Now celebrating its 130th season, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is consistently hailed as one of the world’s leading orchestras. In September 2010, renowned Italian conductor Riccardo Muti became its tenth music director. His vision for the Orchestra—to deepen its engagement with the Chicago community, to nurture its legacy while supporting a new generation of musicians, and to collaborate with visionary artists—signals a new era for the institution.
Founded in 1891 by its first music director, Theodore Thomas, the CSO’s other distinguished music directors include Frederick Stock, Désiré Defauw, Artur Rodzinski, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim. From 2006 to 2010, Bernard Haitink served as principal conductor, the first in CSO history. Pierre Boulez was appointed principal guest conductor in 1995 and then named Helen Regenstein Conductor Emeritus in 2006, a position he held until his death in January 2016. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma served as the CSO’s Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant from 2010–19, and, most recently, Missy Mazzoli was appointed the CSO’s Mead Composers-in-Residence in 2018.
The musicians of the CSO command a vast repertoire and annually perform more than 150 concerts, most at Symphony Center in Chicago, and, since 1936, at the Ravinia Festival in the summer. The CSO also tours nationally and internationally. Since its first tour to Canada in 1892, the Orchestra has performed in 29 countries on five continents in 62 international tours.
Since 1916, recording has been a significant part of the Orchestra’s activities. Current releases on CSO Resound, the Orchestra’s independent recording label, include the Grammy Award–winning release of Verdi’s Requiem led by Riccardo Muti. Recordings by the CSO have earned sixty-two Grammy awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Listeners around the world can hear the CSO in weekly airings of the CSO Radio Broadcast Series, which is syndicated on the WFMT Radio Network and online at CSO.org/Radio. In addition, the CSO’s YouTube video of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9, conducted by Muti, has received over 18 million views.
Annually, the CSO engages more than 200,000 people of diverse ages, incomes, and backgrounds through the innovative programs of the Negaunee Music Institute at the CSO. The Institute also manages the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the only pre-professional training ensemble of its kind affiliated with a major American orchestra.
The parent organization for the CSO is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA), which also includes the acclaimed Chicago Symphony Chorus, directed by Duain Wolfe. Under the banner of its presentation series, entitled Symphony Center Presents, the CSOA annually presents dozens of prestigious guest artists and ensembles from a variety of musical genres.
Thousands of patrons, volunteers, and donors—corporations, foundations, government agencies, and individuals—support the CSOA each year. The CSO’s music director position is endowed in perpetuity by a generous gift from the Zell Family Foundation. The Negaunee Foundation provides generous support in perpetuity for the work of the Negaunee Music Institute.