Lots of American history was made in 1962. The Age of Camelot was in full swing at John F. Kennedy’s White House. The Pop Art movement went mainstream, thanks largely to Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans series. A Nebraska native named Johnny Carson began what would become a 30-year reign as host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show.” And a young harpist named Lynne Turner joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where nearly six decades later, she’s still going strong.
After making her CSO debut at age 14, in a series of youth concerts, Turner auditioned seven years later for Fritz Reiner, then the orchestra’s music director, and joined its ranks full time. She was just 21 and one of the youngest musicians ever hired by a top American symphony. In the many years since, Turner has played under the batons of other acclaimed conductors and dazzled audiences at the world’s finest concert halls.
A St. Louis native, she arrived in Chicago at age 4 as part of a legacy. Sol Turner, her father, played first violin with the CSO for 22 years. After two years of piano lessons with her mother Evelyn, Lynne was introduced to the harp by her father at the age of 10, and she was a natural. An affinity for harps runs in the family. Richard Turner, her brother, has served as principal harp of the Winnipeg Symphony since 1977.
The CSO has made more than 60 international tours, most of them since 1971, and Turner estimates that she has been along for more than 50 (including domestic jaunts). Ahead of the CSO’s latest European travels, she recalled some high points of her distinguished career.
You performed in Israel recently. Could you tell us about that experience?
On Dec. 12, I was one of seven harpists who participated in a gala concert to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the International Harp Contest in Israel. First-prize winners from across the decades and from around the globe gathered for this remarkable event, which was held at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. I won first prize at the second competition, which was held in 1962, the same year I joined the CSO. My colleague Susanna Mildonian, who won the inaugural contest in 1959, was unable to attend, so I was in the humbling position of representing the early years of the competition.
I performed Maurice Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet and Strings, accompanied by members of the Israel Philharmonic under the direction of conductor Eyal Ein-Habar. This chamber work, which Ravel wrote in 1905, is one of my favorite pieces in the harp repertoire, full of dazzling colors and delicate nuances that showcase the versatility and virtuosity of the harp. The audience’s enthusiastic reaction was immensely gratifying, as was the feedback from organizers of the concert. It was also inspiring to get to know some of the younger artists who have won first prize in recent years — representing France, the Netherlands, Israel, Serbia and the United States — and who will serve as wonderful ambassadors of the harp long into the future.
How has CSO touring evolved since you first began traveling with the orchestra? Is it more logistically complicated these days?
Touring with the CSO is always an exciting and stimulating experience. It’s true that the process of traveling to distant destinations, navigating new cities and performing in unfamiliar venues can have its challenges. But the opportunity to bring the CSO’s unique sound and unparalleled musicianship to audiences around the globe, and to feel the palpable appreciation among concertgoers, far outweighs any logistical concerns.
What are some of your fondest touring memories?
I recall particularly memorable tours in decades past to the Soviet Union, Japan and throughout Europe. Many elements of the touring process remain the same as in previous decades — though, mercifully, all flights are now non-smoking! — but some aspects have become more streamlined. For example, in the past, each musician had his or her own personal steamer trunk, which was used to transport concert wardrobe and other necessities from Orchestra Hall in Chicago to each venue on the tour. In recent years, these trunks have been restyled to allow two musicians to share a single trunk. Without question this makes for added efficiency. We are also very fortunate to have the expertise of Heidi Lukas [the CSO’s director of operations], who handles all the tour arrangements and is always there for any questions or unexpected situations that might arise.
What stands out from your work with a number of world-class conductors?
Through the decades, I have had the good fortune to tour with Maestro Georg Solti [music director, 1969-1991] — who led the CSO on our first overseas tour to Europe in 1971 — and later with Maestro Daniel Barenboim [music director, 1991-2006]. Touring with Maestro Muti is an extraordinary experience. His boundless warmth and passion inspire not only audiences but also musicians and make for truly unforgettable concerts. I feel privileged to be part of this brilliant ensemble and to have the opportunity to share the CSO’s artistry with audiences around the globe.
TOP: Lynne Turner warms up ahead of the CSO’s concert in Cologne on the Europe Tour 2020. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2020