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January 27, 2010

Chicago Symphony Orchestra & UMS: The Ultimate Long-Term Relationship

By Paula Muldoon

Editor’s note: Chicago Symphony Orchestra returns to Ann Arbor on October 29, 2015.

Pierre Boulez conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Todd Rosenberg)

Pierre Boulez conducting the CSO (photo: Todd Rosenberg)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s January 27, 2010 appearance in Hill Auditorium is the 202nd in a series of performances under UMS auspices that began over a century ago, on November 21, 1892.  The orchestra, then known as the “Chicago Orchestra” was conducted by Theodore Thomas in typically eclectic (for its time) program of Weber (Overture to “Freyschuetz”), Beethoven (Allegretto from the Seventh Symphony), Tchaikovsky (Suite from Ballet, Casse Noisette – billed as a “new” work, as indeed it was for its time), and Wagner (Vorspiel from Meistersinger).

The CSO’s complete UMS performances are too numerous to mention even in the scantiest detail, but there are several concerts which caught my eye as I was browsing UMS’ archives.

In UMS’ May Festival of 1931, the CSO was the resident orchestra in several concerts.  One of those concerts featured an oratorio by French composer Gabriel Pierné on the life of St. Francis of Assisi – with such vocal roles as “The Leper” and “The Voice of Christ” (both sung by the same person), “The Lady Poverty”, and “Birds” (sung by a children’s chorus).  Another concert featured legendary Polish pianist Ignace Paderewski, performing his own piano concerto and solo piano works by Chopin.

Arthur Grumiaux

There is an interesting anachronism in the program for the CSO’s March 1952 performance with the great violinist Arthur Grumiaux. Grumiaux is listed as playing Bartók’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra,” as though he had only written one violin concerto.  Bartók in fact wrote two violin concerti, but the first, although written in 1907-08 (for a woman he was in love with, but who rejected him), was not published until 1958, after Bartók’s death (and after this performance of the second concerto with Grumiaux and the CSO).

The CSO has a long history with the works of Richard Strauss, having given the U.S. premieres of most of the great tone poems, including Till Eulenspiegel and Ein Heldenleben. Strauss was also the CSO’s first guest conductor, in 1904; after the first rehearsal with the CSO, he said to the orchestra, “I am delighted to know you as an orchestra of artists in whom beauty of tone, technical perfection, and discipline are found in the highest degree.”  The CSO brought that tradition to Ann Arbor in March 1992 with a performance of Strauss’s Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, and Ein Heldenleben, conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

The CSO’s most recent UMS performance was in December 2005 with guest conductor Robert Spano and the Marcus Roberts Trio, performing Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Symphony #2, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.


Paula Muldoon is a UMS Marketing Intern. She recently graduated from the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance with a degree in violin performance.