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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the classical music community in mourning the loss of Oliver Knussen, the British composer and conductor. He died earlier today at the age of 66.

Oliver Knussen in rehearsal with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Maida Vale studio 1 on March 30, 2012 (Photo by Mark Allan for the BBC)

Knussen made his debut conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on two weeks of subscription concerts, as follows:

March 12, 13, 14, and 17, 1998
STRAVINSKY Canon on a Russian Popular Tune
STRAVINSKY The Faun and the Shepherdess
Lucy Shelton, soprano
LIEBERSON Drala
KNUSSEN Horn Concerto
Gail Williams, horn
STRAVINSKY Suite from The Firebird

March 19, 20, 21, and 24, 1998
MUSSORGSKY/Stokowski A Night on Bare Mountain
KNUSSEN Songs and a Sea Interlude and The Wild Rumpus from Where the Wild Things Are
Rosemary Hardy, soprano
KNUSSEN The Way to Castle Yonder
MUSSORGSKY/Stokowski Pictures at an Exhibition

Knussen also led the Civic Orchestra during that residency, on March 15, 1998, with the following program:

KNUSSEN Flourish with Fireworks
RESPIGHI Fountains of Rome
LIEBERSON Fire from Five Great Elements
BRITTEN Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes

Most recently, Knussen was in Chicago to conduct the following works on a MusicNOW concert in Orchestra Hall on April 3, 2006:

GLANERT Secret Room: Chamber Sonata No. 3
THOMAS Carillon Sky (world premiere)
BEDFORD 5 Abstracts
KNUSSEN Requiem–Songs for Sue (world premiere)

That program also included performances of his A Fragment of Ophelia’s Last Dance and Secret Psalm for Solo Violin.

In December 1988, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presented five performances of Knussen’s opera adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, in conjunction with Chicago Opera Theater at the Auditorium Theatre. While in Chicago for the production, the composer spoke with Studs Terkel, and the interview—part of the newly available Studs Terkel Radio Archive—can be heard here.

Most recently, Leila Josefowicz was soloist with the Orchestra in Knussen’s Violin Concerto on January 24, 25, 26, and 27, 2008, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting. On MusicNOW, members of the Orchestra performed the composer’s Songs without Voices on March 16, 2001, and January 28, 2008; along with his Coursing (Etude 1) on March 10, 2008.

Numerous tributes have appeared at The Guardian (here and here), Faber Music, and the BBC, among many others.

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Ida Klein

The surviving programs from the Chicago Orchestra’s first seasons’ tours show founder and first music director Theodore Thomas’s enthusiasm for promoting talented young women at a time when it was still rare for them to appear as instrumental soloists. Vocalists appeared regularly, and during the 1891-92 season, Katherine Fisk, Ida Klein, and Christine Nielson traveled with the Orchestra, singing a mix of operatic and popular repertoire (a common practice at the time and likely part of Thomas’s desire to entertain audiences).

Julia Rivé-King

Composer and pianist Julia Rivé-King—who already had a well-established career as a soloist, having toured the U.S. with Thomas and his orchestra in the 1880s—also appeared frequently with the Chicago Orchestra and traveled to the Metropolitan Opera House in Saint Paul, Minnesota in March 1892 to perform Saint-Saëns’s Rhapsodie d’Auvergne. The Saint Paul Daily Globe reported that “the applause which followed [her performance] was so persistent that the famous pianist was forced to return with an encore.” In her book Unsung: A History of Women in American Music, Christine Ammer estimates that by the time Rivé-King would have appeared in Saint Paul, she would have performed in nearly 1,800 concerts since her 1873 debut. She became a fixture of Chicago’s musical life, teaching for over thirty years at the Bush Conservatory of Music.

Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler

Also featured on that Saint Paul program was local violinist Marie Louise Paige, performing a polonaise by Henryk Wieniawsi (it’s not clear in the program whether it is the Polonaise de concert, op. 4 or the Polonaise brillante, op. 21). The same article praised Paige’s technical prowess: “[H]er execution is brilliant, her tone clear. . . . She was recalled again and again, but refused an encore.” Little else seems to be known of Paige; like many women of this period, perhaps she gave up her performing career after marriage. (The complete review is here.)

Maud Powell

Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler also was a frequent soloist with the Chicago Orchestra, both at home and on tour. She made her premiere on subscription concerts at the Auditorium Theatre on March 25 and 26, 1892, and later that spring accompanied the Orchestra to Louisville, Kansas City, and Omaha. Returning the following season, the Chicago Tribune review of her December 2, 1892, subscription concert performance demonstrates the high regard in which she was held as a performer: “Mme. Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler was the soloist in the Saint-Saëns Concerto [no. 4] . . . She has for several seasons stood first among the women pianists of America, but her work last evening proved that now she need acknowledge as her superior none of her brother artists residents[sic] in this country. . . . The audience received her work with merited enthusiasm, recalling her five times and resting satisfied only when an encore was given.”

