Mary Sauer, principal piano of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the only full-time keyboardist in CSO history, is retiring after 57 years of service. Her last concert will be Nov. 8.
“For me, playing with the CSO has been a constant joy and inspiration which has never wavered,” Sauer said in a statement. “I have the greatest admiration for my colleagues, their consummate musicianship and their passion and love for this profession.”
Sauer will receive the CSO’s Theodore Thomas Medallion for Distinguished Service from Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti in early 2017. Details will be announced later.
Her CSO experience began in 1959, when music director Fritz Reiner first invited her to perform with the orchestra. At that time, the position of keyboardist was not included on CSO’s personnel listing. In the 1967-68 season, music director Jean Martinon officially added her to the roster. She was named principal at the beginning of the 2000-01 season. Sauer also was accompanist with the Chicago Symphony Chorus for 21 years, hired by founding director Margaret Hillis in 1958.
A frequent CSO soloist on piano, celesta, organ and harpsichord, Sauer has played concertos under Sir Georg Solti, Martinon, Carlo Maria Giulini, Claudio Abbado, Rafael Kubelik, Zubin Mehta, Charles Dutoit, Walter Hendl, Alan Gilbert and Margaret Hillis. Her recording credits with the Orchestra include work with Solti, Giulini, Leopold Stokowski, Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas, Pierre Boulez, James Levine and Riccardo Muti. Sauer also recorded with the Ravinia Festival Chamber Players.
Among her fondest CSO performance memories, Sauer cites Stravinsky’s Petrushka with Pierre Monteux, who had conducted its world premiere in 1911; her teacher Rudolph Ganz’s Piano Concerto with Martinon; Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto with Solti, and Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, conducted by Peter Schreier, and for which she played portative organ.
Since 1962, Sauer has been keyboard coach of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. For 33 years was a member of the DePaul University piano faculty, including 22 of those years as head of the keyboard program there. She now serves as piano adviser and faculty chair for the New Music School. Among her students have been concert pianists, conductors, music directors and teachers. Through the years she has collaborated with various chamber groups including the Chicago Symphony String Quartet, Symphony Chamber Soloists of Chicago, Alistaire Trio and Gilcrest Chamber Society. She is artistic advisor and coach for the International Chamber Artists and has had a long association with the Wisconsin Peninsula Music Festival.
Born in Kenosha, Wis., Sauer received bachelor’s and master’s performance degrees from the Chicago Musical College. Her teachers include pianist/composer/pedagogue Rudolph Ganz, William Kapell and Irene Schneidmann. Sauer received the Governor’s Award of the Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for her contributions in education, performance, recording and for her many years as CSO keyboardist.
After retirement, Sauer plans to continue as keyboard coach for the Civic Orchestra and maintain her teaching studio in Chicago’s Fine Arts Building.
TOP: Mary Sauer and other CSO members arrive at O’Hare International Airport after the 2014 European tour. | Todd Rosenberg Photography