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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family remembers one of its iconic musicians, Milton Preves (1909–2000), in honor of the anniversary of his birth on June 18.

Milton Preves in 1934, the year he joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (George Nelidoff)

Born in Cleveland, Preves moved to Chicago as a teenager and attended Senn High School. He was a student of Leon Sametini at Chicago Musical College, Richard Czerwonky at the Bush Conservatory of Music, and Albert Noelte and Ramon Girvin at the Institute of Music and Allied Arts before attending the University of Chicago.

Preves joined the Little Symphony of Chicago in 1930, regularly worked in radio orchestras, and was invited by Mischa Mischakoff (then CSO concertmaster) to join the Mischakoff String Quartet in 1932. Two years later, second music director Frederick Stock appointed Preves to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s viola section, promoting him to assistant principal in 1936 and principal in 1939. He would remain in that post for the next forty-seven years, serving under a total of seven music directors, including Désiré Defauw, Artur Rodzinski, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, and Sir Georg Solti.

Preves performed as a soloist with the Orchestra on dozens of occasions, including the world premieres of David Van Vactor’s Viola Concerto and Ernest Bloch’s Suite hébraïque for Viola and Orchestra, both dedicated to him. Under Reiner, he recorded Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote—along with cellist Antonio Janigro and concertmaster John Weicher—with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for RCA in 1959.

Louis Sudler (Orchestral Association chairman emeritus), Lady Valerie and Sir Georg Solti, and Milton and Rebecca Preves celebrate Preves’s fiftieth anniversary as a member of the CSO in October 1984 (Terry’s Photography)

A lifelong educator, Preves served on the faculties of Roosevelt, Northwestern, and DePaul universities, and he also always taught privately out of his home. An avid conductor, he held titled posts with the North Side Symphony Orchestra of Chicago, Oak Park–River Forest Symphony, Wheaton Summer Symphony, Gary Symphony, and the Gold Coast Chamber Orchestra. As a chamber musician, he performed with the Budapest, Fine Arts, Gordon, and Chicago Symphony string quartets, as well as the Chicago Symphony Chamber Players.

As reported in his obituary in the Chicago Tribune, “It was while directing the Oak Park–River Forest group that he gained an unusual measure of national attention. He briefly became an icon of the fledgling civil rights movement in 1963, when he resigned from the community orchestra because it would not allow a Black violinist he had invited to perform with the group.” (More information can be found here.)

Preves died at the age of ninety on June 11, 2000, following a long illness. Shortly thereafter, his family began donating materials to the Rosenthal Archives, establishing his collection of correspondence, contracts, photographs, scrapbooks, programs, and recordings. Most recently, his children donated additional photographs, mostly portraits of music directors and guest conductors, all autographed and dedicated to Preves. A sample of that collection is below.

In October 1984, on the occasion of Milton Preves’s fiftieth anniversary with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, fellow viola Isadore Zverow (1909–1999) composed this poem to honor his colleague:

It’s no mean feat, without retreat
To hold the forte so long,
To stroke and pluck in cold and heat—
All to produce a song.

Toward music bent, with single intent,
Unyielding dedication,
You of yourself so gladly lent
Your valued perspiration.

You sat and played and marked and bowed
And sometimes e’en reproached
And sometimes we squirmed (just a bit)
We didn’t wanna be coached.

And yet whene’er the chips were down
Throughout these fifty anna,
Your steadfast presence was a crown
Aiming at Nirvana.

This article also appears here.

Retired violists gather at the October 19, 1996, CSO Alumni Association reunion: William Schoen (1964–1996), Milton Preves (1934–1939, principal 1939–1986), Phillip Kauffman, Isadore Zverow, and Donald Evans (1948–1988)

Retired violists gather at the October 19, 1996, CSO Alumni Association reunion: William Schoen (1964–1996), Milton Preves (1934–1939, principal 1939–1986), Phillip Kauffman, Isadore Zverow, and Donald Evans (1948–1988) (Jim Steere photo)

Virtually every Chicago Symphony Orchestra musician studied with a great teacher, who studied with great teachers before that—a process that traces back to Bernstein, Brahms, and Bach. Along with our beloved Italian maestro, Riccardo Muti, the members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association are a living link to past generations of legendary performers, conductors, and composers, and our artist musicians hail from many different countries who share a common musical heritage.

