Symphony Opening Nights

          A Great Evening through the Years


The irrepressibly charismatic Yo-Yo Ma at Opening Night in 2008.






By Megan McKinney


Normally, we would be attending Opening Night of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at this point in the season.  Perhaps it would have been last night—with cocktails, followed by the evening’s concert, then across the avenue to the park and a splendid tented dinner with dancing to one of the city’s marvelous dance bands.

The always compelling Maestro Riccardo Muti in 2012.

In a season of virtual fund raising for the city’s great cultural amenities, Classic Chicago is making its own virtual visits to a few Symphony Opening Nights of the past.

Kay and James Mabie chaired the 2007 Opening Night Gala, during which colorful vintage trolleys transported 700 guests from Symphony Center to a beautifully decorated tent in the park.

The evening’s theme was Festa Italiana in honor of the Neopolitan Riccardo Muti and Milanese soprano Barbara Frittoli, who made her Chicago debut in the evening’s concert.

Within the spacious tent, vine-draped chandeliers hung above olive and lemon yellow tables decorated with lemon and apricot roses or clipped topiary in Italian urns.

Among those enjoying the festive evening were Katie Heaton…

…Alessandro Motta…

…Katina Strong…

…Mara Mills Barker and James Cuno.

The atmosphere surrounding the 2002 social season remained subdued following terrorist attacks of the previous year. The CSO Opening Night Gala, chaired by James and Maxine Farrell, was held entirely in Symphony Center. The concert theme was A World of Dance, with Daniel Barenboim conducting dance music from ballet to tango. The upbeat, entirely accessible music was enthusiastically received by the audience with continuing bravos and a standing ovation.

Among the high profile Chicagoans attending the 2002 opener were Bill Jentes…

…Carrie Hightman and…

…Cyrus Freidheim.

Yo-Yo Ma was featured performer of the 2008 Opening Night, with Kay and James Mabie returning as chairmen.

Deborah Rutter Card, with her husband, Peter Ellefson, was then Chicago Symphony Orchestra president.

Mitzi Freidheim, a Symphony regular, was a guest at the 2008 Opening Night.

She was joined by other first-nighters, including Antonio Osio, Fanidago Morales and Enrique Carral in 2008.

Women’s Board President Liz Parker, with Keith Crow, presided at last year’s Opening Night in the Four Seasons.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Trustee Rick Waddell and Women’s Board Member Cate Waddell were a striking pair at the 2019 Opening Night.

Ahhh! Does a picture like this from 2019 make you truly miss the party season?  You will have to wait until 2021 for another Opening NIght, but you can make a donation to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra today at



Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien

Photo Credit: Robert F. Carl, Dan Rest, Todd Rosenberg