Little Tiny Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Little Tiny Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Tiny CSO, 1913 photo/Bruce Oltman

One hundred years ago today the Chicago Symphony Orchestra had dinner in the South Loop.  Only three members out of the 90-plus were unable to make it.

Last night, about 30 of us recreated the South Loop soiree--including a smattering of 1913 CSO members' descendants.  We did it a night early so as not to conflict with the regular Thursday night performance of the CSO at Orchestra Hall .  No musicians per se from the symphony were there last night, but some administrative personnel were.  The rest were just people like me who wanted to take a trip into the past.

We ate chicken and ravioli and fruit tarts and drank white wine in the usual off-limits dining room of the Glessner House, the site of the original dinner in 1913 and one of architect Henry Hobson Richardson's masterpieces, built in 1887 at 1800 S. Prairie Avenue--now an international landmark museum visited by people the world over.

So why did the symphony members visit the Glessners for dinner January 17, 1913?  What special occasion were we commemorating last night?

The Glessners were exceedingly instrumental in starting the orchestra under the capable leadership of Theodore Thomas.   And there was always a lot of socializing and scheming and planning to keep the orchestra busy and happy and in business.  And the Glessners were also instrumental in keeping it going under Thomas' successor, Frederick Stock, who was leading the orchestra by 1913--the year Frances Glessner had her 65th birthday.  That was also the year that the Glessner's daughter, 34-year-old Frances Glessner Lee, whose erstwhile hobby was miniature-making, made a mini Chicago Symphony for her mother and presented it to her on New Year's Day, the day she turned 65.

January 17 was the day the orchestra members came to dinner--and to see it.

It returned to its original home last night--and just like 1913, after dinner (and a lecture about the Glessner family's warm, strong and loving relationship with the symphony--culled from their very own highly detailed journals and memorabilia), guests traipsed upstairs to see it.  And it was amazing.  All the instruments, all the musicians, all the trimmings.

It's a perfectly scaled, totally accurate model of the entire orchestra, from the hair color of each man, to a carnation in each hand-sewn tux, to real mini sheet music of one of Frances Glessner's favorite tunes, "The Drum Major of Schneider's Band" by Arthur Mundy.  By the way, we heard that played last night by Glessner House Museum Executive Director William Tyre on the Glessner's actual Steinway situated in the Parlor--and sung by the CSO Rosenthal Archives archivist, Frank Villella.  The mini-model has been crated and under control of the CSO for many years.

But it's on loan for the time being at the Glessner House--and if you go on a tour of the house any time between now and February 24, you can see it.  You won't hear a symphony, though, unless you concentrate.  Really hard.  It's that real.


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