By: Yuan-Qing Yu, CSO violinist since 1995
In Shanghai, my father, Yu Zhen-Sheng, gave me my first violin lesson shortly after I turned six. Due to the impact of the Cultural Revolution, the only violin that my parents could find was too large for me. I learned to play the instrument with my left arm almost fully extended and with a stack of old books under my elbow to support it. Both of my parents worked full time jobs with a combined income of roughly eight dollars per month. After a long day of work, my mother, Mi Yi-Wen, would prepare dinner in the kitchen which we shared with three other families, while my father would sit with me in our 130 square-foot, one-room apartment, listening to me practice. Day after day and year after year, my parents were with me when I practiced, fanning me through the hot summers, warming my hands in the frigid winters. My father not only gave me a solid foundation as a violinist, but also taught me to appreciate and make the best use of what we have at hand.
During my Shanghai Conservatory years in the late 1980s, my teacher, Zheng Shi-Sheng, gave me lessons as often as three times a week. His love for violin and his dedication to his students taught me that musicians are people who do not just make music; they live their lives through music, breathing music and seeing the world through the lens of music. Being the exact same age as my father, Professor Zheng was my coach, my guardian, and my parent. In April of 1989, we spent three weeks together in London and Folkestone, England, in preparation for the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition. It was my first time away from home. We visited major monuments, such as the Parliament and Big Ben. We spent most of our waking moments together, studying the scores, practicing, eating our meals together and sightseeing. Until this day, I still remember his words of advice: “Do not practice right after you eat, it’s bad for digestion.” I won the Second Grand Prize in that competition.
I left Shanghai for the United States in 1990. I made sure that I went to see Professor Zheng every time I returned to Shanghai. The last trip I made was in January 2013, while on tour as a member of the CSO. At age 77, Professor continued to practice every morning for three hours, and then taught multiple students. We met at his studio in the Conservatory. Dressed in winter attire and comfy slippers, we reminisced about the past with smiles on our faces. He was especially fond of the trip to England, and my excitement when we visited toy stores in London. That was the last time we saw each other. Professor Zheng passed away in January 2014.
I will be returning to Shanghai again this coming January with the CSO, making music with my colleagues and Maestro Muti in a city where I spent my formative years. My parents will be traveling with me, my relatives will be at the concert, and my teacher will be greatly missed. But I trust that he will be there in spirit.
Those who serve as elected representatives of the musicians in an orchestra don’t get talked about much. They serve knowing that this is not a high profile job. Yet it is an essential job, crucial to the success of the orchestra. So when a member of the Members’ Committee (as our representatives are known), does something outstanding or noteworthy, we should take a minute and say thank you!
Earlier this year, Roger Cline, a member of the orchestra who has served on our Members’ Committee for forty years, chose not to run for re-election. Roger has been an active member of the Committee for as long as I have been in the orchestra, and for over twenty of those years he served as Vice Chairman of the Committee. He has served on every negotiating committee since 1979. Roger put in countless hours of meetings with Management, Trustees, and Musicians. He has taken a particular interest in acoustics (of which he is very knowledgeable), but served willingly on all sorts of committees and initiatives. It adds up to thousands of hours of extra work, all without compensation, all for his colleagues, and ultimately for the music.
Through all of this I have known Roger as a great friend, an honest critic, reliable to a fault, and most important, a wise counsel, who can work with anyone. Thank you, your experience and wisdom will be missed!
Roger Cline, by Jenny Mondie
I have been a violist in the National Symphony Orchestra for twenty years. What on earth does that have to do with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and why would they let me steal some of their newsletter space? Because my father, Roger Cline, is a member of the CSO bass section. I would like to tell you about him.
I was not quite a year old when Dad won the CSO bass audition in 1973. There are stories about him putting me in my infant seat on the dining room table and practicing excerpts at me before that audition. Mom, Dad, and I moved to the north suburbs of Chicago that September and straight into a four-week lockout. While it was an immense honor and very exciting for Dad to have this new prestigious position (he was previously in the West Point band playing sousaphone), the lockout must have been quite a strain for a young family. My Dad is very logical and likes finding creative solutions to problems, so it was probably inevitable that he would be drawn to serving on the Members' Committee, but the experience of joining an orchestra during a labor stoppage probably sealed his fate.
