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December 7, 1981

December 7, 1981

The original Lyon & Healy pipe organ (the largest instrument the Chicago-based company ever built) was dedicated on April 27 and 28, 1905, by organist Wilhelm Middelschulte shortly after Orchestra Hall’s December 14, 1904, dedicatory concert.

The first significant renovation of Orchestra Hall was guided by Harry Weese and Associates and began in 1966. The project included the installation of new heating, air conditioning, and modern elevators; an increase in lobby space on three floors; expansion of musicians’ lounges and dressing rooms; and replacement of plaster ceiling with acoustically designed aluminum panels. The auditorium and lobby décor were brightened with a new color scheme of gray walls with ivory trim, and the seats were reupholstered with deep red mohair. During the summer of 1967, plans to restore the original organ were dismissed when it was discovered that damage had occurred during the previous years’ renovation, and an Allen electronic organ was pressed into service as a temporary solution.

During the summer of 1981, M.P. Möller installed a new organ in Orchestra Hall, which contained more than 3,000 pipes (forty-five independent stops and seventy-four ranks, controlled through seventy-one registers and twenty-five couplers). The organ installation was the catalyst for an extensive renovation and remodeling of the auditorium by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which included enlarging the stage and rearranging main floor seating, new lighting set into the stage shell, remodeling the Orchestra members’ lounge facilities, repainting the interior (following the original design concepts of architect Daniel Burnham), and other electrical and mechanical adjustments.

Casavant Frères, Opus 3765

Casavant Frères, Opus 3765 (Emma Bilyk photo)

On December 7, 1981, the Orchestra presented a special concert dedicating the newly installed pipe organ. Leonard Slatkin led selections from Bach’s Cantata no. 35 (Geist und Seele wird verwirret), Handel’s Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day, Haydn’s Little Organ Mass, Poulenc’s Organ Concerto in G minor, and Copland’s Symphony for Organ and Orchestra. Soprano Lucia Popp was featured in the works by Handel and Haydn, and Frederick Swann was organ soloist in all selections.

Nearly fifteen years later, at the beginning of the Symphony Center project, the Möller organ was removed and delivered to the workshops of Casavant Frères in Quebec, where it was overhauled and expanded. The new instrument (with forty-four stops, fifty-nine ranks, fourteen couplers, and 3,414 pipes) was installed during the summer of 1998 and inaugurated by David Schrader on February 18, 1999.

This article also appears here.

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From our CSO family to yours, all best wishes for a happy holiday season and a healthy, prosperous New Year!

And if you need any last-minute gift ideas, here’s some great (and timeless) World War I–era advice from our friends at Lyon & Healy . . .

Lyon & Healy holiday advertisement 1918

Happy holidays!

Today we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss, a composer who has been a cornerstone to the performance history of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since our founding. At the invitation of our first music director—and a friend of the composer’s since the early 1880s—Theodore Thomas invited Strauss to guest conduct the Orchestra in 1904.

Program book advance advertisement for Strauss's guest conducting engagement

Program book advance advertisement for Strauss’s guest conducting engagement

According to William Lines Hubbard‘s newspaper account in the Chicago Tribune on March 31, 1904, during the Orchestra’s rehearsal at the Auditorium Theatre the previous day, Thomas introduced the composer/conductor with whom he would share the podium that week: “Gentlemen, Dr. Richard Strauss.”

Strauss went straight to work, leading the Orchestra in three of his well-known tone poems: Tod und Verklärung, Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, and Also sprach Zarathustra. Halfway through the rehearsal, he paused to say: “Gentlemen, it is my pleasure and my pride to be able to direct today so faultless an orchestra and to hear my music played in a manner so completely in accordance with my every wish. Your organization is a model in all ways, and I feel proud to be associated with an orchestra which has been brought to such perfection by a man whom I have honored and wished to know for full twenty years—Mr. Thomas.”

Following the Friday matinee performance on April 1, Hubbard wrote: “That master musician of modern music, that wonderful combination of poet, painter, and composer, the man to whom pictures are audible and tones visible—Richard Strauss—appeared at the Auditorium yesterday afternoon, and for over two hours some 3,700 persons sat beneath the spell his great gifts weave and listened to the tonal tales they enable him to tell.”

The concert opened with Thomas leading the prelude to Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and the Orchestra “gave a performance of the splendid number such as has rarely been heard from them, and their record is a brilliant one.”

April 1 and 2, 1904, program page

April 1 and 2, 1904, program page

Following the Wagner, Thomas escorted Strauss to the stage, accompanied by “a rousing fanfare from the whole orchestra and applause loud and long continued expressed to the celebrated conductor-composer Chicago’s cordial welcome. He bowed repeatedly, and then raised his baton for the first measures of Thus Spake Zarathustra.”

