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Over the course of three short weeks in late 1938, Chicago hosted an embarrassment of riches for violin fans.

November 1938

November 24 and 25, 1938

On November 20 and 26, respectively, Fritz Kreisler and Joseph Szigeti appeared in recital at Orchestra Hall. The following week on December 4, Jascha Heifetz gave a recital at the Civic Opera House. Kreisler returned to Chicago a few days later on December 8 and 9, as soloist with the Orchestra in Brahms’s Violin Concerto under the baton of second music director Frederick Stock.

And right in the middle of all of that, twenty-two-year-old Yehudi Menuhin made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on November 24 (Thanksgiving Day) and 25, 1938, performing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Stock conducting.

“His way with the Beethoven was magnificent in every aspect—in singing tone, in brilliance of passage work, in dazzling sparkle of cadenzas, in the deep song of the haunting larghetto, and in the suddenly glittering shift of mood that announces the rondo,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “Mr. Stock and the Orchestra gave him a rare opportunity and he responded with an unforgettable performance.”

On April 22, 2016, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Menuhin, who—for well over forty years and under seven music directors—was a regular visitor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, both at Orchestra Hall and the Ravinia Festival. A complete list of his appearances with the Orchestra is below (subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, unless otherwise noted):

November 24 and 25, 1938
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Frederick Stock, conductor

November 9 and 10, 1939
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Hans Lange, conductor

February 13 and 14, 1941
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Frederick Stock, conductor

Menuhin 1

July 24, 1941 (Ravinia Festival)
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Carlos Chávez, conductor

July 26, 1941 (Ravinia Festival)
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Carlos Chávez, conductor

April 14, 1942
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Hans Lange, conductor

April 16 and 17, 1942
PAGANINI Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 6
Frederick Stock, conductor

November 2 and 3, 1944
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Désiré Defauw, conductor

February 21 and 22, 1946
ELGAR Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61
Désiré Defauw, conductor

January 22 and 23, 1948
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Artur Rodzinski, conductor

November 2 and 3, 1950
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Rafael Kubelík, conductor

October 24 and 25, 1957
BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 2
Fritz Reiner, conductor

Menuhin 2

October 31, November 1 and 2, 1963
SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 99
Jean Martinon, conductor

November 18 and 19, 1965
PÁRTOS Violin Concerto
Jean Martinon, conductor

December 15, 16, and 17, 1966
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Rafael Kubelík, conductor

Thursday, December 14 and 15, 1967
BERG Violin Concerto
Sixten Ehrling, conductor

December 18, 19, and 20, 1969
BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 2
Georg Solti, conductor

March 10, 1981 (Musicians’ Pension Fund concert)
ELGAR Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61
Henry Mazer, conductor

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Ernest Ansermet and the Orchestra onstage at the Ravinia Festival on July 3, 1936 (Ravinia Festival photo)

Ernest Ansermet and the Orchestra onstage at the Ravinia Festival on July 3, 1936 (Ravinia Festival photo)

On July 3, 1936, Ernest Ansermet and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra inaugurated the first season of the Ravinia Festival* with a program that included Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, Clouds and Festivals from Debussy’s Nocturnes, and Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird.

“Three days ago the last seat in the pavilion was sold. The audience was socially brilliant and musically responsive, so that a full-length Beethoven symphony and the most sonorous of the preludes which Wagner wrote for any of his music-dramas evoked a veritable tumult of applause,” wrote Glenn Dillard Gunn in the Herald & Examiner following that first concert. “For the next five weeks the Chicago Symphony will continue the season begun last night, playing on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings and offering programs quite as serious as those presented in Orchestra Hall during the winter season.”

July 3, 1936

July 3, 1936

Several notable conductors made their Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuts at the Ravinia Festival, including future music directors Riccardo Muti, Georg Solti, Jean Martinon, Fritz Reiner, and Artur Rodzinski; future festival music directors James Conlon, Christoph Eschenbach, James Levine, and Seiji Ozawa; and prominent guest conductors Sir Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein, Josef Krips, Erich Leinsdorf, Kurt Masur, Pierre Monteux, Eugene Ormandy, George Szell, and Michael Tilson Thomas.

