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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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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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01-004 029 Union Stock Yards_1925-26

On November 16, 1925, Frederick Stock and the Orchestra inaugurated a series of Popular Concerts at Chicago’s Union Stock Yards. “The International Amphitheatre, as many thousands of persons know, is customarily devoted to horse shows, stock shows, contests, exhibitions generally,” wrote Edward Moore in the Chicago Tribune. “Last night its scheme was considerably altered. A stage surmounted by a heavy awning had been erected at the east end for the Orchestra and the arena filled with chairs for the audience. Instead of four-footed animals seeking prizes, it was inhabited by two-footed humans seeking—and finding—good music.”

“Buyers and breeders of butcher’s meat will throng next week to the great amphitheater at 43rd and Halsted streets, as the International Live Stock Exposition gets under way,” reported the Chicago Daily News. “But last night people came with a different hunger and listened to something far removed from the lowing and bleating of beasts. . . . [Following the concert, Stock said] ‘Oh, it is too bad we waited so long to try this. We will have many, many more people here next time, don’t worry; and I am looking forward to these concerts as a most extraordinary feature of the season. I think this is a service all orchestras should undoubtedly perform. I am going to enjoy the concerts tremendously.’ ”

Throughout its history, the Orchestra has presented affordable as well as free concerts in a variety of Chicago community locations. During the summer of 1934 at the Swift Bridge of Service (which linked the mainland with Northerly Island at 23rd Street), 125 concerts were given as part of the Century of Progress International Exposition. Symphony in the Streets concerts were given in 1971 in several outdoor locations in Chicago neighborhoods. In the summer of 1935, the Orchestra performed many concerts during the first season of the festival in Grant Park and it has returned on numerous occasions, including concerts celebrating new music directors: Daniel Barenboim at the Petrillo Music Shell on September 21, 1991, and Riccardo Muti at the Pritzker Pavilion on September 19, 2010.

This article also appears here.

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