The rest of the Orchestra’s second season saw many female violinists, including Maud Powell’s Chicago debut as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Powell was the only solo female violinist programmed by Thomas in that series, and in a review of her performance of Bruch’s G minor concerto on July 18, 1893, the Musical Courier wrote that “her conception of the concerto was equal to that of any of the great violinists whom I have heard.”

Central Music Hall, November 30, 1892, program

Augusta S. Cottlow

The support of the Orchestra also was given to fourteen-year-old pianist Augusta S. Cottlow on November 30, 1892, for a “testimonial concert” at the Central Music Hall in Chicago. It is unclear how Thomas met or learned of Cottlow (perhaps through her teacher, the Chicago-based Carl Wolfsohn) or why he was willing to throw the full might (and cost) of the Orchestra behind a concert for her. It might have been a benefit concert to fund her impending trip to Europe; however, as late as 1895, she was still appearing in concerts around Chicago.

Amphitheatre Auditorium, Louisville, Kentucky, January 7, 1893

While Rivé-King, Bloomfield Zeisler, and Powell had long careers as performers, the story of violinist Mary Currie Duke is perhaps more representative of the professional trajectory for many women musicians of this period. There are few data points about her, but her appearance with the Chicago Orchestra at the Amphitheatre Auditorium in Louisville, Kentucky on January 7, 1893, is noteworthy and likely led to her invitation to perform for the World’s Congress of Representative Women at the World’s Columbian Exposition later that year. The Californian Illustrated Magazine of November 1893 indicates that she spent some time studying music abroad in Europe, even claiming that she became “one of [Joseph] Joachim’s idols” and had performed Bruch’s First Violin Concerto with the composer accompanying at the piano. Duke married William Matthews in 1899, and it is unclear if she continued her musical career following her marriage. However, according to Gary Matthews’s biography of her father General Basil Wilson Duke, her husband died in 1910, putting her in a precarious financial position. While she might have returned to the stage in order to earn an income, she developed arthritis soon after her husband’s death, definitively ending her performing career.

Electa Gifford (Chicago Tribune, August 4, 1899)

As discussed in part 1, the Orchestra’s third season saw a drastic reduction in the number of tour concerts and, as a result, fewer performing opportunities for women. However, two unusual concerts in Chicago helped launch the careers of several singers. A “Grand Concert” was given by soprano Electa Gifford at Central Music Hall on November 27, 1893, where she was accompanied by Thomas and the Chicago Orchestra. The concert was a mix of vocal works performed by Gifford along with standards from the Orchestra’s tour repertoire, including the Forest Murmurs from the second act of Wagner’s Siegfried. Once again, it is unclear how Thomas came to know Gifford, but this act of patronage had an important impact on her career. In August 1899, the Chicago Tribune announced her engagement with the Grand Opera of Amsterdam, where she sang the lead soprano roles in many of the company’s performances that season.

Central Music Hall, Chicago, May 8, 1894

Similarly, a benefit concert was given for pianist Laura Sanford and mezzo-soprano Fanchon H. Thompson with the Chicago Orchestra supporting the two young soloists. In this instance, the connection from performers to Thomas is much easier to draw: both were students of Amy Fay, the sister of Thomas’s second wife, Rose Fay. While little is known of Sanford, Thompson went on to a successful career as a singer in Paris, where she debuted at the Opéra-Comique in 1899. According to a 1929 New York Times obituary appearing in the New York Times in 1929, “she twice sang before Queen Victoria at Windsor in Cavalleria rusticana and Romeo and Juliet.

The lives and careers of female performers at the end of the nineteenth century are often difficult to assemble, punctuated as they were by long periods of absence due to marriages and births in ways that did not similarly affect the careers of male musicians. However, following the clues offered in the surviving programs of the Orchestra’s initial seasons demonstrates that Chicago was rapidly becoming a hub for the musical education of men and women at this time, and illuminates the direct role that Theodore Thomas and the Orchestra often played in launching many a career.

Jenna Harmon is a doctoral candidate in musicology at Northwestern University and an intern in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association’s Rosenthal Archives.

Theodore Thomas

The opening of the first season of the Chicago Orchestra in October 1891 was a momentous occasion not only for the city whose name the Orchestra bore, but also, as the collections in the Rosenthal Archives show, for towns all over the Midwest. Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas was passionately devoted to bringing music to people of all means, not just those who lived in the metropolitan centers and could afford tickets. This isn’t to say, of course, that Thomas wasn’t interested in the opinions of those same well-off people. Part of the reason for the expansive tour schedule the Orchestra observed that first season was to spread the word that Chicago was no longer a backwards slaughterhouse town, a stereotype the city was actively fighting in the lead up to, and even after having won the privilege of, hosting the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Thomas eagerly, and ambitiously, sought to show off the talents and achievements of his new hometown, while also sharing those accomplishments with smaller cities around the Midwest and the South.