“The orchestra was on its mettle, and a more superb technical presentment of the intensely difficult scores than it gave could not be desired. Every wish of the conductor was instantly responded to, and Dr. Strauss’ pleasure in the work done by the men was unmistakable.”

Of course, Chicago audiences were familiar with all three orchestral works. Thomas first led Tod und Verklärung in February 1895, and he conducted the U.S. premieres of Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche in November 1895 and Also sprach Zarathustra in February 1897. Hubbard continued: “Interpretatively, the treatment of the works was not widely different from that to which we are accustomed when they are given under Mr. Thomas’ baton. There was a deepening of color here and there, the raising into prominence of certain details of the score, and a giving of all with an exaltation and enthusiasm that made the performances inspiriting and uplifting. Certain portions of the works which heretofore have been unclear in meaning took on clarity and beauty, but this may have been due not only to the remarkably finished and brilliant performances but also to the fact that the works were heard again—for each rehearing of a Strauss composition brings increase of understanding and fuller appreciation of its beauties.”

Strauss’s wife Pauline also appeared on the program, as soprano soloist in several of his songs. For her first entrance, escorted both by her husband and Thomas, she wore a gown that was “an elaborate creation of creamy lace and silk, which was distinctly becoming to her.”

Hubbard was kind in his critique of her performance. “Her singing proved interesting and satisfactory from an interpretive viewpoint. The voice has lost its richness in the upper middle register and in the high tones, but it is of no inconsiderable beauty in the lower half, and it is used throughout with so much of discretion and understanding that it seems adequate for all that is undertaken. The seven songs heard yesterday were beautifully interpreted, and the exquisite accompaniments played as they were in finest style by the orchestra, made the performance of them in high measure gratifying.”

The complete program notes for the performance of the Strauss compositions are here.

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Strauss Steinway ad

A postscript . . .

The back page of the April 1904 program book includes an endorsement by Strauss of Steinway pianos (then sold exclusively by Lyon & Healy in Chicago). The composer wrote: “The superb tonal qualities and perfection of mechanism of your instruments have had such a fascinating effect on my musical feelings that for the first time in many years I am drawn irresistibly again and again to my Steinway to indulge in improvising and musical inspirations, although I lay no claim to being a pianist. In accompanying my wife in her song recitals it is a constant source of pleasure to me to note the remarkable sustaining and blending qualities of the tone of your piano, which certainly are a great aid and benefit to the singer.”

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CSOA archivist Frank Villella and pianist Kirill Gerstein in the Rosenthal Archives vault

Kirill Gerstein, our guest pianist this week, in town to perform Sergei Prokofiev‘s Second Piano Concerto, visited the Rosenthal Archives for a tour and to view several items in our collections.

In addition to seeing several Prokofiev-related photographs and vintage program books, Gerstein also was very interested in materials relating to composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni, who was a frequent soloist with the CSO between 1892 and 1915. He also spent some time carefully perusing an early edition of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto used by Theodore Thomas for the Orchestra’s inaugural concerts in October 1891; Hungarian pianist Rafael Joseffy was the soloist for those first concerts.

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(The Archives is a popular place for performers of Prokofiev’s music: guest conductor Stéphane Denève visited in November 2011 when he was in Chicago to lead the Orchestra in a Suite from The Love for Three Oranges and the Second Violin Concerto with Leonidas Kavakos, and both conductor Sakari Oramo and pianist Yuja Wang visited in May 2013, when they performed the Third Piano Concerto.)

Prokofiev was soloist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of the Second Piano Concerto on February 28 and March 1, 1930. Assistant Conductor Eric DeLamarter conducted. After intermission the composer returned to conduct his ballet Le pas d’acier. On March 24, 1930, Prokofiev and his wife—soprano Lina Llubera—gave a recital at Orchestra Hall under the auspices of the Chicago Society for Cultural Relations with Russia.

Prokofiev is soloist in his Second Piano Concerto, Eric DeLamarter conducts. February 28 and March 1, 1930

February 28 and March 1, 1930

Prokofiev recital with his wife as soloist

March 24, 1930

Program book biography from February and March 1930 appearances

The composer’s program book biography from the February and March 1930 appearances

The back cover of the 1930 program book also contained two Prokofiev-related advertisements. The inside cover announced the upcoming release of the Boston Symphony Orchestra‘s recording of the Classical Symphony (Symphony no. 1) conducted by Serge Koussevitzky on Victor. The outside cover contained a endorsed advertisement for Lyon & Healy as a distributor of Steinway pianos: “When he composes or plays—Prokofieff uses Steinway.”

Victor advertisement Steinway advertisement

I was in search of information for our upcoming Beyond the Score presentation and discovered this Lyon & Healy advertisement from November 1918:

Good advice in wartime. Or any time.

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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