Frederick Stock, second music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, founded the Civic Music Student Orchestra during the 1919-20 season, and the original objective continues to resonate: “To give an opportunity to capable players to acquire orchestral routine and experience, fitting themselves for positions in the symphony orchestras of the country [and] to take orchestral concerts to outlying districts.”
This season, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, which remains the CSO’s prestigious training ensemble, celebrates its 100th anniversary with special events. To mark its centennial, two programs will be led by Civic Orchestra Principal Conductor Ken-David Masur. On Sunday, March 1, the Civic Centennial Celebration Benefit Concert will showcase cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Additionally, there will be a special Anniversary Concert on Sunday, March 29, featuring Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, which was performed on the Civic Orchestra’s inaugural concert on that same date, 100 years ago.
CIVIC CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION BENEFIT CONCERT
Presented by the Negaunee Music Institute, the League and the Women’s Board of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, the Civic Centennial Celebration celebrates all those that comprise the fabric of the Civic community, including alumni, supporters, leadership and of course, the current musicians.
“I congratulate the Civic Orchestra of Chicago on its centennial and commend all who are part of its legacy — past, present, and future,” said Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti. “Providing a strong future for music has remained at the core of this ensemble of young artists. They are the hope for the preservation of our culture and represent its highest ideals.”
The concert features Yo-Yo Ma as soloist in Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. Ma served as the CSOA’s Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant from 2010 through 2019 and has long advocated for the Civic Orchestra’s musicians and mission. “I have had the wonderful experience of working with so many young people through the Civic Orchestra,” Ma said. “Together, we have thought through the stage in between student and professional life and explored what it means to be a musician, a citizen, and to serve our communities. We have talked about what it means to be a member of a larger group that truly, deeply collaborates, and at the same time, act as an individual leader to start something new.”
The weekend also features Masur leading a private reading session where past and current members will gather onstage in Orchestra Hall with Ma as the special guest. Other alumni weekend events include attending a CSO concert as well as a Q&A session with notable alumni, such as violinist Rachel Barton Pine and current members of the CSO.
CIVIC ANNIVERSARY CONCERT
Ken-David Masur leads the Civic in its Anniversary Concert, held 100 years to the day of the ensemble’s first performance. This special program opens with Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres), a 2013 work by CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence Missy Mazzoli, which evokes in sound the shape of a solar system. CSO horns Oto Carrillo, Daniel Gingrich, David Griffin and James Smelser — all Civic Orchestra alumni — appear as soloists in Schumann’s virtuosic Konzertstück for Four Horns and Orchestra. Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 closes the program with its colorful orchestration and popular second-movement theme.
“I was fortunate enough to be a member of the Civic Orchestra for three years,” said CSO Associate Principal Horn Daniel Gingrich. “It was a tremendous opportunity for me. As a member of Civic, I was coached by Dale Clevenger, longtime principal horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Being able to study with Chicago Symphony musicians really catapulted my career, beyond what I could have expected anywhere else.”
The kismet of his current mentorship role with Civic is not lost on Gingrich. “I love that things have come full circle, and I am able to be the horn coach. [It’s great to] see more young people learning and getting this experience and hopefully, being able to go on and enjoy a life in music, the way I have.”
THE CIVIC ORCHESTRA’S LEGACY
More than 7,000 musicians have been members of the Civic Orchestra, and many have gone on to perform with the finest ensembles in the world. More than 160 alumni have become members of the CSO, including 14 in the current roster.
Today’s Civic members experience an in-depth study of orchestral repertoire, perform as an orchestra and in chamber ensembles, and participate in the co-creation and implementation of their own musical projects throughout the community. It is a curriculum designed to produce well-rounded musicians for the modern orchestral landscape — a philosophy emphasized under the leadership of Riccardo Muti.
“That the word ‘civic’ is part of this orchestra’s name is symbolic. It indicates that the musician is both a reflection of his or her society and one who can serve and lead within the community,” said Muti, who will lead his 16th open rehearsal with the orchestra on April 27. “Music has the ability to bring people together; people who do not speak the same language and otherwise would not understand each other in terms of culture, ethnicity or religion. Music is our greatest tool. In this orchestra, musicians are instilled with the fundamental civic principles of a participatory, respectful society. All contribute to the total harmony.”
To learn more about the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, visit cso.org/civic.
TOP: Ken-David Masur leads the Civic Orchestra in Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 (Spring) during a May 2019 concert in Orchestra Hall. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography