthday!

Theodore Thomas in 1876 (J. Gurney & Son photo)

Wishing a very happy birthday to our founder and first music director Theodore Thomas on the occasion of his 184th birthday!

“During his musical career, Theodore Thomas conducted more than ten thousand concerts, and on a majority of his programs, he placed a work by Beethoven. Nevertheless, it was his invariable rule to study each work anew whenever he gave it, and he was so particular in regard to everything that concerned the music of Beethoven that I have known him to spend an entire evening verifying the opus number of a Beethoven quartet before he would copy it on a program for the printer.”

—excerpt from the preface to Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies by Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock, edited by Rose Fay Thomas, 1930.

“The man who does not know Shakespeare is to be pitied; and the man who does not understand Beethoven and has not been under his spell has not half lived his life.”

—excerpt from the epigraph to Theodore Thomas: A Musical Autobiography by Theodore Thomas, edited by George P. Upton, 1905.

Happy, happy birthday!

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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