In case you do not know what an orchestra Members' Committee is, it is the elected group of musicians that liaises with the orchestra management. Inevitably, issues arise in the general governance of a dynamic symphony orchestra, with constantly changing programming, conductors, soloists, venues, tours, etc. There are often difficult decisions to be made on behalf of the group. These decisions inevitably make some people happy and others not so happy. Committee members spend lots and lots and LOTS of time in meetings, assessing every situation that arises. Also, from this Committee is chosen a negotiating subcommittee that is responsible for bargaining new contracts every few years.
The Chicago Symphony maintains a rigorous schedule. But when I was growing up, all the time Dad spent in rehearsals and concerts must have been close to matched by time spent on Committee matters, especially in years with contract negotiations. There were often late night phone calls about urgent issues. My mom, brother, and I would wonder if Dad would be at the bargaining table all night, or might be home for dinner. In my youth, I just thought this kind of commitment was the norm. Now that I am a veteran in my own orchestra, I understand just how amazing his level of dedication was.
I am currently the National Symphony’s Committee chairman. Now I’m the one who stays an extra hour after services for meetings, writes countless emails, pores over contract language, and tries to find those same kinds of creative solutions to my orchestra’s challenges. Even with exceptional mentors and colleagues on my own Committee, I still constantly ask Dad for his advice and perspective. Here’s one very Cline example. Once after a meeting, I was criticized by one of my Committee colleagues as being too dour towards our management. Distraught, I called Dad. His response was “If there isn’t someone scowling on your side of the table, how will they know you’re really paying attention?”
A few weeks ago, after almost 40 years of service on the Members' Committee and a last contract ratification, Dad finally took a break from Committee work. I imagine there is an element of relief from setting down that responsibility and allowing other capable hands to continue it. But I suspect he may feel a little empty without the Committee camaraderie and the satisfaction of making that tangible contribution above and beyond his amazing musicianship.
So on behalf of our colleagues who often seem to forget our names and call us, “Hey, you’re on the Committee,” before expressing some concern, what they really mean and what I would really like to say is, “Thank you, Dad, for your dedication, strength, selflessness, and tenacity.”
By: Stephen Lester, CSO string bassist since 1978
As I am sure most everybody is aware, after months of difficult negotiations, and playing without a contract for the first two weeks of the season, the Musicians of the Orchestra, through their Negotiating Committee and Union, came to an agreement with the CSOA on a new contract. Despite that neither negotiating team was happy with the results, everyone sighed a deep sigh of relief!
It became apparent towards the end of negotiations that what was at stake was not just the incredibly small amounts of money separating the two sides at the end, but rather a simple fact: in the current climate of uneasy donors, management upheavals, and the relentless propaganda about the demise of “classical music,” a strike would have been devastating to the organization and the Orchestra. Compromise is never easy; but when faced with the alternative, compromise is often essential. We applaud our employer for recognizing this.
We could spend a good deal of time in an effort to dissect the results, trace the causes, and try to analyze the motivations. But at the end of the day, the fact of agreement is enough (for now).
Curiously, the major impetus for compromise came from two sources, one outside the process and one inside. Though not involved in a material way with the negotiations, our Music Director, Riccardo Muti, played a crucial role. He advocates as no one can for the value and integrity of what the orchestra does. His comments from the stage, in the press, and to the musicians, show deep passion for our profession and art, and form an impressive argument that effectively counters negative portrayals of American orchestras. We are extremely grateful for his help.
The other impetus for compromise came from the Federal Mediator assigned to our negotiations, Javier Ramirez, who proved to be a tremendous help. Javier readily sensed how the small numbers the parties were dealing with masked a deep philosophical schism – not just between employer and employee, but in what an art form is and how to nurture and sustain it. That showed remarkable sensitivity and intelligence. As an example of our tax dollars at work, we say Bravo!
The Orchestra members showed incredible strength and unity in this process, and as is often the case, a silver lining appeared during this difficult process. Our members have become much more self aware as an Orchestra. As you are enjoying this newsletter, and hopefully our website and Facebook page, we hope you can see how we want to communicate with everyone directly. We want you to know us as musicians and as members of the Chicago community. We want to introduce you to our lives, both professionally and, to a certain degree, personally. We hope that in the months and years to come, you will see and hear more of us, as an orchestra and as people. So please, as Maestro Muti says, “stay close to your orchestra!”
