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Thomas, Theodore

Thomas, Theodore

Born in 1835


Inducted in 1998

Theodore Thomas, born into a musical family in Germany, began playing the violin when he was two years old, performed in public at six, and at seven turned down an offer of a position in the royal household of the King of Hanover. His family came to the United States in 1845, when he was ten; he made his solo debut in New York five years later, and in 1854 joined the first violin section of the New York Philharmonic, whose conductor he was to become some 23 years later. Thomas's first important appearance as a conductor was at the New York Academy of Music in 1859. Three years later the first orchestral concert under his sponsorship was given at Irving Hall, and he then began an association with the Brooklyn Philharmonic that was to endure for nearly 30 years. More than a conductor, Thomas was a powerful force in the development of an infrastructure for the performance and popularizing of classical music in the United States (and Canada) in the 19th century. Thomas founded the Cincinnati May Festival in 1873, and remained its music director until his death more than 30 years later. He played a central role in the creation of Cincinnati's Music Hall, in which the induction ceremony of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame is taking place. He presented a summer series in Chicago from 1877 to 1890. The "Thomas Highway," as his tours were called, brought symphonic and choral music to audiences in cities all across the United States. The Chicago Orchestra was Thomas's principal commitment throughout his remaining years. Orchestra Hall, built specifically for his hugely successful new ensemble, opened in December 1904--just three weeks before his death. The Orchestra's name was changed to the Theodore Thomas Orchestra in 1906, and became the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1912. For many years beyond that date the hall itself bore the name Theodore Thomas Orchestra Hall. By the time Thomas settled in Chicago his influence was felt everywhere, and he was regarded as the "father of American orchestras." Music by new and established European masters as well as by 19th-century American composers was heard throughout the country in emulation of his own programs; special types of concerts he had devised, such as pops and children's concerts, still delight listeners and introduce new audiences to classical music today.