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Chicago Shimpo
Chicago Symphony’s Jeff Alexander Presents
Long History of CSO
at Japan America Society’s Holiday Fundraiser

The Japan America Society of Chicago’s annual Holiday Fundraiser & Bonenkai (year-end party) was held on December 14 in Chicago and featured Jeff Alexander, President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (“CSO”) Association, as the keynote speaker. Alexander, who has visited Japan more than 30 times for both business and pleasure, spoke about the long and celebrated history of the CSO and its global activities during the presentation entitled “The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Its Global Impact.”

Before taking over the administration of the CSO in 2015, Alexander was the president & CEO of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (“VSO”). He is known for his effort of rebuilding the financially strapped VSO during his 14 years of service there, as well as opening the VSO School of Music, where approximately 1,300 students are studying today.

Alexander began his career as a French horn player after graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music. Subsequently choosing to be an administrator rather than a performer, he worked as the general manager of a concert tour management firm in New York from 1980 to 1982. From 1982 to 1984, Alexander served as the general manager of the Laredo Philharmonic Orchestra in Texas, and then as a regional education director at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1984 to 1988. The orchestra’s president, who hired him, was said to be so impressed by Alexander that he appointed him general manager. Alexander was in this position for 12 years until he was invited to join the VSO.

The CSO, in search of the successor of the then CSO President Deborah Rutter who had been appointed the president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., had eyed Alexander as a strong candidate. The orchestra’s music director Maestro Riccardo Muti was said to have strongly recommended Alexander for the position, because of the latter’s background as a musician, as someone who could understand conductors and orchestra members. Alexander has been married to Keiko Alexander, a Japanese pianist, for more than 30 years.

During the presentation, Alexander explained that the CSO is a complex of five major organizations that are closely interconnected, the likes of which are not often found anywhere in the world. This unique organizational model covers such functions as management of the activities of the orchestra, CSO Chorus and Civic Orchestra, recitals at the Symphony Center by outside performers, and operations of the Orchestra Hall building.

The CSO was founded in 1891 by Chicago businessman Charles Norman Fay. It was the eve of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, and Fay wanted to appeal the city of Chicago to the world by creating its own orchestra. The CSO Association, consisting of 49 Chicago business leaders, then invited the renowned conductor Theodore Thomas to Chicago.

Thomas toured around the country with his own Theodore Thomas Orchestra from the 1860s to the 1880s. He dissolved the orchestra in 1890 after competition had grown harsher in the 1880s when a number of other orchestras, including the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York, began claiming a national fame.
Under Thomas’ musical direction, the CSO commenced its first season in 1891, about a half of which was spent on tour outside Chicago. Its first overseas concert was held in Canada the following year, which was the beginning of the orchestra’s nonstop touring until the 1970s.

The CSO’s first European tour was in 1971. In 1977, it performed in Japan and other Asian countries for the first time. To the present, the orchestra has conducted seven Asia tours, all of which included concerts in Japan. Specifically, they are:

・Thirteen performances in 1977 in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kanazawa and Niigata;
・Concerts led by Muti in Tokyo, Osaka and Anjo, Toyota City in 1986 (they also performed in Hong Kong);
・Concerts in Tokyo, Osaka, Kurashiki, Nagoya, Sendai and other cities in 1990;
・Concerts in Tokyo, Osaka, Hamamatsu, Niigata and Takamatsu in 1995;
・Concerts in Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka in 2003;
・Concerts in Tokyo, Yokohama, Hong Kong and other Chinese cities in 2009; and
・Two concerts in Tokyo in 2016, led by Muti, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Japanese-Italian diplomatic relations, followed by concerts in Shanghai and Beijing.

In addition, the orchestra is scheduled to perform in Tokyo and Osaka in January 2019, said Alexander.

While actively performing overseas, the CSO is engaged in a variety of activities, offering the “master classes” taught by professional musicians and performing at colleges and hospitals, to name a few. Alexander informed that the orchestra plans to engage in similar activities during the 2019 Japan tour.

The CSO went viral three years ago, offering a video of Muti and the orchestra performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on YouTube. The video has been a big hit with its riveting performance, and as many as 9 million music fans across the world have accessed it.


The JASChicago fundraiser opened with a silent auction, where valuable goods and sought-after event tickets were auctioned. During the celebratory dinner that followed, JASChicago President David Johnson presented its activity report after welcoming the guests. Following the toast led by JASChicago Chairman Michael Moskow, Consular General of Japan in Chicago Naoki Ito spoke about the present and future of the U.S.-Japan relations. Also, Mark Peterson, President & CEO of Intersect Illinois, was among the guests who offered congratulations to the occasion.
The festive dinner ended with a flute performance by Erina Koyasu. Approximately 220 guests attended the celebration.

Jeff Alexander, President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association

The Japan America Society of Chicago’s annual Holiday Fundraiser & Bonenkai (Photo: courtesy of Mr. Mitsukuni Baba, Executive Director of Japan America Society of Chicago)