Chicago: The City, the Symphony

29 Jun

It’s been so long since I’ve updated this blog, you may be wondering if the Horns Across America project still exists.

I can assure you it is in full swing!  I’m still not exactly in the habit of blogging, but I am working at it!  Life tends to get in the way of these things, especially in my busy life at CCM.  Thankfully, summer is here and I have some more time.  I have lots of material to write about!  I will be catching up over the next several weeks.  Stay tuned!

Chicago: The City

To say that Chicago and I have a long history would be an understatement.  I grew up about an hour north of the city, where I began playing horn at age 11.  My first horn solo recording was Dale Clevenger’s Mozart Concertos with János Rolla and the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra.  I always idolized the Chicago horn sound growing up, admiring especially Dale Clevenger’s diverse stylistic approach, from the raw power of Mahler to sweet, lyrical Mozart concertos.  I sought to imitate the purity of his tone quality in my own playing, and, to put it crudely, “crank it out” when orchestral works called for a powerful dynamic.

I joined the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra when I was fifteen years old.  Under the direction of Maestro Allen Tinkham, I was given the opportunity to play fantastic works with the symphony orchestra as well as the Encore chamber orchestra.  It was in this setting that I fell in love with orchestral playing.

Growing up, when it came to orchestral music, I rarely strayed from the Baroque and early Classical periods.  Preparing for my CYSO audition exposed me to new works that I couldn’t have dreamed of: Respighi’s Fountains of Rome, Barber’s Medea’s Dance of Vengeance, Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, and Richard Strauss’s Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils were all on the first audition list.  Hearing recordings of these pieces completely changed my perspective on classical music.  Playing them was truly the spark that led to my love of performing in an orchestra.  I walked into the rehearsal room for my first practice with the orchestra during our Labor Day retreat and heard the trumpets and low brass practicing the third movement of Fountains of Rome (“The Trevi Fountain at Noon”).

The rest, as they say, is history.

Weekly rehearsals in the city allowed me to begin navigating parts of Chicago on my own.  This independence inspired a new confidence in me and led to an even deeper love of the city.

I could go on about the wonderful music I performed with the CYSO, the incredible people I met, and my deepening love for music through these experiences.  I was only a member of the orchestra for a year before my family and I moved to Atlanta, but I can safely say that the CYSO changed my life.  I may have come to where I am through some other route, but I am happy to say that it was through this youth orchestra that I decided to pursue music on a professional level.

Chicago: The Symphony

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1891 under conductor Theodore Thomas (it was then called the Chicago Orchestra).  Thomas traveled widely in the United States as a conductor, but finally settled permanently in Chicago.  The orchestra began with sixty New York musicians and twenty-four local musicians.  At first, the orchestra struggled, averaging $33,000 in debt for the first eleven seasons.

Nevertheless, the orchestra survived.  In 1904, donations and funding from trustees provided the ensemble with a new hall, much smaller than the one they had been playing in.  “We are now in the same room as the audience,” said Thomas.  The new Orchestra Hall seated 2,500 at a time.

Thomas left a lasting legacy with the Chicago Orchestra.  There was certainly camaraderie

Theodore Thomas (found at

between himself and the ensemble.  One anecdote I found amusing from John Henry Mueller’s The American Symphony Orchestra: A Social History in Musical Taste occurred while the orchestra was rehearsing for their first performance of Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony.  The third movement, written entirely in 5/4, proved challenging for the orchestra.  In order to help the ensemble count in the odd meter and focus in the sweltering heat, Thomas suggested counting each beat on the words “Ein Glass Bier für Mich.”  Thus, driven by the prospect of a cold glass of beer, the orchestra made it through the rehearsal.

Thomas challenged his orchestra to play increasingly demanding repertoire during his tenure, including the first ever performance of Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben in the United States (if the horn players struggled with the third movement of the Tchaikovsky, they must have had a field day with Heldenleben).  Thomas passed away in January 1905, leaving a legacy behind as the “Father of the Permanent Orchestra.”

Thomas was succeeded by Frederick Stock, a violist and assistant conductor with the orchestra beforehand.  Even with his brief retirement during a period of Anti-German sentiment during WWI, Stock had the longest tenure of any music director for the orchestra thus far, directing for 37 years between 1905 and 1942.

Since then, the orchestra has featured numerous influential conductors including Fritz Reiner and Georg Solti, to name a few.  They have also made numerous recordings of major works, including Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, several Mahler symphonies, and all of Beethoven’s symphonies.  The orchestra has traveled around the world, touring in Asia, Europe, Australia, and South America.  The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is globally renowned as one of the premiere ensembles in the United States, and worldwide.


Mueller, John Henry. The American Symphony Orchestra ; a Social History of Musical Taste. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1951. Print.


One Response to “Chicago: The City, the Symphony”

  1. Dale Clevenger 07/10/2011 at 8:55 pm #

    Why aren’t you practicing?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: