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Encyclopedia > Chicago Symphony

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, based in Chicago, Illinois, is one of the major orchestras in the United States. It is also one of the finest orchestral ensembles in the world.


It played its first concert on October 16, 1891 conducted by Theodore Thomas, making it the third oldest symphony orchestra in the United States (behind the New York Philharmonic and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra). At that time it was known simply as the Chicago Orchestra, before changing its name to the Theodore Thomas Orchestra in 1906, and taking its present name in 1912. Theodore Thomas is still honored in the name of the orchestra's home auditorium, the Theodore Thomas Orchestra Hall.


In 1905, Frederick Stock became Music Director, a post he held until 1942. Other Music Directors have included Désiré Defauw (1943-47), Artur Rodzinski (1947-48), Rafael Kubelik (1950-53), Fritz Reiner (1953-63), Jean Martinon (1963-69), Georg Solti (1969-91) and, from 1991, Daniel Barenboim.


The Symphony's "summer home" is at the Ravinia Festival, which is held in Highland Park, Illinois on an annual basis. The Symphony has played there every summer since 1906, which was the Festival's third year. Many conductors have made their debut with the Chicago Symphony at Ravinia, and several have gone on to become the 'Artistic Director' (or primary summertime guest conductor) at Ravinia.


The orchestra has also had a number of distinguished guest conductors. Guest conductors have included Richard Strauss, Camille Saint_Saëns, Edward Elgar, Seiji Ozawa, James Levine, 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. There have also been designated "Principal Guest Conductors" including Carlo Maria Giulini in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and Claudio Abbado, who succeeded Giulini in this position. Since 1995, Pierre Boulez has been Principal Guest Conductor.


Music performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has appeared in various movies, including Immortal Beloved (conducted by Sir Georg Solti) and Fantasia 2000 (conducted by James Levine).


The Chicago Symphony also holds an annual fundraiser, originally known as the Chicago Symphony Radiothon and more recently as "Symphonython," in conjunction with Chicago radio station WFMT. As part of the event, the Orchestra has, since 1986, released exclusive tracks from their broadcast archives on double LP/CD collections.


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