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January 15, 1940, at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

January 15, 1940, at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

There are conflicting accounts regarding the details of Liberace’s initial contact with Frederick Stock and the CSO (most of them conflicted by Liberace himself), but the most detailed—and colorful—version appeared in a December 1977 interview in the Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger: “It was 1939 and I was passing by Orchestra Hall, the home of the Chicago Symphony. Out front was a sign that said, ‘Orchestra in rehearsal—auditions.’ I thought that meant they were giving auditions, so I walked in.

“[Frederick] Stock was in the middle of a rehearsal. I was discovered by the manager of the Orchestra and immediately invited to leave. A commotion started when I tried to explain why I was there. Dr. Stock turned around and asked the manager what was going on. The manager said, ‘It’s just some kid who plays the piano and thought you were holding auditions. He only wants to play with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.’

“Dr. Stock was amused and asked me what I could play. I told him I could play Liszt’s Piano Concerto in A major, and he said, ‘Let’s hear it.’ Pretty soon, he started singing the orchestra parts, and then, halfway through the concerto, he stopped me. He asked the librarian for the score for the entire orchestra, and while it was being passed out, he asked me about my teacher, my family, and my interest in music. Then I sat down and played the concerto with the whole orchestra. I couldn’t believe it was happening!”

Regardless of the details of the account, the young pianist’s audition was indeed successful, and twenty-year-old Walter Liberace was soloist with the Orchestra in Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto on January 15, 1940. Under the baton of CSO associate conductor Hans Lange, the concert was given at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, in Liberace’s native Wisconsin.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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