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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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brucikner-9

During the Chicago Orchestra’s thirteenth season, Theodore Thomas programmed Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony for its first performances in the United States. This was the fourth of Bruckner’s symphonies to be performed by the Orchestra in Chicago, as Thomas had already led the Fourth in January 1897, the Third in March 1901, and the Second in February 1903.

On February 19, 1904, the capacity crowd at the Auditorium Theatre had gathered mainly to hear contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink, one of the most famous singers of the day. Thomas had strategically programmed the Bruckner on the first half of the concert between Schumann-Heink’s two selections—“Non più di fiori” from Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito and an orchestration of Schubert’s song “Die Allmacht”—to obviously assure that the premiere would be heard by all in attendance.

February 19 and 20, 1904

February 19 and 20, 1904

“The name of Bruckner caused these 3,700 persons [over 700 had been turned away] to listen in patient, long suffering to a piece of tedious music which endured for fifty-five wearisome minutes, and to applaud when the trial was at an end,” wrote William Lines Hubbard in the Chicago Tribune. “There may have been those in the audience yesterday who did not find the three movements of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony tedious almost beyond endurance, but certainly their number was small. . . . We have endured four of his symphonies in the last six years—please, Mr. Thomas, is there not somebody else it would be ‘good for us’ to hear? Anybody will be preferable to more Bruckner!”

This article also appears here.

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November 20 1919

November 20, 1919

During the 1919–20 season, music director Frederick Stock inaugurated three major initiatives to cultivate future generations of musicians and concertgoers: a regular series of Children’s Concerts, Youth Auditions, and the Civic Music Student Orchestra.

On November 20, 1919, Stock led the first of a regular series of Children’s Concerts specifically designed to introduce young Chicagoans to music. After hearing several auditions from promising young instrumentalists, Stock chose eight-year-old Anita Malkin to become the first youth soloist on a Children’s Concert; she performed the first movement of Rode’s Violin Concerto with the Orchestra on February 12, 1920.

Anita Malkin

Anita Malkin

The initial goal of the Civic Music Student Orchestra was threefold: “To give an opportunity to capable players to acquire orchestral routine and experience, fitting themselves for positions in the symphony orchestras of the country; to reduce the dependence of this country upon European sources of supply for trained orchestral musicians; and to take orchestral concerts to outlying districts where people, because of their remoteness, are denied the privilege of hearing good music.”

March 29, 1920

March 29, 1920

The ensemble made its debut on March 29, 1920, and the roster included several future Chicago Symphony Orchestra members (including concertmaster John Weicher). Frederick Stock, Eric DeLamarter, and George Dasch shared conducting duties, leading Halvorsen’s Triumphal Entry of the Boyards, Godard’s Adagio pathétique, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, Grieg’s Suite no. 1 from Peer Gynt, Keller’s Souvenir and Valse, and one of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance marches.

Chicago Tribune, January 20, 1920

Chicago Tribune, January 20, 1920

In the Chicago Tribune, William Lines Hubbard reported, “And O, the youthful enthusiasm and ‘pop’ of it all! The whole room tingled with the vigor and impulse of youth and the audience feeling it grew glad and radiant. At the close of the first half of the program, Mr. Wessling, the concertmaster, presented a baton to Mr. Stock with expression of the players’ thanks for all he had done, and he in return voiced his admiration for the devotion the young people had shown and his appreciation of the wonderful worth of the material Chicago had furnished. . . . Stock used his new baton for the Elgar march, which closed the concert.”

This article also appears here.

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Strauss advertisement

On March 31, 1904, Theodore Thomas introduced his friend Richard Strauss to the Chicago Orchestra at the Auditorium Theatre. Strauss went straight to work, rehearsing his Also sprach Zarathustra, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, and Death and Transfiguration. According to William Lines Hubbard’s account in the Chicago Tribune, 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 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’s pleasure in the work done by the men was unmistakable.”

April 1 and 2, 1904

April 1 and 2, 1904

Strauss’s wife Pauline also appeared on the program as soprano soloist in several of his songs, and for her first entrance, she was escorted both by her husband and Thomas. 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.”

Strauss returned to Chicago to lead a special concert at the Auditorium Theatre on December 18, 1921. He again conducted the Orchestra in his Also sprach Zarathustra, Death and Transfiguration, and the love scene from his opera Feuersnot, along with several songs—“Morgen!,” “Wiegenlied,” “Freundliche Vision,” and “Ständchen”—with soprano Claire Dux.

This article also appears here and also previously appeared here.

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April 5 and 6, 1907

April 5 and 6, 1907

On April 5 and 6, 1907, Frederick Stock programmed a concert of “compositions by living writers,” including music from five countries. The first half opened with Vincent d’Indy’s Wallenstein’s Camp (France), Alexander Glazunov’s Spring (Russia), Frederick Converse’s The Mystic Trumpeter (United States), and the love scene from Richard Strauss’s opera Feuersnot (Germany). The second half of the concert was dedicated to England, with Sir Edward Elgar on the podium leading his overture In the South (Alassio), Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), and the first Pomp and Circumstance March.

“The patrons of the Thomas Orchestra paid willing and hearty tribute to Sir Edward Elgar yesterday afternoon in Orchestra Hall,” wrote William Lines Hubbard in the Chicago Daily Tribune. “The men of the Orchestra gave him their closest attention and heartiest sympathy yesterday, and the result was a performance of the three compositions which was technically and tonally of highest worth. Sir Edward himself seemed genuinely pleased and his assertion after the concert that the ‘work of the Orchestra surpassed all his fondest expectations’ evidently was the expression of his true feeling.”

Sir Edward Elgar bio

Chicago audiences were well versed in Elgar’s catalog, as by then the Orchestra had given the U.S. premieres of several of his works: the Cockaigne Overture, Enigma Variations, the first two Pomp and Circumstance marches, Incidental Music and Funeral March from Grania and Diarmid, and In the South under Theodore Thomas; the Froissart Overture and Violin Concerto (with Albert Spalding) under Stock; and The Dream of Gerontius under Harrison M. Wild, then director of the Apollo Musical Club.

In 1911, England’s Sheffield Choir embarked on a six-month world tour, and Elgar joined them for several performances in the U.S. and Canada. Their tour included three concerts in Chicago collaborating with the Orchestra, the second of which featured Elgar on the podium leading The Dream of Gerontius.

This article also appears here.

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Program page for the added extra concert on November 8, 1906

Program page for the added extra concert on November 8, 1906

Demand for tickets was so great for the two scheduled subscription concerts featuring composer and pianist Camille Saint-Saëns that the Orchestral Association added an extra concert for November 8, 1906. That first appearance was “regarded as . . . one of the most important events of the season,” according to Glenn Dillard Gunn in the Chicago Inter Ocean. “Black haired, gray bearded, and immaculately dressed, he carries jauntily his seventy-two years of labor and honorable achievement in the realm of art. . . . His technical command of the piano is supreme. He has a velocity that is enormous, a certainty almost infallible.”

The first half of that extra concert was conducted by Frederick Stock. Following intermission, it was announced that Saint-Saëns—who was still somewhat weak following a recent illness—would not perform the Bretonne Rhapsodies on the organ; instead, Stock would lead the Orchestra in Phaéton and the Danse macabre. Le rouet d’Omphale and selections from Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust completed the program.

Advance notice in the program book for Saint-Saëns's debut performances

Advance notice in the program book for Saint-Saëns’s debut performances

On the November 9 and 10 subscription concerts, Stock and the Orchestra repeated the Coronation March, Danse macabre, and Phaéton. To close the first half of the program, Saint-Saëns was soloist in his Second Piano Concerto, and Dvořák’s New World Symphony was given following intermission. William Lines Hubbard in the Chicago Tribune noted the composer’s weak appearance. “When seated at the piano, however, the musician took predominance over the man, and positiveness, strength, and authority were in evidence . . . .We have several notable presentations of the graceful [G minor concerto], but none of them has been technically more beautiful, tonally more gratifying, or interpretatively more elegant than was the one he offered yesterday. . . . The Orchestra gave an accompaniment which could but have rejoiced the composer’s heart, and the audience grew insistently enthusiastic and would not be stilled until the veteran pianist returned to the instrument and gave an additional solo.”

This article also appears here.

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.”

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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