Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Glessners' "miniature orchestra"



On Wednesday January 16, 2013, a very special event took place at Glessner House Museum.  Nearly 60 guests were on hand to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the presentation of a miniature model of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to Frances Glessner.  Handcrafted by her daughter, Frances Glessner Lee, the model has been in the possession of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1921, and has only been displayed on rare occasion since that time.

The model was returned to its original location in the alcove of the courtyard guestroom, and a new stage and potted palms were recreated to make the display as accurate as possible to the original setting as envisioned by Frances Glessner Lee. 

The evening began with a dinner for 30 people in the historic dining room of the house.  The dinner commemorated the 100th anniversary of a dinner hosted by John and Frances Glessner on January 17, 1913 to which the entire Orchestra was invited along with other guests, 105 people total!  Special guests at the 2013 dinner included three staff members from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as several descendants of those who attended the 1913 dinner – a great-granddaughter of conductor Frederick Stock (shown above examining the model), and four grandchildren of concertmaster Harry Weisbach (shown below with spouses).

The dinner began with a very special musical treat for the guests.  The miniature orchestra features music on each music stand handwritten and arranged by Frederick  Stock.  The piece is “The Drum Major of Schneider’s Band” with words and music by Arthur J. Mundy, published in 1880.  The piece was a favorite of Frances Glessner, who frequently played it on the piano.  Glessner House Museum Executive Director and Curator William Tyre played the piece on the piano, accompanying Chicago Symphony Orchestra Archivist Frank Villella, who sang the charming lyrics, with just the right Germanic emphasis on the words.

Following the dinner, all 60 guests assembled in the coach house for an informative lecture by Tyre on the Glessners and their long association with the Orchestra.  Using Frances Glessner’s journal and a treasure trove of letters from the first two conductors of the Orchestra – Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock – Tyre told the intimate story of the Glessners and “their” orchestra (as they often referred to it).   From the Orchestra’s early years of struggle to the completion of Orchestra Hall, and from the sudden death of Thomas in 1905 to Stock’s forced resignation during World War I (due to his German citizenship), the lecture presented the history of one of the city’s greatest cultural assets from a very personal perspective. 

To conclude the evening, visitors had a chance to “meet” the star of the evening - the miniature orchestra on display in the guestroom.  It will remain on display through Sunday February 24 and can be seen as part of regular public tours.

Channel 7’s Frank Mathie did a segment on the miniature orchestra which aired on January 15, 2013.  To view the segment, click on the link below: