The atmosphere was festive as the League of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association celebrated the 10th annual Fall in Love with Music fund-raising event on Nov. 8 in the Lincoln Ballroom of the Union League Club. Music lovers chatted happily in anticipation of the featured speaker, Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti, and CSO musicians Kenneth Olsen and Stephanie Jeong.

While waiting for the program to begin, guests enjoyed a champagne toast in the room, featuring tones of brown and gold, accented with arrangements of fall flowers. The beautifully appointed tables included gifts of maple syrup in leaf-shaped bottles, donated by Derek Friske of Mackinac Maple Farms in Cedarville, Mich.

Maestro Muti arrived to a round of applause and the program got under way. After welcoming remarks from League President Sue Bridge, co-chair Cheryl Istvan noted the 10th anniversary of Fall in Love with Music by informing guests about the event’s history. She then recognized past chairs and League presidents who had led the event over the years. She also thanked Muti for his presence at this special occasion and presented the maestro with a thank-you gift of an honorarium in his name to the Chicago West Community Music Center, founded by Howard and Darlene Sandifer. This school has a special bond with Muti, as he was guest of honor at its 20th anniversary gala in June and recently led a master class and open rehearsal with CWCMC music students. The gift recognized the commitment of both Muti and the League to serving the Chicago community.

Next up co-chair Amy Boonstra introduced the musical guests, Kenneth Olsen and Stephanie Jeong, who were performing as soloists in Brahms’ Double Concerto at CSO concerts that weekend. For the luncheon guests, they performed Handel’s Passacaglia, a virtuoso piece for violin and cello arranged by Johan Halvorsen in 1894. Guests were thrilled by their excellent musicianship in this rarely heard composition.

After the musical performance, CSOA President Jeff Alexander introduced the featured speaker, Maestro Riccardo Muti, with questions provided by Phillip Huscher, the CSO’s scholar-in-residence and program annotator. In the spirit of the afternoon, Huscher referenced the idea of falling in love with music and asked the maestro when he decided that he would devote his life to making music, as opposed to keeping it a pastime.

“There are some words that are exaggerated, I think, because I don’t know if I love music, I don’t know if I am devoted to music,” he said. “I know that I worked very hard all my life to try to understand what music is. Music … is it an entertainment? Is it a pleasure for the heart and for the mind? I don’t know. Mozart said that the deepest music is the music that is behind or between the notes.”

Then, for the next half-hour, Muti discussed his childhood, his family, how he got started in music and how his life in music progressed. When reflecting on his training in music, Muti said, “All my life I was forced to study because my parents and my teachers taught me to have great discipline. I had, and still have this great discipline. When I conduct, I feel the responsibility of the work in front of the musicians, in front of the public and in front of the composer.”

He also spoke about his relationship with the CSO and his attachment to the city of Chicago, noting, “In Chicago, I have devoted all of my time to my love and my respect for the Chicago Symphony. You have a fantastic orchestra!” He also spoke about his philosophy of conducting and his observations about some of today’s conductors on the international scene. It was an intimate, humorous and heartfelt account of his life and his relationship with music. Guests were enthralled and so disappointed when his time on stage came to an end. It was truly an unforgettable experience for those lucky enough to attend.

The program was followed by a delicious lunch of spinach and goat cheese salad, lemon-rosemary chicken and flourless chocolate cake for dessert. Thanks are due to co-chairs Cheryl Istvan and Amy Boonstra and their committee of 30 dedicated League members for bringing the event to life. League President Sue Bridge and Vice President of Fundraising Eileen Conaghan provided strong support. Special thanks to Kayleigh Dudevoir, our skillful and diplomatic CSOA project manager, who kept track of details and made sure everything went smoothly.

The 10th annual Fall in Love with Music event launched the League’s 2019-20 season of fulfilling its central mission of supporting the CSOA’s goals by promoting an appreciation for symphonic music, encouraging a commitment to music education and raising funds for the CSO. The event’s proceeds strengthen the many educational and outreach programs supported by the League. This year, the League exceeded its fund-raising goal by more than $75,000, thanks to the generosity of its many sponsors and attendees.

TOP: Riccardo Muti was the featured guest at the 10th annual Fall in Love With Music fund-raiser. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019