“I look around at the beauty of the park, the acoustics and proportion of the Pavilion . . . and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in residence,” commented James Levine in the 1985 book Ravinia: The Festival at Its Half Century. “Look at how these people work during the Festival weeks—putting on performances of difficult music under extreme weather conditions sufficiently well to be worthy of recording, finishing one concert and getting up the next morning to rehearse for another. . . . Most of the people around Ravinia seem to find a rejuvenation synonymous with summer from the change of pace, the change of style, the challenge of new repertoire, and the opportunity to work from a different vantage point. It’s that kind of thinking, that buoyant spirit, which has been prevalent throughout the unique history of Ravinia. And it’s that spirit which makes Ravinia truly magical!”

*Ravinia Park had opened on August 15, 1904, and Frederick Stock and the Orchestra first performed at the park’s theater on November 20, 1905. The Orchestra appeared there semiregularly through August 1931, after which the park was closed for most of the Great Depression.

This article also appears here.

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Stern bio

Nineteen-year-old Isaac Stern first appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on January 11 and 12, 1940. Frederick Stock conducted an all-Sibelius program, and Stern was soloist in the Violin Concerto.

According to the Chicago Daily News, “Dr. Frederick Stock had been invited to conduct the Sibelius concert with the Helsingfors Orchestra [arranged when Stock visited Sibelius in Finland the previous summer] as a special feature of the Olympic Games.* But Finland has had to abandon peacetime pursuits and now Isaac can thank the Russian regime for both his American citizenship and the chance to play the Sibelius D minor concerto with one of the world’s great orchestras.”

“True to the topsy-turvy condition of the world we live in, while the Finns are playing havoc with the Russians, at home a Russian-born violinist, young Isaac Stern, was the sensation of Mr. Stock’s memorable Sibelius concert at Orchestra Hall last night,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Journal of Commerce. “[Stern] has a commanding and comprehensive technique, a bold and beautiful tone never blatant and he has an urgent intensity of projection that seems to start in his firmly planted heels and flow like fire into the hands that make his music. . . . Stock’s accompaniment was brilliant in the perceptive richness that makes so many soloists prefer him to any other conductor.”

Isaac Stern and music director designate Daniel Barenboim after the Centennial Gala concert on October 6, 1990

Isaac Stern and music director designate Daniel Barenboim after the Centennial Gala concert on October 6, 1990 (Jim Steere photo)

Over the course of the next fifty-two years, Stern was one of the Orchestra’s most frequent guests at Orchestra Hall, the Ravinia Festival, and at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, performing under six music directors (Stock, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim) and a variety of guest conductors, including Fritz Busch, Andrew Davis, Carlo Maria Giulini, Otto Klemperer, Josef Krips, Pierre Monteux, Eugene Ormandy, Seiji Ozawa, and Leonard Slatkin. In 1986, Stern and Yo-Yo Ma recorded Brahms’s Concerto for Violin and Cello with Claudio Abbado for CBS.

*On July 16, 1938, a year after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, it was announced that the 1940 Summer Olympics would not be held in Tokyo, as originally scheduled. The International Olympic Committee then awarded the games to Helsinki, the runner-up city in the original bidding process. However, following the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939, the Olympic Games were indefinitely suspended and did not resume until 1948.

This article also appears here.

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Program book for November 28 and 29, 1963, most likely printed before November 22

Original program book cover for November 28 and 29, 1963, most likely printed in advance of November 22

Fritz Reiner, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s sixth music director from 1953 until 1962 and musical adviser for the 1962–63 season, died in New York on November 15, 1963.

Jean Martinon had programmed the Thanksgiving week concerts (on Thursday evening and Friday afternoon, November 28 and 29) to include Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Mozart’s Requiem (Margaret Hillis and the Chicago Symphony Chorus had been rehearsing the two works since early September). These were designated as memorials to Reiner, and the program page for the November 21 and 22 concerts included an announcement.

The November 22 CSO matinee concert was scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m., not even two hours after President John F. Kennedy had been shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas (Walter Cronkite confirmed the news of Kennedy’s death at 1:38 p.m.). Just before the concert began, an announcement was made from the stage (presumably by general manager Seymour Raven), and there was significant reaction of shock from the audience, including audible gasps, cries, and even screams.