Grand Opera House in Rockford, Illinois, October 19, 1891

Following the inaugural concerts at the Auditorium Theatre on October 16 and 17, Thomas and the Chicago Orchestra traveled to Rockford, Illinois for a concert at the Grand Opera House on October 19, and through end of May 1892, they journeyed to eighteen different cities. While there was significant overlap in the repertoire performed, the Orchestra rarely played the same exact program twice, requiring them to have a large amount of music prepared for performance at all times.

Academy of Music in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, December 22, 1891

Many of these concerts were a mix of “high” and “low” repertoire, with the Orchestra performing standards, like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, along with lighter fare, including Arthur Goring Thomas’s A Summer Night. Neither were these light affairs; one concert in Milwaukee on March 22 featured an extended Wagner-only second half with many of the most difficult pieces in the orchestral repertoire, including overtures to The Flying Dutchman and Lohengrin and the infamous Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre. Other common works in the repertoire included Thomas’s orchestral arrangement of the third movement—the slow Marche funèbre or Funeral March—from Chopin’s Piano Sonata no. 2, Mendelssohn’s Overture to The Fair Melusina, and the intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana (fresh from its September 1891 U.S. premiere in Philadelphia).

The first known image of the Chicago Orchestra on the steps of the Saint Louis Exposition Hall on March 14, 1892

The Orchestra’s ability to perform such demanding music becomes even more astonishing upon looking at the tour schedule, where players were frequently given only one day off between concert sets, and likely that time was spent traveling by train from city to city. Many of the same musicians regularly were featured as soloists—concertmaster Max Bendix, along with several principals: cello Bruno Steindel, clarinet Joseph Schreurs, and flute Vigo Andersen—sidestepping the issue of finding local talent or soloists willing to travel, while also giving Thomas the chance to showcase the tremendous talents at his disposal.

Chicago Orchestra tour schedule, 1891-92 season

Many of the theaters that welcomed the Orchestra were themselves quite new, many calling themselves “opera houses,” since opera was considered more “respectable” than mere theater. While opera was sometimes performed in these venues, more often than not they welcomed touring music groups like the Chicago Orchestra, as well as vaudeville and minstrel shows. Many of these theaters have since been demolished, but in their day, they were architectural jewels, as many of the surviving photos and drawings can attest. In the first season, it seems that the Orchestra relied on local event organizers to print up programs, leading to occasionally humorous mis-hearings of titles. For example, Delibes’s suite from the ballet Sylvia frequently concluded a program, and its last movement is Les chasseuses or The Huntresses; the name of this movement was subjected to many different spellings, including Les chesseresses, Les chausseures, and even The Shoes.

Temple Theater in Alton, Illinois, March 16, 1892

By the second season (1892-93), many of these rough edges had been smoothed out. Having noticed the inconsistencies in the titles, Chicago Orchestra management began printing the program books, each bearing Thomas’s face on the front cover and with standardized titles. The concerts themselves also became more consistent, with much less variety in programmed music from city to city. However, the Orchestra’s out-of-town trips would soon become far less frequent: from a grand total of fifty-five concerts in the first season, to forty-five in the second, and a mere fifteen in the third season. Deficits that hounded the Orchestra’s early seasons are most likely to blame, as the expense of such frequent tours could no longer be justified; though the exhaustion of the musicians surely had an effect as well.

DuBois Opera House, Elgin, Illinois, November 1, 1892

Thomas’s personal drive to bring music to the masses soon found other outlets. Having been named the the director of the Bureau of Music for the World’s Columbian Exposition, he was ready to become the city’s chief musical ambassador to the millions of people who would visit. Thomas also implemented a series of “workingmen’s concerts,” where ticket prices were significantly reduced in order to allow those who could not otherwise afford to attend the Orchestra’s subscription concerts.

But wait, there’s more . . . stay tuned for part 2 of this dive into the Orchestra’s early touring days, which will focus on female guest soloists!

Jenna Harmon is a doctoral candidate in musicology at Northwestern University and an intern in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association’s Rosenthal Archives.

Cover of one of four World’s Columbian Exposition pop-up books

On April 28, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed an act of Congress awarding Chicago the honor of hosting a world’s fair—the World’s Columbian Exposition—to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. Architects Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root were charged with oversight of the design and construction, but following Root’s unexpected death in January 1891, Burnham became the sole director of works. He engaged several other architects—including Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Follen McKim, and Louis Sullivan—to design a classical revival–themed city with grand boulevards, elaborate building façades, and lush gardens. Beaux Arts design concepts—based on symmetry, balance, and grace—were employed, and the 200 new, but intentionally temporary, buildings were mostly covered in plaster of Paris and painted a chalky white, giving the fairgrounds its nickname, the “White City.”

