Dishpan Symphony - April 1934

Another fantastic donation arrived in the mail earlier this week: this publicity photograph from April 1934, promoting a very special concert.

In order to secure the continued financial stability of The Orchestral Association, a “deficit fund” campaign to raise $70,000 (the anticipated shortfall of the 1933-34 season) was launched in the spring of 1934. After $58,000 of that amount had been raised, music director Frederick Stock and his musicians organized a concert to express their appreciation to the subscribers who had pledged their support.

On the reverse of the image, the following was indicated: “Chicago Symphony to present Dishpan Concert. In celebration of the raising of a deficit fund, the subscribers will be given a special concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 will be played with all of the members of the percussion section using pots, pans, and other kitchen utensils, carefully selected for quality of tone. Dr. Frederick Stock, left, director of the Orchestra, is appraising the tone of a frying pan in the hands of Edward Kopp during a rehearsal.”

Program page for the April 9, 1934, concert

Program page for the April 9, 1934, concert

In an advance notice, Edward Moore in the Chicago Tribune commented that the upcoming concert would be outside the normal routine and “the Chicago Symphony Orchestra can never be considered a conventional organization. . . . Before an invited audience consisting of those public spirited citizens who have subscribed to the deficit fund it will present an entertainment called ‘The Orchestra at Play.’ Here will be a complete program of the orchestra in its light-hearted and comic moments. No advance program has been issued, but it is understood that the spirit of parody and burlesque is running high. Extra and seldom heard instruments will be brought into play, certain revered and decorous compositions have been re-orchestrated in a startling manner, individuals and groups from the orchestra will demonstrate that the most earnest practitioners of music are not always the most solemn in their practice, a master of ceremonies will make running comment thereon.” The complete article is here.

Chicago Herald-Examiner headline from April 10, 1934

Chicago Herald-Examiner headline from April 10, 1934

Another Tribune account by Cousin Eve indicated that music director Frederick Stock’s “merry men have combed the city with tuning forks, tuning in on all kinds of kitchen ware, crockery sets, kegs, kettles, and metal implements to find the desired sound vibration. Often they have been taken for escaped lunatics.” The complete article is here.

Needless to say, the concert was a smashing success. In the Chicago Daily News, Margot Jr. reported “The symphony concerts will never be the same again. No matter how restrained the conduct of the orchestra itself, no matter how reserved the audience, shades of a bassoon quartet, a kitchen symphony and a fan dancer will hereafter forever inject their own particular charms into interpretations of Wagner, Beethoven, or Brahms. . . . [The audience was] packed into every available inch of seating and standing space from footlights to galleries [who] have subscribed to the deficit fund of the orchestra.”

Image from The Daily News - Frederick Stock and members of the percussion section

Frederick Stock and members of the percussion section from an image featured in the Chicago Daily News

A variety of shenanigans were reported: Frederick Stock entering the stage to the tune of “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?”; Orchestra members dressed as monks, cooks, and in drag as ballet and fan dancers; manager Henry Voegeli arrested onstage; and, of course, the Allegretto from Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony performed on “a huge stove covered with tin skillets and two long tables laden with pans and bowls. . . . The audience wouldn’t let them stop after one number, so with equal agility they played Schubert’s ‘Moment Musicale’ à la dishpan.” Three articles describing the antics are here and here.

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