November 28 and 29, 1983, program book cover

November 28 and 29, 1963, program book cover

Moments before, it had been decided to open the concert with the second movement—the funeral march—from Beethoven’s Third Symphony (Eroica), followed by the rest of the program as scheduled: Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto, Henze’s Third Symphony, and Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with Byron Janis, all led by Martinon.

The November 28 and 29, 1963, concerts became a memorial not only for Reiner but also for Kennedy. According to Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune, “After the emotional exhaustion of these last black days, neither the austere beauty of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms nor the not-quite Mozart of the Requiem asked more of the listener than he had left to give. It was a quiet, beautifully played, wholly compassionate concert in Orchestra Hall.”

More information regarding the events of November 1963 can be found here and here.

This article also appears here.

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biography

April 7 and 8, 1960

Two years after winning the prestigious 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Van Cliburn made his first appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on April 7 and 8, 1960, performing Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto with Fritz Reiner conducting. On April 12 he was soloist in Schumann’s A minor concerto with the Orchestra, also with Reiner on the podium.

“Van Cliburn cannot be accused of looking for the easy road to success,” wrote Donal Henahan in the Chicago Daily News following the first performance of Brahms’s concerto. The twenty-five year-old pianist gave “a performance of glitter and grace, and one that was breathtakingly well played . . . perhaps no one but Horowitz today could play those double-note scales in both hands with as much apparent ease.”

recording

RCA’s release of Schumann’s Piano Concerto, recorded in Orchestra Hall on April 16, 1960

Cliburn would appear four more times during Reiner’s tenure, and their performances of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in April 1963 were Reiner’s last public appearances. Cliburn later appeared in Chicago under Jean Martinon as well as at the Ravinia Festival with Georges Prêtre, Seiji Ozawa, Donald Johanos, Bruno Maderna, and James Levine. His final appearance with the Orchestra was on July 16, 2005, at Ravinia in Grieg’s Piano Concerto, under festival music director James Conlon.

On the RCA label, he made several recordings with the Orchestra, including Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth concertos, Brahms’s Second, Rachmaninov’s Second, and Schumann’s concerto with Reiner; and MacDowell’s Second and Prokofiev’s Third concertos with Walter Hendl.

A complete list of Van Cliburn’s appearances and recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra can be found here.

This article also appears here.

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Left to right: Clark Brody, Willard Elliot, Donald Peck, Dale Clevenger, Jean Martinon, Ray Still, Adolph Herseth, Donald Koss, and Jay Friedman

Left to right: Clark Brody, Willard Elliot, Donald Peck, Dale Clevenger, Jean Martinon, Ray Still, Adolph Herseth, Donald Koss, and Jay Friedman (Terry’s photo)

On February 10 and 11, 1966, Jean Martinon led performances of Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra at Orchestra Hall. The featured soloists were CSO principals Clark Brody (clarinet), Willard Elliot (bassoon), Donald Peck (flute), Dale Clevenger (horn, in his first week on the job), Ray Still (oboe), Adolph Herseth (trumpet), Donald Koss (timpani), and Jay Friedman (trombone).

Later that month, the Orchestra embarked on a three-week tour through Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C., performing the concerto fifteen more times. Upon their return to Chicago, Martinon and the Orchestra committed their performance to disc with RCA recording the work on March 19. In 2015, RCA rereleased the concerto as part of a boxed set that included Martinon’s complete catalog of recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

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Martin’s Concerto was originally released along with Varèse’s Arcana by RCA

This article also appears here.

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Jean Martinon

During the 1965–66 season, Jean Martinon wrote, “It is really a great honor to be leading the musical life of an orchestra at the time it reaches seventy-five years of age. Still, a much greater honor and incomparable chance when the orchestra happens to be one of the greatest in the world.” To celebrate the anniversary, Martinon was commissioned to compose his Fourth Symphony—descriptively titled Altitudes—inspired by his passion for mountain climbing (his frequent climbing partner was well-known mountain guide and alpinist Gaston Rébuffat).

