Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is an American orchestra based in Chicago, Illinois. It is one of the five American orchestras commonly referred to as the “Big Five”. Founded in 1891, the Symphony makes its home at Orchestra Hall in Chicago and plays a summer season at the Ravinia Festival. The music director is Riccardo Muti, who began his tenure in 2010.

In 1890 Charles Norman Fay, a Chicago businessman, invited Theodore Thomas to establish an orchestra in Chicago. Under the name “Chicago Orchestra,” the orchestra played its first concert October 16, 1891 at the Auditorium Theater. It is one of the oldest orchestras in the United States, along with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Orchestra Hall, now a component of the Symphony Center complex, was designed by Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham and completed in 1904. Maestro Thomas served as music director for thirteen years until his death shortly after the orchestra’s newly built residence was dedicated December 14, 1904. The orchestra was renamed “Theodore Thomas Orchestra” in 1905 and today, Orchestra Hall still has “Theodore Thomas Orchestra Hall” inscribed in its façade.

In 1905, Frederick Stock became music director, a post he held until his death in 1942. The orchestra was renamed “Chicago Symphony Orchestra” in 1913.

On May 5, 2008, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association President Deborah Rutter announced that the orchestra had named Riccardo Muti as its 10th music director, starting with the 2010-2011 season, for an initial contract of 5 years. His contract has been renewed for another five years, through the 2020 season.

The orchestra has also hosted many distinguished guest conductors, including Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), Aaron Copland, Edward Elgar, Morton Gould, Walter Hendl, Erich Kunzel, Erich Leinsdorf, Charles Munch, Eugene Ormandy, André Previn, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), Leonard Slatkin, Leopold Stokowski, Richard Strauss (1864-1949), George Szell, Michael Tilson Thomas, Bruno Walter (1876-1962) and John Williams. Many of these guests have also recorded with the orchestra.

Ravinia Festival

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra maintains a summer home at Ravinia in Highland Park, Illinois. The Orchestra first performed there during Ravinia Park’s second season in November 1905 and continued to appear there on and off through August 1931, after which the Park fell dark due to the Great Depression. The Orchestra helped to inaugurate the first season of the Ravinia Festival in August 1936 and has been in residence at the Festival every summer since.

  1. 1959-1963 Walter Hendl – Artistic Director
  2. 1964-1968 Seiji Ozawa – Music Director
  3. 1969-1969 Seiji Ozawa – Principal Conductor
  4. 1970-1972 István Kertész – Principal Conductor
  5. 1973-1993 James Levine – Music Director
  6. 1995-2003 Christoph Eschenbach – Music Director
  7. 2005-present James Conlon – Music Director


  1. 1891-1905 Theodore Thomas
  2. 1905-1942 Frederick Stock
  3. 1943-1947 Désiré Defauw
  4. 1947-1948 Artur Rodzi?ski
  5. 1950-1953 Rafael Kubelík
  6. 1953-1962 Fritz Reiner
  7. 1962-1963 Fritz Reiner (musical advisor)
  8. 1963-1968 Jean Martinon
  9. 1968-1969 Irwin Hoffman (acting music director)
  10. 1969-1991 Sir Georg Solti
  11. 1991-2006 Daniel Barenboim (1942)
  12. 2010-present Riccardo Muti

Titled conductors

  1. 1969-1972 Carlo Maria Giulini – Principal Guest Conductor
  2. 1982-1985 Claudio Abbado (1933-2014) – Principal Guest Conductor
  3. 1991-1997 Sir Georg Solti – Music Director Laureate
  4. 1995-2006 Pierre Boulez – Principal Guest Conductor
  5. 2006-2010 Bernard Haitink (1929) – Principal Conductor
  6. 2006-2016 Pierre Boulez – Helen Regenstein Conductor Emeritus

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