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The original Lyon & Healy pipe organ (the largest instrument the Chicago-based company ever built) was dedicated on April 27 and 28, 1905, by organist Wilhelm Middelschulte shortly after Orchestra Hall’s December 14, 1904, dedicatory concert.

Casavant Frères, Opus 3765 (Emma Bilyk photo)

Casavant Frères, Opus 3765 (Emma Bilyk photo)

The first significant renovation of Orchestra Hall was guided by Harry Weese and Associates and began in 1966. The project included the installation of new heating, air conditioning, and modern elevators; an increase in lobby space on three floors; expansion of musicians’ lounges and dressing rooms; and replacement of plaster ceiling with acoustically designed aluminum panels. The auditorium and lobby décor were brightened with a new color scheme of gray walls with ivory trim, and the seats were reupholstered with deep red mohair. During the summer of 1967, plans to restore the original organ were dismissed when it was discovered that damage had occurred during the previous years’ renovation, and an Allen electronic organ was pressed into service as a temporary solution.

During the summer of 1981, M.P. Möller installed a new organ in Orchestra Hall, which contained more than 3,000 pipes (forty-five independent stops and seventy-four ranks, controlled through seventy-one registers and twenty-five couplers). The organ installation was the catalyst for an extensive renovation and remodeling of the auditorium by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which included enlarging the stage and rearranging main floor seating, new lighting set into the stage shell, remodeling the Orchestra members’ lounge facilities, repainting the interior (following the original design concepts of architect Daniel Burnham), and other electrical and mechanical adjustments.

On December 7, 1981, the Orchestra presented a special concert dedicating the newly installed pipe organ. Leonard Slatkin led selections from Bach’s Cantata no. 35 (Geist und Seele wird verwirret), Handel’s Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day, Haydn’s Little Organ Mass, Poulenc’s Organ Concerto in G minor, and Copland’s Symphony for Organ and Orchestra. Soprano Lucia Popp was featured in the works by Handel and Haydn, and Frederick Swann was organ soloist in all selections.

Nearly fifteen years later, at the beginning of the Symphony Center project, the Möller organ was removed and delivered to the workshops of Casavant Frères in Quebec, where it was overhauled and expanded. The new instrument (with forty-four stops, fifty-nine ranks, fourteen couplers, and 3,414 pipes) was installed during the summer of 1998 and inaugurated by David Schrader on February 18, 1999.

Image above: Program book cover for the December 7, 1981, dedicatory concert

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