While composing the symphony, Martinon recalled that his “thoughts were always of my orchestra—this magnificent instrument, a real Stradivarius for the conductor. Each detail of my score brought to mind each one of the marvelous musicians. I imagined this melody played by a certain group, that rhythm by another section, and this chord by another. . . . In brief, it is with love that I dedicate to them this symphony. I hope it may prove worthy of them.”

From the title page of Martinon’s Symphony no. 4: “For what do they search, these climbers of mountains? Like the pioneers of cosmos, they seek the presence of God. God! the purest and the most formidable word that mankind has ever invented . . . This Symphony has been commissioned by the Association of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the orchestra”

The special celebratory concerts of December 30 and 31, 1965, opened with Bernstein’s Overture to Candide followed by the world premiere of Martinon’s symphony, second music director Frederick Stock’s Symphonic Variations on an Original Theme, and the finale from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung with soprano Eileen Farrell.

Regarding the premiere, Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “The symphony is imaginative, expertly scored, and wonderfully evocative. It really conveys the way it feels to go out and climb a mountain, the exhilaration at the start, the changing moods and scenes as one ascends, and finally the radiant joy as the earth drops away and leaves the climber in his private realm of rock, snow, and sky.”

Nearly two years later, Martinon and the Orchestra recorded the Altitudes Symphony for RCA in Medinah Temple on November 29, 1967. In 2015, RCA rereleased the symphony as part of a boxed set that included Martinon’s complete catalog of recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

This article also appears here.

Wishing a very happy seventieth birthday to Itzhak Perlman!

Itzhak Perlman

A frequent and favorite guest artist in Chicago, Perlman has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as both violin soloist and conductor on numerous occasions. He first appeared with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on August 4, 1966 (a few weeks shy of his twenty-first birthday), in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Thomas Schippers conducting, and he first appeared at Orchestra Hall on May 11 and 12, 1967, in Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto with Jean Martinon conducting.

Most recently, Perlman was soloist with the Orchestra downtown on March 7, 2011, in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and Clark McAlister’s arrangement of Kreisler‘s Liebesfreud with James DePreist conducting, and at Ravinia on August 7, 2013, in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Carlos Miguel Prieto conducting.

Itzhak Perlman (photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco)

Itzhak Perlman (Lisa Marie Mazzucco photo)

As a conductor, Perlman first led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 25, 1999, in Bach’s Second Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s First Romance for Violin (also performing as soloist), along with Schubert’s Overture to Rosamunde and Brahms’s Fourth Symphony. He has led the Orchestra at Orchestra Hall on one occasion, on November 17, 2008, in Bach’s First Violin Concerto (also performing as soloist), Mozart’s Symphony no. 35, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Most recently, he conducted the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on August 8, 2013, leading Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture, Haydn’s Second Cello Concerto with Alisa Weilerstein, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

Perlman also has recorded several times with the Orchestra, as follows:

BRAHMS Concerto for Violin in D Major, Op. 77
Recorded in Medinah Temple, November and December 1976
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Angel
1978 Grammy Award for Best Classical Album

Perlman Brahms

BRAHMS Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor, Op. 102 (Double)
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, September 1996
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Teldec

ELGAR Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, March 1981
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon
1982 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance–Instrumental Soloist or Soloists (with orchestra)

MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, May 1993
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Erato

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Barenboim and Perlman recording in Orchestra Hall in May 1993 (Jim Steere photo)

PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, May 1993
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Erato

STRAVINSKY Violin Concerto in D Major
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, September 1994
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Teldec

Happy, happy birthday!

Martinon RCA set

RCA Red Seal Records (now a division of Sony Masterworks) recently released the complete Chicago Symphony Orchestra recordings—some available for the first time on CD—led by our seventh music director Jean Martinon. (The set has not yet been released in the United States but is available from several European and Japanese distributors.)

“It’s always a very delicate and perilous business for a conductor to take over a renowned orchestra that has just passed through a glorious and legendary era under a charismatic predecessor,” writes Christoph Schlüren in the accompanying booklet, referring to Martinon succeeding Fritz Reiner. “Martinon was not blessed by fate in Chicago. The problem was not that the orchestra failed to appreciate him, nor that the ensemble’s outstanding level dropped under his leadership. The surviving recordings are no less brilliant than Reiner’s. . . . In any event, the standard view that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra did not really get going until Martinon gave way to Georg Solti is true only with regard to its commercial success and resultant worldwide fame, not to the perfection of its playing.”