Lady Valerie Solti is greeted by CSOAA president Tom Hall at the Cliff Dwellers on October 16, 2009

Lady Valerie Solti is greeted by CSOAA president Tom Hall at the Cliff Dwellers on October 16, 2009 (Dan Rest photo)

As we conclude the celebrations surrounding the Orchestra’s festive 125th season, the CSOAA also celebrates an anniversary this year—its twenty-fifth. The CSOAA consists of nearly 130 members—including retired and former musicians, spouses, and children—an astonishing aggregate total of well over a thousand years of service to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra! In 1991, Isadore Zverow (viola, 1945–1988) fostered the idea of the CSOAA, and subsequent presidents have included Sam Denov (percussion, 1954–1985), Phillip Kauffman (violin and viola, 1927–1930 and 1964–1984), Jerry Sabransky (violin, 1949–1997), and currently Tom Hall (violin, 1970–2006).

Victor Aitay (assistant/associate concertmaster 1954–1967, concertmaster 1967–1986, concertmaster emeritus 1986–2003) and his daughter Ava along with Donald Peck (flute 1957–1958, principal 1958–1999) and Edward Druzinsky (seated, principal harp 1957–1997) at the Cliff Dwellers on October 16, 2009

Victor Aitay (assistant/associate concertmaster 1954–1967, concertmaster 1967–1986, concertmaster emeritus 1986–2003) and his daughter Ava along with Donald Peck (flute 1957–1958, principal 1958–1999) and Edward Druzinsky (seated, principal harp 1957–1997) at the Cliff Dwellers on October 16, 2009 (Dan Rest photo)

Having performed for many years together on stages all over the world, alumni continue to interact with each other through the CSOAA; and each season, members receive discounts to concerts and the Symphony Store. The organization enjoys the warm embrace of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, which holds its former musicians close as senior members of the Orchestra’s family. Current CSOA President Jeff Alexander has been most gracious in supporting the retirees, some of whom are well into their nineties. The CSOAA board of directors meets several times a year to plan annual reunion dinners, which are usually held at the historic Cliff Dwellers club. Members also have contributed to the CSOA’s Rosenthal Archives—a treasure trove of history, recordings, music scores, artifacts, and databases of former orchestra members—lovingly curated and managed by our liaison, director Frank Villella.

Arnold (principal tuba 1944–1988) and Gizella Jacobs in Orchestra Hall’s Grainger Ballroom on October 19, 1996

Arnold (principal tuba 1944–1988) and Gizella Jacobs in Orchestra Hall’s Grainger Ballroom on October 19, 1996 (Jim Steere photo)

So the next time you stroll through Symphony Center’s first-floor arcade, try to imagine the many great musicians of earlier generations behind each portrait—beautifully taken by photographer Todd Rosenberg—of the superb musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

This article also appears in the September/October CSO program book.

Donald Moline was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra cello section from 1967 until 2006, and he currently serves as secretary of the CSOAA.

Edgar (violin 1956–2003) and Nancy Muenzer, Jacques Israelievitch (assistant concertmaster 1972–1978), and Samuel (violin 1958–1966, assistant concertmaster 1966–1972, concertmaster 1972–2007) and Miriam Magad in The Club at Symphony Center on June 3, 2011

Edgar (violin 1956–2003) and Nancy Muenzer, Jacques Israelievitch (assistant concertmaster 1972–1978), and Samuel (violin 1958–1966, assistant concertmaster 1966–1972, concertmaster 1972–2007) and Miriam Magad in The Club at Symphony Center on June 3, 2011 (Dan Rest photo)

Adolph Herseth (principal trumpet 1948–2001, principal trumpet emeritus 2001–2004) and Norman Schweikert (horn 1971–1997) on April 11, 2008, at the Cliff Dwellers

Adolph Herseth (principal trumpet 1948–2001, principal trumpet emeritus 2001–2004) and Norman Schweikert (horn 1971–1997) on April 11, 2008, at the Cliff Dwellers (Dan Rest photo)

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Theodore Thomas

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