Chicago World’s Fair 1893 by Harley Dewitt Nichols (1859–1939)

The fairgrounds stretched over nearly 700 acres in Jackson Park and officially opened to the public on May 1, 1893—125 years ago. Over the next six months, nearly fifty countries would exhibit and close to twenty-eight million people would visit. Juicy Fruit chewing gum, Cream of Wheat, Quaker Oats, Shredded Wheat, Aunt Jemima pancake mix, and the Ferris Wheel were introduced, along with the first U.S. Post Office–issued picture postcards and commemorative stamps and U.S. Mint–issued commemorative quarter and half-dollar coins. Following its blue ribbon–win as “America’s Best” at the exposition, the Pabst Brewing Company officially changed the name of its signature beer.

One visitor was poet and author Katharine Lee Bates, who would later include “Thine alabaster cities gleam” in her poem America the Beautiful. Herman Webster Mudgett (a.k.a. Dr. Henry Howard Holmes) traveled to the fair with two of his eventual victims (later described by Erik Larson in his book The Devil in the White City). And natives bragging about the fair likely contributed to the popularity of Chicago’s nickname as the “Windy City.”

Theodore Thomas

Soon after Theodore Thomas agreed to lead the new Chicago Orchestra, the exposition’s executive committee (many of whom were the same men who were helping to finance his new orchestra) offered him the job of director of music for the fair. Inspired by Burnham’s imagination and drive—not to mention that the committee was prepared to spend nearly one million dollars on music and two performance halls—Thomas accepted shortly after his new orchestra’s inaugural concerts on October 16 and 17, 1891, in the Auditorium Theatre.

Thomas laid out an extensive plan for all types of concerts and issued a proclamation in the spring of 1892 setting forth many lofty goals, among them “the hearty support of American musicians, amateurs, and societies, for participation on great festival occasions of popular music, and for the interpretation of the most advanced composition, American and foreign.” He made his new orchestra the foundation of the resident ensemble, the Exposition Orchestra, augmented to over one hundred players, and he invited the most important musicians in the world to participate: Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák, Joseph Joachim, Piotr Tchaikovsky, Jules Massenet, Camille Saint-Saëns, Giuseppe Verdi, Pietro Mascagni, Charles Gounod, Anton Rubinstein, and Hans Richter, among others.

Music Hall, designed by Charles Atwood

Two music buildings were constructed for a combined cost of $230,000. Music Hall, designed by Charles Atwood, had two performance spaces, seating 600 and 2,000. Festival Hall, designed by Francis M. Whitehouse, had a stage that was reportedly larger than the entire Metropolitan Opera House and seated 4,000 with standing room for more than 2,000.

The inaugural ceremony on October 21, 1892, was given in Festival Hall and included 5,500 singers in the chorus, an orchestra of 200, two large military bands, and two drum corps of fifty players each. In order to for everyone to see, Thomas used a large white handkerchief to conduct, rather than a baton. The event opened with the American composer John Knowles Paine’s Columbus March and Hymn, and continued with Carl Koelling’s World’s Columbian Exposition Waltz and George Whitefield Chadwick‘s Ode for the Opening of the World’s Fair held at Chicago 1892 (set to a poem by Harriet Monroe).

George Whitefield Chadwick’s Ode for the Opening of the World’s Fair held at Chicago 1892 (Theodore Thomas collection)

Carl Koelling’s World’s Columbian Exposition Waltz (piano reduction, Theodore Thomas collection)

As excitement mounted for the official opening of the fair, nearly one hundred piano manufacturers began to vie for the opportunity to exhibit. Some exposition officials began to take sides with different manufacturers, and Thomas attempted to steer clear of the growing controversy. East-coast builders, most notably Steinway, felt the planners were giving unfair advantage to Midwest piano manufacturers, and, as a result withdrew their participation. It was decided that only pianos made by exhibiting companies could be used at the fair. The press had a field day, criticizing both Thomas and the exposition planners, accusing all of conspiring for personal advantage.

Ignace Paderewski

The Exposition’s inaugural concert was scheduled for May 2, 1893, and Thomas’s first choice for soloist was the famous Polish pianist Ignace Paderewski. He had performed with the Chicago Orchestra and had even offered to waive his usual $5,000 per concert fee. He would perform his Piano Concerto in A minor for the first concert and Schumann’s concerto for the second; Theodore Thomas would conduct the Exposition Orchestra (the Chicago Orchestra expanded to 114 players).

Paderewski was unofficially an exclusive Steinway artist and if he was going to perform, it had to be on a Steinway. With Burnham’s help—and unbeknownst to Thomas—workers were able to sneak Paderewski’s Steinway concert grand into Music Hall the night before the first concert.

