In its second century, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (= CSO) enjoys an enviable position in the music world. Performances are greeted with enthusiasm both at home and abroad. Best-selling recordings continue to win prestigious international awards and syndicated radio broadcasts are heard by millions nationwide.
In September 1991, the CSO began a new collaboration with Daniel Barenboim who assumed leadership as its ninth music director. Daniel Barenboim's tenure has been distinguished by the opening of Chicago's new Symphony Center, highly praised productions of the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas, virtuoso appearances with the Orchestra in the dual role of pianist and conductor, as well as nine international tours. The Orchestra most recently presented three concerts as part of the Berlin Festtage in April 1999, all of which were greeted by extraordinary audience and critical acclaim. In March 1995, Pierre Boulez was named the CSO's 3rd principal guest conductor.
The CSO's 109-year history began in 1891 when Theodore Thomas, then the leading conductor in America and a recognized music pioneer, was invited by Norman Fay, a Chicago businessman, to establish a symphony orchestra here. Theodore Thomas's aim to establish a permanent orchestra with performance capabilities of the highest quality was realized at the first concerts on October 16 and 17 of that year. Maestro Theodore Thomas served as music director for 13 years until his death in 1905-just three weeks after the dedication of Orchestra Hall, the CSO's permanent home.
Theodore Thomas's successor was Frederick Stock, who began his career in the viola section in 1895 and became assistant conductor four years later. His tenure at the CSO's helm lasted 37, from 1905 to 1942-the longest of Chicago's nine music directors. Dynamic and innovative, the Frederick Stock years saw the founding of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the first training orchestra in the USA affiliated with a major symphony orchestra, in 1919. He also established youth auditions, organized the first subscription concerts especially for children, and began a series of popular concerts.
Three distinguished conductors headed the Orchestra during the following decade: Désiré Defauw was music director from 1943 to 1947; Artur Rodzinski assumed the post in 1947-1948; and Rafael Kubelík led the Orchestra for three seasons from 1950 to 1953.
The next ten years belonged to Fritz Reiner, whose recordings with the CSO are still considered performance hallmarks. It was Maestro Fritz Reiner who invited Margaret Hillis to form the Chicago Symphony Chorus [2.5-S] in 1957. During this time Carlo Maria Giulini began to appear in Chicago regularly; he was named principal guest conductor in 1969 and served in that capacity until 1972. The second principal guest conductor in the Orchestra's history was Claudio Abbado, who held the position from 1982 to 1985. For the five seasons from 1963 to 1968, Jean Martinon held the position of Music Director.
Sir Georg Solti, the CSO's 8th music director, served from 1969 until 1991. He held the title of music director laureate and returned to conduct the CSO for several weeks each season until his death in September 1997. Maestro Georg Solti's arrival in Chicago launched one of the most successful musical partnerships of our time. The CSO's first international tour came in 1971 under his direction, and subsequent European tours as well as tours to Japan and Australia have reinforced its reputation as one of the world's finest musical ensembles.
Daniel Barenboim resigned from his post in 2006 in order to focus on his career in Europe with the Staatskapelle Berlin orchestra and the Staatsoper Unter den Linden opera company, La Scala in Milan, and also with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which he co-founded. Daniel Barenboim's final concerts leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra took place on June 15-17 2006. On April 27, 2006, the orchestra named Bernard Haitink to the role of principal conductor and Pierre Boulez to the role of conductor emeritus, while the music director search continued. These appointments began in the 2006-2007 season. On May 5, 2008, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association President Deborah Rutter announced that the orchestra had named Riccardo Muti as its 10th music director, starting with the 2010–2011 season, for an initial contract of 5 years.
The Orchestra has also had many distinguished guest conductors, including Richard Strauss, John Williams, Arnold Schoenberg, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninov, Maurice Ravel, Edward Elgar, Aaron Copland, Leonard Slatkin, André Previn, Michael Tilson Thomas, Leonard Bernstein, Leopold Stokowski, Morton Gould, Erich Leinsdorf, Walter Hendl, Eugene Ormandy, George Szell and Charles Munch. Many of these guests have also recorded with the orchestra. The three principal guest conductors of the Orchestra have been Carlo Maria Giulini, Claudio Abbado, and Pierre Boulez.
Radio broadcasts and recordings are an important part of the CSO's activities. Full-length concerts, taped at Orchestra Hall and the Ravinia Festival, are broadcast over 200 stations across the country under the sponsorship of Amoco Corporation with Chicago-area broadcasts sponsored by The Northern Trust Bank, United Airlines, and the Amoco Corporation. Music performed by the Orchestra has been heard in movies, including Casino conducted by Sir Georg Solti and Fantasia 2000 conducted by James Levine. The Chicago Symphony holds an annual fundraiser, originally known as the Chicago Symphony Marathon, more recently as "Radiothon", and now "Symphonython", in conjunction with Chicago radio station WFMT. As part of the event, the Orchestra has, since 1986, released tracks from their broadcast archives on double LP/CD collections.
Since 1916, when the CSO became the first American orchestra to record under its regular conductor, the CSO has amassed a discography numbering over 900. Recordings by the CSO have earned fifty-six Grammy Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences including several Classical Album of the Year honors, as well as a number of Best Classical Performances in the orchestral, choral, instrumental and vocal soloist, and engineering categories.