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