From Orchestra of Illinois to The Chicago Philharmonic Society: Great Music to Broader Audiences
1979-1988: Orchestra of Illinois
The Society’s roots go back to early 1979 when the principal musicians of the Lyric Opera Orchestra formed a cooperative association under the name “Orchestra of Illinois” to play and present symphonic performances, outside the orchestra pit. This ensemble performed until early 1988 when it was disbanded due to financial difficulties.
1988-2004: The Orchestral Society of Illinois Becomes Symphony II
In June 1988, several of the Lyric’s principals again joined together and incorporated the “The Orchestral Society of Illinois.” In March 1991, after several years of musical planning and fundraising, the new society held its first symphonic concert under the name “Symphony II.” Leading the orchestra at that first concert was Larry Rachleff, who would go on to serve as the orchestra’s Music Director for 23 years, until May 2013. Symphony II was honored as the Illinois Council of Orchestras Orchestra of the Year in 2002.
2004-Present: Chicago Philharmonic
In late 2004, the trade name of the orchestra was changed to the “Chicago Philharmonic,” and on July 2, 2012, the legal name of the Society was changed to The Chicago Philharmonic Society.
In 2012, led by Board Chairman Paul R. Judy, the Chicago Philharmonic began a formal transition into a musician-led and governed society, supported by an active membership of dedicated musicians and non-musicians. This structure is unique among larger scale musical arts institutions in America, if not the world. It is also a natural extension of the Society’s long-time culture of musician leadership and participation.
In 2013, the Society welcomed Scott Speck as its new Artistic Director. Maestro Speck led the Chicago Philharmonic in its first self-presented concert in the city of Chicago in May 2016, when the orchestra began a residency at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park.
Over the years the Society has performed under the batons of many world-renowned conductors — such as Zubin Mehta, Sir Andrew Davis, and Jesus Lopez-Cobos — and showcased many distinguished guest artists, including John Browning, Jorge Osorio, Sharon Isbin, and Ben Beilman.
In 2010, the orchestra added a chamber music series in Park Ridge to complement its subscription concert series at Pick-Staiger Hall in Evanston. In 2014, an additional chamber music series was added at City Winery Chicago, furthering the Society’s commitment to performing in front of broad audiences and allowing for fresh creative opportunities for musician members.
Over time the Society has forged artistic relationships with the Ravinia Festival, the Harris Theater, Salute to Vienna, and other outstanding arts organizations. In 2012 the Chicago Philharmonic began serving as the official orchestra for the Joffrey Ballet, providing live music for all of their performances at the Auditorium Theater.
Read the Polyphonic.org article with personal stories about the origins of The Chicago Philharmonic Society.