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Illustration by Pam Rossi

After more than three years of planning, building, testing, and fine-tuning, Symphony Center—a $120 million project that included a facility expansion and extensive renovation of Orchestra Hall—opened its doors twenty years ago today, on October 4, 1997, with an opening night gala concert.

Led by acousticians Kirkegaard Associates and architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the project encompassed additions and improvements to Orchestra Hall, including raising the roof line for increased sound reverberation, replacing plaster walls, decreasing the width and increasing the depth of the stage, adding an extensive riser system, replacing all seats and adding terrace seating behind the stage, installing an acoustic canopy (to improve onstage ensemble conditions and sound reflection to the audience), and increasing patron amenity spaces. In addition, the project included new administrative offices in the former Chapin & Gore building; Buntrock Hall, a multipurpose rehearsal and performance space; renovation of a private club (formerly the home of the Cliff Dwellers); and a multistory arcade and rotunda. The following year brought the opening of a new restaurant (originally Rhapsody and now tesori) and an education center.

Opening a three-week inaugural festival, the October 4 gala concert featured Daniel Barenboim leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the complete program was as follows:

Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center (Jim Steere photo)

ELGAR Nimrod from the Enigma Variations, Op. 36 (performed in memory of Sir Georg Solti)
VERDI Già nella notte densa from Otello, Act 1
Soile Isokoski, soprano
Plácido Domingo, tenor
VERDI Niun mi tema from Otello, Act 4
Plácido Domingo, tenor
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595
Daniel Barenboim, piano
COPLAND Lincoln Portrait
William Warfield, narrator
BRUCKNER Te Deum
Soile Isokoski, soprano
Rosemarie Lang, mezzo-soprano
Thomas Moser, tenor
Matthias Hölle, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, chorus director

Natyakalalayam Dance Company performing in Symphony Center’s rotunda on October 5, 1997 (Jeff Meacham photo)

Natyakalalayam Dance Company performing in Symphony Center’s rotunda on October 5, 1997 (Jeff Meacham photo)

Midnight marked the beginning of the first Marshall Field’s Day of Music: twenty-four hours of free, live performances of music across all genres in multiple Symphony Center venues, attended by more than 20,000 people. The festival also launched the newly renamed Symphony Center Presents series (formerly Allied Arts, begun by Harry Zelzer in the 1930s), with concerts by Barenboim, Itzhak PerlmanPinchas Zukerman, Maurizio Pollini, and the Emerson String Quartet, along with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Joe WilliamsOscar Peterson, Marcus Roberts Trio, and a tribute celebrating the eightieth-birthday anniversary of Thelonious Monk (led by his son Thelonious Monk, Jr.).

October 22, 1997 (Jim Steere photo)

October 22, 1997 (Jim Steere photo)

Sadly, the many celebrations were bittersweet. Music director laureate Sir Georg Solti—who, during the festival would have celebrated not only his eighty-fifth birthday but also his 1,000th concert with the Orchestra—had unexpectedly died on September 5, 1997. A special, free memorial concert was added on October 22 that included Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, followed by Mozart’s Requiem with Emily Magee, Anna Larsson, John Aler, René Pape, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus. A celebration concert was given on October 25, with Barenboim conducting Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto (from the keyboard) and the Seventh Symphony.

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

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Illustration by Pam Rossi

Illustration by Pam Rossi

After more than three years of planning, building, testing, and fine-tuning, Symphony Center—a $120 million project that included a facility expansion and extensive renovation of Orchestra Hall—opened its doors on October 4, 1997, with an opening night gala concert.

Led by acousticians Kirkegaard Associates and architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the project encompassed additions and improvements to Orchestra Hall, including raising the roof line for increased sound reverberation, replacing plaster walls, decreasing the width and increasing the depth of the stage, adding an extensive riser system, replacing all seats and adding terrace seating behind the stage, installing an acoustic canopy (to improve onstage ensemble conditions and sound reflection to the audience), and increasing patron amenity spaces. In addition, the project included new administrative offices in the former Chapin & Gore building; Buntrock Hall, a multipurpose rehearsal and performance space; renovation of a private club (formerly the home of the Cliff Dwellers); and a multistory arcade and rotunda. The following year brought the opening of a new restaurant (originally Rhapsody and now tesori) and an education center.