May 2, 1893

“Those who sat beneath the potent spell [Paderewski’s] mighty genius weaves could but acknowledge his unrivaled greatness and congratulate the exposition upon having secured him for the assisting artist at the inaugural concert,” reported the Chicago Tribune, praising the “surpassing beauty and matchless artistic greatness” of his performance.

By the time the committee discovered Paderewski’s use of a Steinway, it was too late to react. Thomas was falsely accused of conspiring against the committee, and despite the musical success of the concert, again, he was roasted in the press and public debate and criticism increased.

Theodore Thomas’s Exposition ticket book

Other problems included the cavernous acoustics in the Music Hall, Chicago’s May weather was bitter cold and the halls were not heated, and ticket sales for concerts were significantly less than anticipated. Thomas had difficulty hiding his disappointment, which only added to the mounting criticism against him.

Stubs from Thomas’s ticket book

After having conducted nearly seventy concerts in little more than three months, distraught over poor attendance, and mired in controversy, Thomas resigned as musical director in early August. His ticket book for the fair confirms his attendance; the last admission stub removed is for August 11, and at noon that day in Festival Hall, he led his Exposition Orchestra in one last concert.

August 12, 1893

Of all of the musicians Thomas invited to participate in the fair, only one actually made the journey to Chicago—Antonín Dvořák. August 12—the day after Thomas’s last concert—was designated as Bohemian Day, and according to the Chicago Tribune, “Bohemia ruled the World’s Columbian Exposition yesterday. It was the special date set apart for that nationality, and its citizens invaded the White City at every entrance by the thousands.”

Nearly 8,000 people packed into the fair’s Festival Hall to hear the Exposition Orchestra under the batons of Vojtěch I. Hlaváč, professor of music at the Imperial University in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and Dvořák, then the director of New York’s National Conservatory of Music in America.

August 12, 1893

The Tribune reviewer continued. “As Dvořák walked out upon the stage a storm of applause greeted him. For nearly two minutes the old composer [age fifty-one!] stood beside the music rack, baton in hand, bowing his acknowledgements. The players dropped their instruments to join in the welcome. Symphony no. 4 in G major [now known as no. 8], considered a severe test of technical writing as well as playing, was interpreted brilliantly. The Orchestra caught the spirit and magnetism of the distinguished leader. The audience sat as if spell-bound. Tremendous outbursts of applause were given.” On the second half of the program, Dvořák conducted selections from his Slavonic Dances and closed the program with his overture My Country.

For the next several weeks, the concerts given were primarily organ recitals. Concertmaster Max Bendix would lead the Exposition Orchestra in most of the remaining scheduled symphonic concerts, and the repertoire was modified to feature lighter, more popular works.

Thomas never completely recovered from the disappointment of the fair, and in his 1904 autobiography, he made no mention of the exposition whatsoever. In Memoirs of Theodore Thomas, completed in 1911 by his widow Rose Fay, she described one silver lining: during the fair, the “the daily concerts and rehearsals of the Orchestra had brought it up to the very highest point of artistic proficiency, and given it an enormous repertoire of music, so that Thomas felt he now had an almost perfect instrument for the concerts of the coming winter . . . This was a great relief to his mind.”

The Chicago Orchestra’s third season began the day after Thanksgiving on November 24 and 25, 1893, at the Auditorium Theatre.

Portions of this article previously appeared here and here, and an abbreviated version will appear in the CSO’s May 2018 program book.

The advance notice for the November 9, 1891, performance of Lohengrin included the names of producers, principal singers, conductor, and stage manager, but not the accompanying orchestra.

Following the third subscription week of its first season, the Chicago Orchestra (as we were then known) was in the pit of the Auditorium Theatre for performances by the Metropolitan Opera Company from November 9 until December 12, 1891, including three run-out performances at the Amphitheatre Auditorium in Louisville, Kentucky on December 7 and 8.

The first opera given was Wagner’s Lohengrin—sung in Italian—led by Auguste Vianesi, the Orchestra’s first guest conductor. That performance featured no less than five singers making their U.S. debuts: soprano Emma Eames, mezzo-soprano Giulia Ravogli, baritone Antonio Magini- Coletti, and tenor and bass brothers Jean and Édouard de Reszke.

On November 10, 1891, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that even though several patrons were late in arriving due to “the fact that carriages approached in single file and the process of unloading was rather slow . . . [they] failed to dismay Sig. Vianesi, who began his calisthenic exercise with the baton promptly at eight. Eighty-five musicians of the Chicago Orchestra played the graceful Lohengrin prelude in a style which in the show-bill style was ‘alone worth the price of admission.’”

Wood engraved print by Fred Pegram of Jean and Edouard de Reszke—as Lohengrin and Heinrich—from The Illustrated London News in 1891

In the title role, Jean de Reszke “has the dignity and aplomb of an artist to the manner born and the glittering armor of the Knight of the Grail becomes him well. . . . [He] is an artist to the tips of his mailed boots and gloves. He has immense personal magnetism, and when he casually conveyed to Elsa the information, ‘Io t’amo,’ there was a responsive thrill under many a pretty corsage bouquet.”