Clark Brody, Williard Elliot, Donald Peck, Dale Clevenger, Jean Martinon, Ray Still, Adolph  Herseth, Donald Koss, Jay Friedman -

CSO principals Clark Brody (clarinet), Williard Elliot (bassoon), Donald Peck (flute), Dale Clevenger (horn), Martinon, Ray Still (oboe), Adolph Herseth (trumpet), Donald Koss (timpani), and Jay Friedman (trombone) backstage in February 1966 before a performance of Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds, Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra

The set includes a number of works, most notably Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds, Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra (featuring several CSO principal players); Mennin’s Symphony no. 7; Varèse’s Arcana; and Weber’s Clarinet Concertos nos. 1 and 2 with Benny Goodman. Additionally, two very special works are heard: an arrangement of Paganini’s Moto perpetuo as arranged by the CSO’s second music director Frederick Stock (according to Schlüren, “wittily peppered with fragments from the finale of [Beethoven’s] Eroica“) as well as Martinon’s own Symphony no. 4 (Altitudes), commissioned for the Orchestra’s seventy-fifth season. And similar to the previously issued Reiner set, the booklet includes numerous images from the collections of the Rosenthal Archives.

Adrian Da Prato (1)

Adrian Da Prato, a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s violin section from 1946 until 1996, died on Tuesday, March 17, 2015, in Chicago. He was 94.

Born in Barga in 1920, in the region of Tuscany, Da Prato became fascinated with the sound of the violin while attending silent movies as a child in his native Italy. The films were accompanied by piano and violin, and his attention invariably would turn from the motion picture to the violinist in the pit.

Da Prato began violin lessons at age nine after his family arrived in America. In Chicago he attended Lane Technical High School and the American Conservatory of Music, two schools he remembered warmly for instilling enthusiasm through their mutual support and continuous exchange of ideas among talented students. His first teacher was Pellegro Pacini, and he later studied with Scott Willits and CSO concertmaster John Weicher.

After being inducted in the 33rd Infantry Division in World War II, Da Prato later was assigned to special services in Hawaii, where he was active in all facets of performing for the troops throughout the islands. He was a member of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before music director Désiré Defauw invited him to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1946.

Da Prato cherished his friendship with Carlo Maria Giulini, the Orchestra’s principal guest conductor from 1969 until 1972, which dated back to 1955 when the Italian maestro arrived in Chicago for his American debut. He spoke little English and Da Prato was asked to help translate for him; but, as he recalled, “There was no real problem, because the rapport between the Orchestra and Maestro Giulini was such that words really were not necessary.”

Da Prato also was a member of the Chicago Strings, which toured throughout the United States and Europe. Additionally, he performed in chamber ensembles and in many schools throughout Chicago. His violin was a Peter Guarnerius of Mantua, dated 1710.

After forty-nine years with the Orchestra and serving under seven music directors—Defauw, Artur Rodzinski, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim—Da Prato retired in 1996. In his retirement, Da Prato was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association for many years.

Adrian Da Prato (2)

In an interview from the 1970s, Da Prato reflected on his time with the Orchestra. “When the players perform well—having been together, played together, lived together on tour, and seen each other every day—it helps enormously because we fit in. It’s just like a string quartet. You can have the four greatest players in the world, individually great, who will play together, but there must be that unity of purpose. Like an old bottle of wine, it has to have a good vintage to start out with, then it reaches a point where its fullness is realized. When an orchestra works together it grows; that is the beautiful experience. It is magic. It is a great orchestra.”

He is survived by his niece Paula Bertolozzi and several grandnieces, great-grandnieces, and great-grandnephews. There will be a funeral service on Friday, March 20, 2015, at Cumberland Chapels (8300 West Lawrence Avenue in Norridge) from 9:00 until 11:30 a.m., followed by mass at Our Lady Mother of the Church (8701 West Lawrence Avenue). In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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The opinions expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

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