Natyakalalayam Dance Company performing in Symphony Center’s rotunda on October 5, 1997 (Jeff Meacham photo)

Natyakalalayam Dance Company performing in Symphony Center’s rotunda on October 5, 1997 (Jeff Meacham photo)

Launching a three-week inaugural festival, the October 4 gala concert was conducted by Daniel Barenboim and included excerpts from Verdi’s Otello with Soile Isokoski and Plácido Domingo, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 27 (with Barenboim conducting from the keyboard), Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with William Warfield, and Bruckner’s Te Deum with the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Midnight marked the beginning of the first Day of Music: twenty-four hours of free, live performances of music across all genres in multiple Symphony Center venues, attended by more than 20,000 people.

October 22, 1997 (Jim Steere photo)

October 22, 1997 (Jim Steere photo)

Sadly, the many celebrations were bittersweet. Music director laureate Sir Georg Solti—who, during the festival would have celebrated not only his eighty-fifth birthday but also his 1,000th concert with the Orchestra—had unexpectedly died on September 5, 1997. A special, free memorial concert was added on October 22 that included Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, followed by Mozart’s Requiem with Emily Magee, Anna Larsson, John Aler, René Pape, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus. A celebration concert was given on October 25, with Daniel Barenboim conducting Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto (from the keyboard) and the Seventh Symphony.

This article also appears here.

in 1909

The Chapin & Gore Building in 1909

In 1994, in preparation for the Symphony Center expansion project, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association acquired and renovated the historic Chapin & Gore Building on East Adams Street.

Since Orchestra Hall opened in December 1904, the majority of the Association’s administrative offices had been located on multiple floors in the Hall. With the pending expansion, many of those spaces were designated to become additional patron amenities (larger lobbies, more washrooms, etc.), so the Chapin & Gore Building would be the future home to most of the administrative staff.

Gardner Spring Chapin and James Jefferson Gore

Gardner Spring Chapin and James Jefferson Gore

The complete story of liquor distillers and distributors Chapin & Gore is expertly told by blogger Jack Sullivan on his Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men! blog. (His excellent article is here.)

Sullivan describes the building: “. . . the 1904 structure combined warehouse and office space with a street-level liquor store and bar [called the Nepeenauk]. Hired for the design were noted Chicago architects Richard Schmidt and his partner Hugh Garden. According to one commentary, the pair demonstrated through this facility, ‘the aesthetic possibilities of the utilitarian building through the use of interior functions, fine brickwork and decorative terra cotta.'”

Inside the Nepeenauk Bar (undated image courtesy of Dick Bales's The Common Stuff blog)

Inside the Nepeenauk Bar (undated image courtesy of Dick Bales’s The Common Stuff blog)

Several vintage images and drawings of the building and its architectural details can be found on the Library of Congress’s website, where the significance of the building is described as follows: “This structure represents one of the few multi-story office buildings executed by this group known as the ‘Prairie School.’ The use of both cast iron and timber columns in the building is an unusual example of skeleton framing growing out of the Chicago architecture of the late nineteenth century, while the bold formal treatment of the brick façade with its original terra cotta ornament and the interior detailing of the Chapin & Gore Bar on the west side of the ground floor were designed in the best tradition of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.”

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A footnote: during the renovation of the building, a 1909 edition of The Chapin & Gore Manual was found. The manual provides guidance for the professional and amateur bartender, including recipes for many standard cocktails.

Chapin & Gore bar manual 1909

Harry W. Stiles, the author of the manual, contributed this to the introduction: “. . . It will be seen that most of the drinks in the book are as Mr. J. J. Gore always said of his whisky—as standard as flour—and I have no doubt they will continue to be popular as long as people drink, which, notwithstanding the energy of the reformers, may be several years. The only question regarding these standard drinks is as to the proper method of preparing them, and I think I may say without being considered very egotistical, that I have been fairly successful—at least, I am proud of the fact that Messrs. Chapin & Gore have thought well enough of my efforts to retain me in their employ for thirty-seven years. In this new issue I have added several new drinks which have become popular and have changed the formula of a number of the old ones which my experience told me might be improved. The book is not only for professional bartenders, but for the ever-increasing number of gentlemen, who, having their own den and sideboard, take some pride in showing their friends their proficiency in mixing their favorite. It has even been hinted to me that there is occasionally a lady who does not object to trying her hand at mixing a Martini. If such is the case I trust both the lady and gentleman will find the book of some use.”

The entrance to the Neep bar(ca. 1905) and the tesori

The entrance to the Nepeenauk Bar (ca. 1905, image courtesy of chicagogeek via SAIC Digital Libraries) and tesori (May 2014). Take a close look at the reflection in the door glass for past and present transportation options.

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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