By: David Sanders, CSO cellist since 1974
I left Miami, Florida in 1967 for Northwestern University, For four years I studied the cello with Dudley Powers, and was also a member of the Civic Orchestra where I had weekly cello sectionals with Frank Miller, the legendary Principal Cellist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. After my freshman year I decided to stay in Evanston and arranged to take lessons with Mr. Miller. I had six lessons in eight weeks, and practiced eight or more hours a day. I was a late starter on the cello, beginning at age 14, so working on the fundamentals of cello playing was a vital part of my training. I spent hours and hours every day on scales, arpeggios and etudes, plus quite a bit of repertoire, and four Strauss Tone Poems: Don Juan, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Death and Transfiguration and Til Eulenspiegel. These lessons were absolutely unforgettable, and my progress was very rapid. Listening to Mr. Miller demonstrate, hearing what the cello was capable of, hearing that most amazing of all cello sounds left an indelible mark on me. I seemed to have his sound “stuck” in my ear, and I began to focus my playing on creating the most singing and beautiful sound that I could.
The following summer, after my sophomore year, I auditioned for and was accepted into the Grant Park Symphony. I also continued to have a few lessons with Mr. Miller, but scheduling was now much more difficult. For the next two years at Northwestern, I continued with very occasional lessons, and the weekly sectionals with Mr. Miller. By the time I graduated from Northwestern I had made enough progress to win a position with the Milwaukee Symphony. I enjoyed my season in Milwaukee, but in the spring a position opened up in the Lyric Opera Orchestra, which I won. I just wanted to be back in Chicago, closer to Mr. Miller.
After my second season at Lyric, in December, 1973, I became the Principal Cellist of the Florida Symphony Orchestra in Orlando, where, coincidentally, Frank Miller had been Music Director following his fifteen years as Principal Cellist of the NBC Symphony with Arturo Toscanini. I was enjoying my time, and especially the weather, in Orlando, when one day I opened up the International Musician, the music union’s newspaper, and saw advertised an audition for the cello section of the Chicago Symphony. It was startling; I had been dreaming about being a cellist in the Chicago Symphony for seven years, since my freshman year at Northwestern. Here was a chance, the first opening in seven years, and who knew when the next one would be. Even though I was sure I didn’t have a ghost of a chance of winning this job, a cellist in Frank Miller’s section, with Sir Georg Solti as Music Director, I decided to take the audition. I spent months preparing, practicing every spare moment, concentrating as much on the required orchestra excerpts as I did on my concerto, trying to make my sound as warm and singing as I could. To this day, 41 years later, I still remember the Personnel Manager coming down the stairs to the basement of Orchestra Hall and giving me a little salute, with the words, “you’re in.” It was the beginning of a lifetime of the most amazing musical experiences I could ever have imagined.
Inspired by the article "Links in the Chain" by my colleague Max Raimi, I am reminded of how enriched my musical training and life have been by members of the Chicago Symphony. One of the most significant influences I have had was with cellist, Theodore (Teddy) Ratzer. He lived from 1899 until 1990 and was a member of the Chicago Symphony from 1920 until 1957. I met him during my student days when I also had the good fortune to be doing a substantial amount of free-lance work in the Chicago area. Teddy was still playing his cello on almost all of the gigs in those days. He regularly played the McCormick Place Nutcracker and other ballets, but the time I spent with him as his stand-partner at the old "Mill Run Theatre" in Niles was especially significant. Already having aspirations of being a member of the Chicago Symphony, I had collected every CSO recording I could get my hands on, including the heavy old 78rpm discs!! I was fascinated by the history of the Orchestra and was brimming with questions. Teddy had countless stories of his experiences with the Orchestra and his love and devotion to being a professional orchestral musician were palpable.
I learned that he had been the very first musician "drafted" by the then-CSO Music Director, Frederick Stock, into the Chicago Symphony from the newly formed Civic Orchestra in 1920. I learned how he supplemented his income in those early days when the CSO musicians were NOT paid very well by playing for radio programs (a new invention in those days) and playing hotel gigs at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island and at the Bismarck Hotel in Chicago (a recording survives of his playing in the Bismarck's resident ensemble!). He spoke most lovingly of Frederick Stock and played some of Stock's Cello Concerto for me (BY MEMORY, after over 30 years at the time). I learned of the controversial non-renewal of Artur Rodzinski's Music Directorship of the CSO that created such strong feelings in the Chicago musical community that policemen were stationed at every exit of Orchestra Hall during Rodzinski's final concert. I learned a bit about Fritz Reiner's sadistic intolerance when, due to one of Chicago's famous blizzards, the first two cellists had failed to arrive for a rehearsal and Teddy was called upon at the last minute to play a difficult solo which caused him some trouble, infuriating Reiner who delivered a blistering verbal attack. (When Teddy retired later that season after 37 years in the orchestra, Reiner sought out Teddy in the musician's locker room; Reiner complimented Teddy and, one might suppose, offered an unspoken apology for his nasty remarks during the snowstorm by saying that, as long as Reiner was Music Director at the CSO, Teddy was most welcome to return any time----an extraordinary gesture from the legendary tyrant to a loyal player and fine gentleman.) Teddy didn't go back but a decade later or so, Teddy DID continue to play substitute cello with the CSO.
I learned a great deal from Teddy, and not just CSO lore. His advice when I was practicing orchestral excerpts for auditions was invaluable and I pass it along when I coach young cellists today. As a person, he had a dignity and integrity about him that was inspirational. He was a wonderful example of how the existence of the Chicago Symphony, regardless of the concerts it plays, can inspire and make life meaningful for all.
By: Gary Stucka, CSO cellist since 1986
By: Brad Opland, CSO bass player since 1984
It is with a great deal of humility and gratitude that I use this forum to publicly thank the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the opportunity to be a member of this remarkable institution.
I was fortunate to have joined the CSO at a time when Reiner’s “Old Guard” had recently transitioned into Solti’s “Chicagoans”. At twenty five I was sitting beside musicians of one of the “Big Five” orchestras in the United States and it was to say the least a dream come true.
It continues today with Maestro Muti at the helm of this incredible orchestra. The new Chicago Symphony is filled with the most talented musicians the music world has produced and the musical experience at Symphony Center is unsurpassed.
Please join us at Symphony Center in Chicago and tune into our radio and web broadcasts on WFMT.