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
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
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
・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;
・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.