By: Max Raimi, CSO violist since 1984
I remember a rehearsal of Beethoven’s Fifth early in my career with the CSO. The ancient part we were reading from was dog-eared, yellowed and frayed. I was mystified to see crude decades-old hash marks scrawled into the part at various intervals. My stand partner, a 35-year veteran of the orchestra, explained to me that these marks must have been left over from a recording session back in the days of the old 78 RPMs, when each side of the record could only hold a few minutes of music. They would play enough for one side of the record and then stop at the hash marks. Whoever had scrawled those marks was no doubt long dead by the time I saw them.
Just as that viola part had been passed on through the generations, so had the music that was written on it. I sometimes like to think of our repertoire as a living chain, originating centuries ago and, I fervently hope, destined to continue on long after any of us in the orchestra at the moment are still alive. I can return again and again to a beloved symphony and always be renewed by it. In concerts, its effect on the congregation in the hall is palpable. If our performance is worthy of the music, this magic can never die.
Whatever our religious affiliations (or lack thereof), all of us in the Chicago Symphony share a common spiritual calling. We are dedicated to this chain across the generations; we are committed to the mission of keeping our music alive. When all of our work comes to fruition and we give a genuinely transcendent performance, the joy is hard to describe.
We have become one with something that goes beyond ourselves, that supersedes somehow the limitations of our own lives and our own mortality. The Principal Violist when I joined the orchestra, Milton Preves, first came to the CSO in 1934. Now I am seeing around me kids in their 20s, who may well be playing with the orchestra past the middle of this century—I have played with well over a century’s worth of musicians in my CSO career. Yet the great span of the tradition our orchestra is charged with preserving dwarfs this time frame. It has been a privilege to serve as a small link in the chain.