On November 14, The New York Times reported from Chicago. “It was though reason for not a little regret both in New York and this city when it was announced that the management of the Metropolitan Opera House, which in a measure seems to control the operatic destiny of the country, had decided to discontinue German opera this year and to substitute therefore Italian opera. By selecting Lohengrin as the opera with which to open the present season, Messrs. Abbey and Grau made a praiseworthy compromise. All fears that the season would be composed of a series of repetitious of hackneyed Italian operas were thus allayed. It is too early to pass any judgment, but, according to the indications to be found in this week’s performances, it is almost safe to assume that in many respects this year will witness some of the most brilliant performances of grand opera ever given in this country.”

Regarding Édouard de Reszke as Heinrich, the Times continued, that he was “endowed with a voice which for power and quality, richness and warmth, range and volume, has seldom been equaled. He displayed the highest art in the use of it. His acting also was artistic, and dignified, and his impersonation was in every respect a regal one.” As Ortrud, Giulia Ravogli, “displayed histrionic ability of an exceptionally high order and a mezzo-soprano voice of extensive compass and considerable power.”

Additional singers who appeared during the residency were among the most famous of the day, including sopranos Emma Albani, Lilli Lehmann, and Marie Van Zandt; mezzo-soprano Sofia Scalchi; tenor Fernando Valero; baritones Edoardo Camera and Jean Martapoura; and bass Jules Vinché. A staggering number of operas were performed, including Bellini’s Norma and La sonnambula; Flotow’s Martha; Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice; Gounod’s Faust and Romeo and Juliet; Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana; Meyerbeer’s Dinorah and Les Huguenots; Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Thomas’s Mignon; and Verdi’s Aida, Otello, and Rigoletto.

The final offering of the residency on December 12 was a fourth performance of Lohengrin, and changes in the cast included Valero in the title role, Albani as Elsa, and Vinché as Heinrich; Louis Saar conducted. Two days later on December 14, the company was back in New York for the Metropolitan Opera’s season opening: Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet featuring Eames and the de Reske brothers with Vianesi on the podium.

After two run-out performances on December 15 (at the Odeon in Cincinnati) and 16 (in Indianapolis), founder and first music director Theodore Thomas and his Chicago Orchestra resumed the regular season with the fourth subscription week at the Auditorium on December 18.

An abbreviated version of this article appears in the program book for the December 14, 15, 16, and 19, 2017, CSO concerts led by Jaap van Zweden. Special thanks to our colleagues at the Metropolitan Opera and their performance history database.

Program book advertisement for the Metropolitan Opera’s 1897 residency at the Auditorium Theatre

During the Chicago Orchestra’s first decade, the ensemble frequently performed in the pit when the Metropolitan Opera’s touring company traveled through the Midwest.

One of the most extensive residencies during that era occurred during the 1896-97 season, when the Met collaborated with the Orchestra over a six-week period—from February 22 through April 3, 1897—spending four weeks in the Auditorium Theatre followed by a two-week tour to Saint Louis, Louisville, and Cincinnati. Together they gave over forty performances of fifteen different operas, including Bizet’s Carmen; Flotow’s Martha; Gounod’s Faust, Philemon and Baucis, and Romeo and Juliet; Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana; Massenet’s Le Cid; Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine and Les Huguenots; Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Verdi’s Aida and Il trovatore; and Wagner’s Lohengrin, Siegfried, and Tristan and Isolde.

The touring company included some of the most important singers of the day, many performing multiple roles, including: Emma Calvé as Carmen, Marguerite, and Santuzza; Jean de Reszke as Don José, Faust, Lohengrin, Siegfried, and Tristan; and his brother Édouard de Reszke as King Marke, Leporello, Mephistopheles, Ramfis, and the Wanderer. Other singers included Mathilde Bauermeister, David BisphamGiuseppe CampanariFélia Litvinne, and Eugenia Mantelli, among many others, and Metropolitan Opera house conductors were Enrico Bevignani, Luigi Mancinelli, Louis Saar, and Anton Seidl.

Boito’s Mefistofele was performed once during the residency, on March 2, 1897, with the following cast:

Mefistofele Pol Plançon, bass
Faust Giuseppe Cremonini, tenor
Margherita and Elena Emma Calvé, soprano
Wagner and Nereo Igenio Corsi, tenor
Marta and Pantalis Eugenia Mantelli, mezzo-soprano
Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Carlo Corsi, director
Luigi Mancinelli, conductor 

Pol Plançon, photographed in Paris in 1881 by Wilhelm Benque

In the Chicago Tribune, the reviewer described Plançon—who also performed the role of Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faust on the tour—”M. Plançon as Mefistofele was forceful and majestic. In much of the detail he was the creature of Gounod’s libretto, but for one important exception, Boito’s Devil is thoroughly Italian. He is more noisy, impetuous, vindictive. The French composer has treated his subject with greater elevation of satire. Gounod’s French suavity and politeness never forsook him even when he set about depicting the Devil. Boito, true to Italian instinct, made his a personage terrifying, from the melodramatic point of view,. His Mefistofele never for a moment is allowed to forget what a bad person he is, and that is the chief thing he has to do in this entire opera. He is like a picture by [Gustave] Doré, red drapery, piercing eyes, and a background of smoke.”

