For Dr. Marylou Witz, the members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago — the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ensemble for young professional musicians — are “like family.” Since 2012, she has generously sponsored Civic Orchestra musician stipends, which help to offset the living expenses of Civic players during their training.
Since Witz plays the violin, her support is allocated to scholarships for Civic Orchestra violinists, beginning with Concertmaster Emily Nash in 2012-13. “The Civic Orchestra is such a fine experience for any up and coming professional musician,” Witz said. “I believe in the quality and the direction that the Civic Orchestra takes the musicians, and I want to do what I can to help these young people succeed in their careers as professional violinists.”
As a musician who grew up in school band, orchestra and choral programs, Witz understands the value of music education. “We were lucky to have fantastic teachers,” she said of the public schools she attended in New Mexico. She went on to study music education at the University of Michigan and was a violinist in the Toledo Symphony before pursuing a career in social work and earning a Ph.D. in psychology. In the late 1990s, she resumed playing the violin and is currently a member of the Highland Park Strings and the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest.
Along with supporting the Civic Orchestra, Witz also sponsors fellowships at Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, and she deeply values the relationships she has built with musicians from both programs over the years. “This is really my passion — sponsoring these young, brilliant talents and getting to know them,” she said. She keeps in touch with many Civic Orchestra and Ravinia alumni by traveling to attend their performances in other parts of the world and by hosting musicians or their families when they’re in Chicago.
Recently, Witz recommended Hannah Christiansen — a Civic Orchestra violinist whose scholarship she currently sponsors — as the recipient of an 18th-century violin by Joseph Gagliano, on loan through Guarneri Hall NFP’s Young Artist/Affiliate Artist Program. Christiansen and Witz appeared in an online broadcast featuring several Guarneri Hall Affiliate Artists and the instruments on which they play.
Beyond her support for young professional musicians, Witz is a longtime subscriber and donor to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. When she moved to Chicago for graduate school in the 1960s, she began attending the CSO on Friday afternoons and later become a subscriber in the 1970s with her late husband, Eugene Witz.
Some of her most cherished memories with the CSO are Patron Tours, which have taken Witz to destinations including Geneva, Paris and Warsaw with the Orchestra and Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti. She recalls the “stimulating and exciting” experiences of getting to know CSO musicians on tour and hearing them perform with Maestro Muti in famous venues such as La Scala in Milan and the Musikverein in Vienna.
Like many Chicago Symphony Orchestra subscribers, Witz eagerly looks forward to the day when she can return to her seat in Orchestra Hall and hear the full Orchestra perform again. During a typical season, “I’m at Orchestra Hall all the time,” she said. “I laugh with the staff and say that I live there. It’s an important part of my life, and I feel like they’re part of my family.”
TOP: Civic Orchestra of Chicago alumna Tara Lynn Ramsey and CSOA supporter Dr. Marylou Witz | © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015