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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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The score for Mahler's Symphony no. 7 used by Frederick Stock for the U.S. premiere

The score for Mahler’s Symphony no. 7 used by Frederick Stock for the U.S. premiere

Frederick Stock and the Orchestra first introduced the music of Gustav Mahler to Chicago audiences on March 22 and 23, 1907, performing the composer’s Fifth Symphony. Reviews were, shall we say, mixed.

“Ugly symphony is well played: Thomas Orchestra shows director Mahler of Vienna writes bad music,” proclaimed the headline of Millar Ular’s review in the Chicago Examiner. He continued that rather than title the symphony “The Giant,” it might be better titled “The Octopus” due to its ugliness, “The Dachshund” due to its length, or “Chaos” due to its purported lack of form. A writer in the Chicago Journal agreed, calling the symphony a “long and tedious work,” and most of the public agreed, as “before it was done, fully half the audience had fled.”

April 15 and 16, 1921

April 15 and 16, 1921

Undaunted, Stock programmed Mahler’s First in November 1914, the Fourth in March 1916, and three performances of the massive Eighth—with just under a thousand performers onstage at the Auditorium Theatre—in April 1917.

According to Phillip Huscher, “Stock heard Mahler’s Seventh Symphony for the first time in Amsterdam in 1920. He got a copy of the score in Paris and programmed the work for the penultimate concert of the 1920–21 season in Chicago. Perhaps fearing that the Chicago public would not share his enthusiasm for the Seventh Symphony, Stock announced that he had cut out eleven minutes of music, paring the playing time down to one hour and four minutes.”

Regarding the performance on April 15, 1921—the first performance of the symphony in the U.S.—the Chicago Evening Post reported that “the Orchestra played with astonishing virtuosity. There was nothing Mahler could write which they could not play, as they demonstrated to full satisfaction. At the close of the symphony there was a great demonstration for Mr. Stock, in which he had all the players rise and join.”

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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June 14, 1933

June 14, 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, Frederick Stock led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Henry Hadley’s In Bohemia Overture and Deems Taylor’s Through the Looking-Glass Suite. After intermission, conductor William Daly and pianist George Gershwin took the stage for the thirty-four-year-old composer’s Concerto in F, An American in Paris, and Rhapsody in Blue.

Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1933

Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1933

“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 Amercanism, 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.”

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.

This article also appears here.

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Prokofiev in Chicago

During Sergei Prokofiev’s first visit to America, he appeared with the Orchestra as conductor and piano soloist in two U.S. premieres. He was soloist in his First Piano Concerto (under the baton of assistant conductor Eric DeLamarter), and after intermission he conducted his Scythian Suite.

“Prokofiev made his first Chicago appearances as pianist, conductor, and composer at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert yesterday afternoon, and in all three musical capacities proved himself a sensational figure, one who must be reckoned with in the future,” wrote Maurice Rosenfeld in the Chicago Daily News. “He is a remarkably gifted pianist; virile, full of exuberant activity, equipped with a wonderfully complete technique, extraordinary supple wrists which dash off octaves with lightning like rapidity and brilliance, steely fingers which reel forth scale passages of great clarity, and a touch which is directed to reproduce tones which range from mere whisperings to thunderous masses of sound. As a composer, he disclosed himself in his concerto for piano with orchestral accompaniment as a musician of great originality, as a writer who finds beauty in music in rhythmic combination more than in melodic lines, and emotional expression in masses of varying degrees of tones and contrasting dynamic changes.”

December 6 and 7, 1918

December 6 and 7, 1918

Over the next twenty years, Prokofiev returned regularly to Chicago to perform with the Orchestra, both as conductor and soloist. His December 1921 appearances included the world premiere of his Third Piano Concerto (and he conducted the world premiere of his Love for Three Oranges with the Chicago Opera Association at the Auditorium Theatre), and he led the U.S. premieres of his Divertimento in 1930 and the first suite from his ballet Romeo and Juliet in 1937.

This article also appears here.

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Ignace Paderewski in the 1890s

Ignace Paderewski in the 1890s

In American Orchestras in the Nineteenth Century, Brenda Nelson-Strauss wrote that 1892 “found the city in a frenzy of preparations for the World’s Columbian Exposition, planned as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus and constructed on a grandiose scale that would surpass the [1876] Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. Thomas was appointed director of the Bureau of Music, and he 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.’ ”

For the exposition’s inaugural concert on May 2, 1893, Ignace Paderewski performed his Piano Concerto in A minor, and Theodore Thomas conducted the Exposition Orchestra (the Chicago Orchestra expanded to 114 players).*

May 2, 1893

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. “All of [his selections] he had played here before, and as the surpassing beauty and matchless artistic greatness of his performances were pointed out at that time, attempt to comment upon the work of yesterday could but result in feeble reiteration of praise that to be adequate must seem rhapsody.”

Paderewski had first appeared during the Orchestra’s first season on January 1 and 2, 1892, as soloist in Rubinstein’s Fourth Concerto and Liszt’s Fantasia on Hungarian Folk Melodies. In Paderewski Adam Zamoyski noted, “In Chicago, too, he found a magnificent orchestra and conductor, Theodore Thomas, ‘a real musician, a musician by the Grace of God.’ At the Chicago Auditorium he played to his largest audience yet—4,000 people. Prominent amongst these, he noticed with emotion, were hundreds of local Polish émigrés who had flocked to the concert at the sound of his name.”

A regular visitor to Chicago both as concerto soloist and recitalist for more than forty years, Paderewski last appeared with the Orchestra on March 31 and April 1, 1932, in Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Frederick Stock conducting.

*It had been decided that only pianos made by exhibiting companies could be used at the fair. Steinway, which was not exhibiting, was preferred by Paderewski, and one of its pianos was sneaked into the Music Hall the night before the May 2 concert, unbeknownst to Thomas. However, numerous piano manufacturers accused him of conspiring with Paderewski, and there was significant public debate. After having conducted nearly seventy concerts in little more than three months, “by mid-August of 1893, distraught over poor attendance and mired in controversy, Thomas resigned as musical director” of the fair, according to Nelson-Strauss.

This article also appears here.

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Florence Price (George Nelidoff photo)

Florence Price (George Nelidoff photo)

As part of the World’s Fair in Chicago—called A Century of Progress International Exposition in honor of the city’s centennial—the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presented a concert of music featuring not only African American soloists but also several works by black composers. Given on June 15, 1933, at the Auditorium Theatre under the auspices of Chicago Friends of Music, the program included compositions and arrangements by Florence Price, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Harry Burleigh, and Roland Hayes; Hayes also was tenor soloist along with pianist Margaret Bonds.

The centerpiece of the concert was the world premiere of Price’s Symphony no. 1 in E minor—winner of a Wanamaker Foundation Award in 1932—conducted by Frederick Stock. With this event, Price became the first black female composer to have a large-scale composition performed by a major American orchestra. The reviewer in the Chicago Daily News called the symphony “a faultless work, cast in something less than the most modernistic mode and even reminiscent at times of other composers who have dealt with America in tone. But for all its dependence upon the idiom of others, it is a work that speaks its own message with restraint and yet with passion. Miss Price’s symphony is worthy of a place in the regular symphonic repertory.”

June 15, 1933

June 15, 1933

Bonds was soloist in Chicago composer John Alden Carpenter’s Concertino for Piano and Orchestra. In the Chicago American, Herman Devries remarked that, “Carpenter’s charming concertino received exactly that sort of interpretation from Miss Bonds, who has both the technique and the imagination, the fingers and the mind, ably to reproduce Mr. Carpenter’s genial and persuasive music. The composer was present in a box [with George Gershwin as his guest] and quite openly pleased and perhaps a little moved at the warmth of the applause, directed for and at him.”

Hayes performed arias from Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ and Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha along with two spirituals (“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” orchestrated by Burleigh and “Bye and Bye” arranged by Hayes himself). Coleridge-Taylor’s rhapsodic dance, The Bamboula, concluded the program.

This article also appears here.

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date

October 30 and 31, 1891

On October 30, 1891—only two weeks after its inaugural concert—the Chicago Orchestra gave the U.S. premiere of Dvořák’s Violin Concerto at the Auditorium Theatre. Max Bendix, the Orchestra’s first concertmaster from 1891 until 1896, was soloist, and Theodore Thomas conducted.

The program book for the third week of subscription concerts listed the concerto as “new” and “the program annotator [Adolph W. Dohn], like anyone writing about contemporary music, hedged his bets on Dvořák’s future reputation,” according to the Orchestra’s current program annotator Phillip Huscher. “Of the Bohemian composer’s recent decision to relocate to the United States, a new world he would later famously depict in a symphony, [Dohn] said only, ‘it remains to be seen to what extent the influences of another civilization may affect his musical expression.’ ”

caption

Detail from the program note for October 30 and 31, 1891

“The solo part is, as has been said, one of great difficulty, that of the last movement being especially trying. Mr. Max Bendix met these difficulties and overcame them in most instances with ease,” wrote the reviewer in the Chicago Tribune. “His phrasing is truly exceptional in its artistic beauty and purity. Rarely has a violinist been heard in Chicago who has equaled Mr. Bendix in this respect.”

This article also appears here.

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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