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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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First television concerts copy

Rafael Kubelík conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first television concert on September 25, 1951, carried over WENR-TV Chicago and fed to twenty-two stations. The thirty-minute program, performed at the Civic Theatre* for a studio audience, included Rossini’s Overture to The Silken Ladder, Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orpheus and Eurydice, Schubert’s ballet music from Rosamunde, and Mendelssohn’s Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Because the initial contract specified a minimum of only twenty-five musicians, the earliest programs credited the “Chicago Symphony Chamber Orchestra” rather than the full orchestra. Sponsored by Chicago Title and Trust Company, twenty-nine programs were broadcast during the 1951–52 season.

“This series represents something new for television, particularly for Chicago TV,” wrote Larry Wolters in the Chicago Tribune. “Symphony orchestras have been telecast on a single-program basis, but this is the first time for such a venture on a weekly basis.”

Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra in the WGN-TV studios

Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra in the WGN-TV studios (Lawrence-Phillip Studios photo)

Considerable changes were initiated in 1953 at the beginning of Fritz Reiner’s tenure as music director, and WGN-TV, now the producer, extended the program to an Hour of Music. The show was syndicated over the fourteen-station DuMont network, and as many as fifty musicians were hired each week. The series continued through the spring of 1958, when Chicago Title and Trust withdrew its sponsorship.

After only a year’s absence, the Orchestra returned to WGN-TV for Great Music from Chicago, appearing in twenty-six shows during the 1959–60 season. Carson Pirie Scott, RCA Victor, and United Airlines provided sponsorship, and Deems Taylor was the first host. As many as seventy musicians were used for each program with most shows originating in WGN’s Studio 1-A in the Tribune Tower; other programs were taped at Orchestra Hall, the ballroom of the Edgewater Beach Hotel, and at the Ravinia Festival. The Orchestra’s participation lasted four seasons through the spring of 1963, after which the series continued for three more years but focused exclusively on popular artists and music.

*The 850-seat Civic Theatre, originally part of the Civic Opera Building that opened in 1929, was consolidated with the backstage areas during an extensive renovation completed in 1996.

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