For more details on the Metropolitan Opera’s Chicago residencies, check out the company’s performance history database.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Chicago Children’s Choir, and bass Riccardo Zanellato in the Prologue to Boito’s Mefistofele on June 22, 23, 24, and 25, 2017.

George Gershwin appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra twice, and on both occasions he was soloist in his Concerto in F and Rhapsody in Blue.

Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1933

In conjunction with A Century of Progress International Exposition—the world’s fair held in Chicago to celebrate the city’s centennial—several concerts were given at the Auditorium Theatre under the auspices of the Chicago Friends of Music. The first concert of the series, on June 14, 1933, was a celebration of American music; during the first half of the program, second music director Frederick Stock led the Orchestra in Henry Hadley’s In Bohemia Overture and Deems Taylor’s Through the Looking-Glass Suite. After intermission, Gershwin and his frequent collaborator William Daly took the stage for the thirty-four-year-old composer’s Concerto in F, An American in Paris, and Rhapsody in Blue.

“The most exciting concert of many a day was given last night at the Auditorium,” wrote Mrs. Henry Field in the Herald & Examiner. “[Gershwin’s] success was tremendous. Elegant, clean-cut, in white tie and tails, [following the concert he hosted] a most amusing party at the College Inn . . . One hears much about George Gershwin, but certainly to meet he is even more charming that his reputation has it—and that is saying something. He wore a white gardenia boutonniere . . . and was delighted that Chicago had given him a more than cordial welcome . . . and when a young lady said she liked his concerto better than his rhapsody, he had one of those very pleased looks.”

“We may put by forever explanation, apologia, and réserve in writing about American music after hearing George Gershwin and his compositions last night at the Auditorium. Gershwin is American music translated in terms of audacity, humor, wit, cleverness, spontaneity, vitality, and overwhelming naturalness. Nothing like his Concerto in F has ever been heard in the symphonic world, and if it is not the very essence of Americanism, I do not know my profession nor the art it serves,” wrote Herman Devries in the Chicago American. “Gershwin vibrates to the tune of a people and is animated by its own pulse beat. . . . He is the music of America.”

Herald & Examiner, July 26, 1936

Gershwin and Daly appeared once more with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 25, 1936, for a gala concert during the festival’s first season. A capacity crowd—by some estimates over 8,000 people, many climbing trees for a glimpse of the performers—packed the park to hear an all-Gershwin concert that again featured the Concerto in F and Rhapsody in Blue with the composer as soloist, along with Daly leading An American in Paris and a suite from Porgy and Bess.

“All attendance records for all time at Ravinia Park were broken last night,” wrote the social reporter for the Herald & Examiner. “Throngs, seeking vantage points in the area delegated to general admission tickets, began arriving hours before the music was scheduled to begin. . . . As a result, some of the richest and most influential of the Lake Forest blue-bloods were making frantic but ineffectual efforts for several days to secure the reserved spots.”

Claudia Cassidy, writing in the Journal of Commerce, reported that Gershwin was “more than ever a cross (in appearance and talent) between Horowitz and Astaire; he made his Concerto in F an American’s version of the Rachmaninov Third, boiling with the surge of modernity in the curve of brilliant orchestra. Even the Rhapsody took second place . . .”

“Ravinia went wild last night,” added Edward Barry in the Chicago Tribune. Gershwin and Daly “made out a good case for the immense cleverness of style which is built upon bizarre metrical schemes, arresting melodic sequences, and hold, intelligently employed harmonics. . . . The Chicago Symphony Orchestra brought all of its virtuosity in the pat descriptiveness and shrilling brilliance of An American in Paris, falling easily into its idiom with the versatility of accomplished musicians. Following its cleverly stylized whoopee came the F major piano concerto, in which Gershwin himself played the solo part. The touch of a master.”

This article accompanies the program notes for the May 25, 27, and 30, 2017, performances, and portions previously appeared here.

