Just like all members of the “Big Five” American orchestras, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, also popularly known as CSO, is a classical symphonic group that has a long history and an equally long list of achievements. Calling the Orchestra Hall in Chicago their home, they are one of the oldest orchestras in America today.
The CSO was first established in 1891. The orchestra was a joint project by Charles Norman Fay, a Chicago-based businessman, and Theodore Thomas, a local conductor. They first played their symphonies at the Auditorium Theater. In 1904, the Orchestra Hall, which would serve as home for the orchestra for more than a century, was erected. Designed by Daniel H. Burnham, the theater is now a part of the Symphony Center Complex. The Hall would later be named in honor of Thomas. Replacing the pioneer Thomas as music director in 1905 is Frederick Stock. During his leadership, the group was renamed as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1913. He would then hold this position until his death in 1942. A number of musical directors would then take leadership reins of the CSO. Today, the title musical director is being held by Riccardo Muti, who first made his name in the US as a former musical director of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Other than playing at the Orchestra Hall, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra calls another hall as their second home: the Ravinia Park. Located at Highland Park, they first made a performance there in 1905. Though it fell victim to the Great Depression during the early 1930s, it was resurrected in 1936. This venue was since considered as the home of the Ravinia Festival. This festival has seen its share of great conductors, including the likes of Seiji Ozawa, James Levine, and Cristoph Eschenbach.
The CSO also made its name thanks to a bunch of recordings and broadcasts. They first appeared in the radio airwaves in 1925. And even though their appearances have been sporadic, they are consistently popular. They also made TV appearances via WGN-TV starting in 1953. Other than regular broadcasts, they made their name via an extensive discography. Their first recording was done in 1916. Since then, they worked with the likes of RCA Victor, Mercury, and Decca Records. They created their own independent recording label, CSO Resound, in 2007.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has accomplished a lot over their more than century of existence. As one of the pioneers of classical music in America, this orchestra is considered a living legend.