By: David Sanders, CSO cellist since 1974
Something that members of a world-class symphony orchestra are used to hearing, especially around contract negotiations time, is that “those musicians only work twenty hours a week” (four rehearsals and four concerts). What is missing from that statement? Let’s see.
Most members of a great orchestra began working at their chosen instrument from the time they were young children, maybe as young as four or five years old. I was a late starter; I started cello lessons at age 14. But it’s not just a matter of taking lessons over a long period of time. Generally speaking, the successful instrumentalists practice on average anywhere from three to six hours a day, every day. Think about that. What have most people been doing from the time they were five years old for three hours a day, or six hours a day. There are very few courses of study or careers that take that kind of dedication, attention to detail, concentration, and a general fanaticism over the course of ten, fifteen, twenty or twenty-five years. And that is before you get a job. A violinist who starts the instrument at five years of age will very likely study and practice that instrument for twenty years or more before getting a job in a great orchestra. That’s over forty thousand hours of practice.
Okay, so you’ve been practicing for 40,000 hours, and you apply for an audition for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. So do 149 other violinists. And your audition lasts somewhere between two (not a good sign) and fifteen minutes (a very, very good sign). You’re called back to the finals, along with two or three others, and low and behold, you win the job. Thank God, you can stop practicing. WRONG!!!!
When I was the lucky one on April 23, 1974 and got my job in the CSO, of course I knew that I was joining possibly the best Orchestra in the world. A year earlier Time Magazine had had a cover article featuring Sir Georg Solti, who was to be my music director, and called him “the fastest baton in the west.” The article also rated U. S. orchestras, and for the CSO it simply said “sine qua non.” I was excited. I was practicing. I wanted to earn my keep, so to speak. But I wasn’t prepared for what happened when I sat down in that great cello section in that great Orchestra. All around me, everywhere I looked and listened, there was such greatness coming from so many instruments. And they were doing it with such naturalness and ease, yet with an incredible intensity. I had the intensity at that time, but I didn’t feel as if I had the naturalness and ease, so I started practicing even harder.
You cannot rest on your laurels in the Chicago Symphony, or in any world-class orchestra. You never want to let your colleagues down, yourself down, or, maybe more importantly, the music down. Now in my 42nd year, I still don’t want to let my colleagues, myself or the music down. It is a never-ending struggle to continually try to master a musical instrument, to keep improving, be it string, wind, brass, or percussion. And believe me when I say, twenty hours a week is just the beginning.
A member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s flute section since 1973, Louise Dixon retires from the Orchestra tied as the third longest-serving flutist in Chicago Symphony history. At the time of her appointment by Sir Georg Solti, she was principal flute of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and a member of the Grant Park Orchestra.
A native of Pigeon, Michigan, Louise was introduced to the flute through the school music program and joined the Saginaw Youth Orchestra, winning the Young Artist Competition to appear as soloist with the Saginaw Symphony. After completing high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy, she earned a Performer’s Certificate and a Bachelor of Music degree at Indiana University and a Master of Music degree at Northwestern University. Her teachers included James Pellerite and Walfrid Kujala.
Throughout her many years with the CSO, Louise was an active performer on the Orchestra's chamber music series and a frequent soloist at the Bach Week Festival in Evanston. She was a soloist with the CSO numerous times in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 at Orchestra Hall and Ravinia. She was also a guest artist with the Chicago Chamber Musicians and a member of the faculty at the DePaul University School of Music.
When asked what she will be doing in her retirement, Louise mentions biking, golf, bridge, French class and yoga! She is looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren and summers at her home on Lake Huron in Michigan with her dog Jasper.
The members of the CSO send our best wishes to our beloved colleague, and wish her all the best in her future endeavors.`
By: Stephen Lester, CSO string bassist since 1978
It was a chance encounter in a grocery store, a former colleague who had been in our bass section for all of my then twenty-five years in the orchestra and who had retired a couple of years ago. We greeted each other with enthusiasm, I had always liked him. Wayne Balmer was always ready with a witty quip, and after a typical exchange of pleasantries and talk about life in retirement (the history class he was taking, staying fit) he said to me, “ but I have to tell you, the most important thing about retirement is the pension! That security is everything to me, it would have been impossible without it.”
I was struck by his honesty, this was no quip. Clearly, for a single man without a family, this benefit was not just dollars and cents, it gave him the security that retirees are finding ever elusive. At that point in my life I was nowhere near retirement, but Wayne made me realize how important that benefit is. He was able to live in the same house he had when he was working, able to keep a car, go to the health club, maintain his independence. He could plan for his future, even in retirement. Though I had always understood our pension benefit, now I realized the other side of it, how it enhanced a person’s life.
When Wayne retired, his pension was almost sixty per cent of his final year’s wages. He had Social Security and some savings, but they only supplemented what was the bedrock of his security: the pension from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, where he had played for 37 years. That pension benefit, a defined benefit plan, was negotiated over the years between the Association and the musicians’ union. The Plan requires the Association to contribute to a fund that then pays out that benefit to retirees until they die. It may seem that the retiree hasn’t paid into the fund; however, as a result of those negotiations, money that would have been paid as wages was set aside for the pension fund instead. So, Wayne did, in fact, contribute to his retirement, albeit indirectly.
The pension is a promise, made by the Association, to use previously designated funds to help our Members when they retire. Let’s be frank, musicians are not money managers, we do not even have access to the type of financial investments that pension funds use. We cannot provide that level of security on our own. So the promise, to shepherd those funds and make them available when needed, is not just dollars and cents, but an opportunity to have a secure retirement. Wayne made that so clear in that one short statement; a meaningful pension made all the difference to him.
Over the next dozen years, my wife and I shared many good dinners with Wayne at a favorite restaurant in Evanston. He lived to be almost ninety, all but the last few months still in his own house.
Our Pension Trust Fund has been in existence for over forty years. It is one of the proudest accomplishments of our Orchestra and has made a huge difference to many musicians. It helps attract and retain our Members, and it keeps the quality of our retirees’ lives at a level of dignity and security that is commensurate with the lives they have led.
On August 5th we celebrate the Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut of Fritz Reiner, at the Ravinia Festival, in 1937. The Rosenthal Archives has this about the great Maestro.
Fritz Reiner studied at the music academy in Budapest. His conducting debut was sudden-when the staff conductor at the Budapest Opera was taken ill, Reiner (then its young rehearsal coach) was thrust onto podium to direct that evening’s performance of Bizet’s Carmen. His full command of the situation subsequently led to his appointment as first conductor at the Laibach (now Ljubljana) National Opera.
From 1911 to 1914, Reiner was conductor of the People’s Opera in Budapest and went on to head the renowned Dresden Opera. He achieved great success conducting the music of Richard Strauss and premiered many of the composer’s works at Dresden.
Reiner came to the United States in 1922 and became conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony, where he remained until 1931; during this time he also was a frequent guest orchestral and operatic conductor
in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Chicago. In the 1934-35 season, Reiner organized the Philadelphia Opera Association and became its chief conductor. In 1938 he accepted the post of music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, where he would remain for ten seasons until becoming principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera.
Read more about Fritz Reiner at the Rosenthal Archives.
On August 3rd we celebrate the Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut of Georg Solti, at the Ravinia Festival, in 1954. The Rosenthal Archives, in the Solti 100 series, had this article about his debut.
“My long-delayed debut with the Chicago Symphony took place at Ravinia in August 1954, two years [sic] later than originally planned. In one of the concerts, the violinist Ruggiero Ricci and the cellist Paul Tortelierplayed the Brahms Double Concerto, but as a result of the intense humidity in the park, Tortelier’s bow slipped during the cello’s opening cadenza. He stopped, shook his head, and kept on repeating, ‘No good, no good,’ until we started again.
“These performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Ravinia were an absolute joy. I still remember the performance of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony during our first concert—the most wonderful musical experience of my professional life up to that time. The orchestra’s music director was another Hungarian, Fritz Reiner, who, along with George Szell in Cleveland, Antal Dorati in Dallas, and Eugene Ormandy in Philadelphia, was one of the Hungarian conductors who helped build the excellence of today’s modern American orchestras. Even more than the much-feared Szell, Reiner was infamous among orchestra musicians for his dictatorial behavior. But he did marvelous things for the Chicago Symphony. Despite the imperfect acoustical environment of Ravinia at that time, I had no doubt that this was the finest ensemble I had ever conducted.”*
Read the entire article at csoarchives.wordpress.com
Sir Georg Solti conducting the CSO, early 1970s. (photo courtesy of Gary Stucka)
I’m thinking about the recent Father’s Day. I’m thinking about our two children and how consistently happy I am to be their father. And I’m thinking about my own dad.
I am my father’s son in so many ways. I’ve just completed 36 years as a percussionist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. My father, too, was a member of the Orchestra, also in the percussion section, and also named Jim.
Let me tell you a little bit about my dad. He was born and raised in Boston and had a “Bostonian” accent until the day he died (Pahk the car in Hahvad Yahd). As a very young man, he moved to New York City and started freelancing as a musician, including playing in the pit at the famous Roxy Theater.
His symphony orchestra career began when he was invited by Pierre Monteax to play with the San Francisco Symphony. After moving to the Cincinnati Symphony at the invitation of Fritz Reiner, he met my mother and that’s where I was born, the first of three children. Dr. Reiner then moved to Pittsburgh to become the music director of that orchestra and he asked my dad to be the Principal Percussionist there. These were the days when formal, structured auditions didn’t really exist. If the music director of a symphony orchestra wanted to hire someone he knew or knew of, he simply hired them. That’s a much different world from today’s rigorous audition procedures, but that’s an article for another day. When I was six years old we moved once more, again at the request of Dr. Reiner. This time it was to Chicago.
My father spent a relatively short time in the CSO: 13 years, from his arrival in1954 until his retirement in 1967. Hard for me to believe that I’m close to tripling that! It is also hard for me to express how fortunate I feel to do something I’ve loved so much for so long.
I didn’t directly succeed my dad into this job. I was still in high school when he retired. His opening was won by a wonderful person and musician named Jim Lane (another Jim!) James Lane tragically died at the young age of 37 from cancer. When the audition for his position was held, I succeeded in getting the job and was hired by Sir Georg Solti. That was in 1979!
To this day, as almost a weekly occurrence, I read off of music parts from the CSO library that have my father’s name scribbled at the top in his own hand. It just reminds me of how we are all caretakers of positions in this great institution. Positions that have been nurtured by great musicians in the past and that will be cared for by many great musicians in the future. And I know--in the not too distant future--one of those musicians will be a percussionist reading parts that already have the markings of two different Rosses...both named Jim.
I am my father’s son.
Left to right: George Gershwin, Fritz Reiner, Jim Ross, with the tuned taxi horns that Gershwin wrote for in An American in Paris, and tenor Richard Crooks.
The photo is from 1929, one year after American in Paris was written.
Congratulations to Maestro Muti on the 42nd Anniversary of his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
On July 25th we celebrate the 42nd anniversary of our Maestro Muti's debut with the Chicago Symphony, at the Ravinia Festival, July 25, 1973.
His first program was:
ROSSINI Overture to Semiramide
SCHUMANN Piano Concerto with Christoph Eschenbach, piano
MUSSORGSKY/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition
The following is published in the CSO's Rosenthal Archives Blog:
Maestro Muti made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival in the summer of 1973, conducting a series of three concerts that also included three up-and-coming pianists: thirty-three-year-old Christoph Eschenbach (in his Ravinia Festival debut), twenty-seven-year-old Misha Dichter, and twenty-eight-year-old Jean-Bernard Pommier (in his CSO and Ravinia Festival debuts).
Muti’s biography in the Ravinia program book that week:
Permanent conductor of the Florence Maggio Musicale Orchestra since 1969, Riccardo Muti was born in Naples in 1941. He graduated with honors from the Conservatorio San Pietro a Maiella, where he studied piano, and then completed his studies at Milan’s Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi, graduating with honors in composition and conducting. In 1967, Riccardo Muti became the first Italian candidate to win the Guido Cantelli International Conducting Competition. In June 1968, he conducted the Maggio Musicale Orchestra and the same night was asked to become permanent conductor.
Thomas Willis’s review of the first concert in the July 26 Chicago Tribune certainly sets the stage:
“It is easy to see why Riccardo Muti was the first Italian to win the Guido Cantelli Conducting Competition. The Neapolitan firebrand, still in his early thirties, can galvanize both audiences and an orchestra with the kinetic energy of his beat. In his Midwest debut at Ravinia last night, he asserted command at the first notes of Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide and sustained it until the last of the procession had marched through the Great Gate of Kiev in the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition. Whether one responds or not to the tense muscularity of his approach, there is no gainsaying its power and effectiveness . . . With the sensitivity to melody of an already seasoned opera conductor, he sets off each tune with a breath, combines short phrases into longer ones, and underlines each high point. Above all, his music is perfectly clear.”
Click here to read the entire article from the Rosenthal Archives