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Theodore Thomas

Theodore Thomas

In early 1889, Chicago businessman Charles Norman Fay encountered Theodore Thomas—then one of the most famous conductors in the United States—in New York. Thomas had fallen on hard times, his orchestra recently disbanded. According to Fay in the February 1910 Outlook, “My thoughts went back to those ten years of Summer Garden Concerts [in Chicago], and to some powerful and devoted friends of Mr. Thomas and his music at home, and I asked, ‘Would you come to Chicago if we could give you a permanent orchestra?’ The answer, grim and sincere, and entirely destitute of intentional humor, came back like a flash: ‘I would go to hell if they gave me a permanent orchestra.’ ”

October 16 and 17, 1891

October 16 and 17, 1891

Fay returned to Chicago and quickly found support for a new orchestra. The Orchestral Association first met on December 17, 1890, and less than a year later, on October 16 and 17, 1891, the Chicago Orchestra gave its first concerts at the Auditorium Theatre, with Thomas conducting Wagner’s A Faust Overture, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with Rafael Joseffy, and Dvořák’s Husitská Overture.

“It has been stated that the Orchestral Association’s contract with Mr. Thomas stipulated that he should in the Chicago Orchestra give to the city an organization the peer of the finest in the United States. Yesterday’s public rehearsal at the Auditorium by that orchestra showed that Mr. Thomas has filled his contract,” reported the Chicago Tribune on October 17. “Thomas has long been known for his ability to quickly bring newly formed orchestras into condition for satisfactory work, but in this instance he has fairly surpassed himself, the results being simply astonishing. . . . The body of the tone produced is superb, possessing a vitality, a fullness, and volume such as has been heard from no orchestra ever before in Chicago.”

This article also appears here.

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brucikner-9

During the Chicago Orchestra’s thirteenth season, Theodore Thomas programmed Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony for its first performances in the United States. This was the fourth of Bruckner’s symphonies to be performed by the Orchestra in Chicago, as Thomas had already led the Fourth in January 1897, the Third in March 1901, and the Second in February 1903.

On February 19, 1904, the capacity crowd at the Auditorium Theatre had gathered mainly to hear contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink, one of the most famous singers of the day. Thomas had strategically programmed the Bruckner on the first half of the concert between Schumann-Heink’s two selections—“Non più di fiori” from Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito and an orchestration of Schubert’s song “Die Allmacht”—to obviously assure that the premiere would be heard by all in attendance.

February 19 and 20, 1904

February 19 and 20, 1904

“The name of Bruckner caused these 3,700 persons [over 700 had been turned away] to listen in patient, long suffering to a piece of tedious music which endured for fifty-five wearisome minutes, and to applaud when the trial was at an end,” wrote William Lines Hubbard in the Chicago Tribune. “There may have been those in the audience yesterday who did not find the three movements of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony tedious almost beyond endurance, but certainly their number was small. . . . We have endured four of his symphonies in the last six years—please, Mr. Thomas, is there not somebody else it would be ‘good for us’ to hear? Anybody will be preferable to more Bruckner!”

This article also appears here.

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Chicago Orchestra, October 16 and 17, 1891

October 16 and 17, 1891

According to Philo Adams Otis in his book The Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Its Organization, Growth, and Development, 1891–1924: “The first meeting for the incorporation of The Orchestral Association was held at the Chicago Club, December 17, 1890, and a board of five trustees elected. The first season (1891–92) of the Chicago Orchestra will consist of twenty concerts, each concert preceded by a public rehearsal, to be given at the Auditorium under the direction of Theodore Thomas. The talent engaged to make up the Chicago Orchestra is of the very finest order.”

Theodore Thomas Orchestra, October 20 and 21, 1905

October 20 and 21, 1905

Following Thomas’s unexpected death on January 4, 1905, Frederick Stock temporarily assumed the duties of music director as the Association began a search for a permanent replacement. But after a few months, it was evident that the more-than-capable successor to Thomas already had been in place. On April 11, the trustees met and unanimously elected Stock as the second music director, and the ensemble’s name was changed to the Theodore Thomas Orchestra. The program books for that season’s last concerts on April 14 and 15 were perhaps already printed, and the new name first appeared in October 1905.

Otis’s account of the twenty-second season completed the saga: “During the winter of 1912–13 [Association] President [Bryan] Lathrop interviewed or wrote to every member of the Board of Trustees, suggesting important reasons for changing the name ‘The Theodore Thomas Orchestra’ to ‘The Chicago Symphony Orchestra.’ Mr. Lathrop had always held to the belief that an institution depending largely on the public for its support suffers in bearing the name of its founder or benefactor, however honored or distinguished that name may be.”

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, February 28 and March 1, 1913

February 28 and March 1, 1913

The Board’s executive committee met on Friday, February 21, 1913, and adopted the following: “Resolved, that hereafter the official name of the Orchestra shall be The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, founded by Theodore Thomas . . . indissolubly connecting the name of our first great conductor with that of the Orchestra, and indicating to the world what the present name fails to do, that he was the founder of our Orchestra, and it will commemorate the great work which he did in America for the cause of good music. The new name will also associate the Orchestra with the city and people of Chicago, and insure for it their continued aid and support.” The following week, the cover of the program book made it official.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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