Now celebrating its 125th season, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra 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.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's distinguished history began in 1889, when Theodore Thomas, then the leading conductor in America and a recognized music pioneer, was invited by Chicago businessman Charles Norman Fay to establish a symphony orchestra here. Thomas's aim to establish a permanent orchestra with performance capabilities of the highest quality was realized at the first concerts in October 1891. Thomas served as music director until his death in 1905—just three weeks after the dedication of Orchestra Hall, the Orchestra's permanent home designed by Daniel Burnham.
Sir Georg Solti, the Orchestra's eighth music director, served from 1969 until 1991. He then held the title of music director laureate and returned to conduct the Orchestra for several weeks each season until his death in September 1997. Solti's arrival launched one of the most successful musical partnerships of our time, and the CSO made its first overseas tour to Europe in 1971 under his direction, along with numerous award-winning recordings.
Daniel Barenboim was named music director designate in January 1989, and he became the Orchestra's ninth music director in September 1991, a position he held until June 2006. His tenure was distinguished by the opening of Symphony Center in 1997, highly praised operatic productions at Orchestra Hall, numerous appearances with the Orchestra in the dual role of pianist and conductor, twenty-one international tours, and the appointment of Duain Wolfe as the Chorus's second director.
From 2006 to 2010, Bernard Haitink held the post of principal conductor, the first in CSO history. Pierre Boulez, whose long-standing relationship with the CSO led to his appointment as principal guest conductor in 1995, was named Helen Regenstein Conductor Emeritus in 2006. Only two others have served as principal guest conductor: Carlo Maria Giulini, who began to appear in Chicago regularly in the late 1950s, was named to the post in 1969, serving until 1972. Claudio Abbado held the position from 1982 to 1985.
In January 2010, Yo-Yo Ma was appointed the CSO's Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant by Riccardo Muti. In this role, he partners with Muti, CSO staff, and musicians to provide program development for the Negaunee Music Institute at the CSO. Two new Mead Composers-in-Residence, appointed by Riccardo Muti, began three-year terms in the fall of 2015. In addition to composing, Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek will curate the contemporary MusicNOW series.
Since 1916, recording has been a significant part of the Orchestra's activities. Current releases on CSO Resound, the Orchestra's in-house 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.