The first meeting for the incorporation of The Orchestral Association was held at the Chicago Club on December 17, 1890, at which a board of five trustees was elected to serve: Adolphus Clay Bartlett, Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank, Charles Norman Fay, Charles Davidson Hamill, and Ezra Butler McCagg. A group of fifty-one businessmen—including Chicago pioneers Armour, Field, Glessner, McCormick, Potter, Pullman, Ryerson, Sprague, and Wacker—volunteered to serve as guarantors, each pledging their financial support for three years.
Theodore Thomas, then the most popular conductor in America, would be, as specified in his first contract, engaged to “determine the character and standard of all performances given by the Association, and to that end make all programs, select all soloists, and take the initiative in arranging for choral and festival performances . . . [attaining] the highest standard of artistic excellence in all performances given by the Association.”
According to the Memoirs of Theodore Thomas, “I never expected to see the day when I would be told I would be ‘held responsible’ for maintaining the highest standard of artistic excellence in my musical work. All my life I have been told that my standard was too high, and urged to make it more popular. But now, I am not only to be given every facility to create the highest standard, but am even told that I will be held responsible for keeping it so! I have to shake myself to realize it!”
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