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Theodore Thomas

Theodore Thomas

In early 1889, Chicago businessman Charles Norman Fay encountered Theodore Thomas—then one of the most famous conductors in the United States—in New York. Thomas had fallen on hard times, his orchestra recently disbanded. According to Fay in the February 1910 Outlook, “My thoughts went back to those ten years of Summer Garden Concerts [in Chicago], and to some powerful and devoted friends of Mr. Thomas and his music at home, and I asked, ‘Would you come to Chicago if we could give you a permanent orchestra?’ The answer, grim and sincere, and entirely destitute of intentional humor, came back like a flash: ‘I would go to hell if they gave me a permanent orchestra.’ ”

October 16 and 17, 1891

October 16 and 17, 1891

Fay returned to Chicago and quickly found support for a new orchestra. The Orchestral Association first met on December 17, 1890, and less than a year later, on October 16 and 17, 1891, the Chicago Orchestra gave its first concerts at the Auditorium Theatre, with Thomas conducting Wagner’s A Faust Overture, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with Rafael Joseffy, and Dvořák’s Husitská Overture.

“It has been stated that the Orchestral Association’s contract with Mr. Thomas stipulated that he should in the Chicago Orchestra give to the city an organization the peer of the finest in the United States. Yesterday’s public rehearsal at the Auditorium by that orchestra showed that Mr. Thomas has filled his contract,” reported the Chicago Tribune on October 17. “Thomas has long been known for his ability to quickly bring newly formed orchestras into condition for satisfactory work, but in this instance he has fairly surpassed himself, the results being simply astonishing. . . . The body of the tone produced is superb, possessing a vitality, a fullness, and volume such as has been heard from no orchestra ever before in Chicago.”

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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

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

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