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On January 25 and 26, 1907, Maud Powell returned to Chicago to again perform with the Theodore Thomas Orchestra (as we were then known). Under the baton of second music director Frederick Stock, she was soloist in the Orchestra’s first performances of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto (she had just given the U.S. premiere of the concerto with the New York Philharmonic on November 30, 1906, with Vasily Safonov conducting).

Following the first performance, William Lines Hubbard in the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Maud Powell—’our’ Maud Powell, since she is an American and her career has been made largely in this country—scored a triumph yesterday . . . There are extremely few of her brother artists who could compass [the concerto’s] technical intricacies with such surety and seeming ease as she did, and still fewer of them who could interpret it with such masterful skill.” The complete article is here.

On August 22, 2017, we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of this extraordinary American violinist and musician. As part of the celebration, a sixty-minute documentary about her life—entitled Our Maud Powell, produced by Paul Butler of Ebenim Media—will premiere on Saturday, August 19, in Powell’s Illinois hometown at the Peru Public Library. Details of other anniversary events can be found on the Maud Powell Society website.

Below are a few excerpts from the film, featuring Karen Shaffer, author of the biography Maud Powell: Pioneer American Violinist; Rachel Barton Pine, violinist and a longtime champion of Powell’s; and Frank Villella, director of archives for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Maud Powell was featured as part of the 125 Moments exhibit during the CSO’s 2015-16 season, and she also posthumously received a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 2013.

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Maud Powell

Born in Peru, Illinois, Maud Powell first played for Theodore Thomas in 1885 at the age of seventeen in New York’s Steinway Hall, auditioning with Bruch’s First Violin Concerto. Thomas immediately booked her with his orchestra, and she performed the concerto on July 30 that year in a Summer Night Concert in Chicago. According to Karen A. Shaffer and Neva Garner Greenwood’s book Maud Powell: Pioneer American Violinist, Thomas “glowed over her success: ‘At the close of that concert—my debut in America—Mr. Thomas came to me with his two hands full of greenbacks. He handed them to me, saying, “I want the honor of paying you the first fee you have earned as an artist.” ’ Theodore Thomas christened the young American his ‘musical grandchild’ and engaged her as soloist for the New York Philharmonic’s first concert of the 1885–86 season in November.”

July 18, 1893

July 18, 1893

For her Chicago Orchestra debut, Powell again performed Bruch’s First Violin Concerto on July 18, 1893, with Thomas at the World’s Columbian Exposition. According to Shaffer and Greenwood, “Maud Powell took her place among some of the world’s greatest musicians at the exposition. She was the only woman violinist to appear in these concerts and served as the representative American violinist.” In the Musical Courier, the reviewer raved, “It is hard to know where to begin to praise Miss Powell, for nearly every tone she played was full of meaning. She has improved beyond what was supposed to be the limit of her powers; her tone is pure and noble, her bowing grace itself, and her conception of the concerto was equal to that of any of the great violinists whom I have heard.”

Powell appeared with the Orchestra on several more occasions with both Thomas and Frederick Stock. Her final appearances were in March 1916, performing Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto and Saint-Saëns’s Introduction and Rondo capriccioso with Stock conducting. In 2014, she was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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

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