Civic Orchestra of Chicago

Civic Orchestra of Chicago


Founded in 1919 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago benefits from a musical alliance that is the only one of its kind among major American orchestras. Under the guidance of CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti, Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant Yo-Yo Ma, Principal Conductor Cliff Colnot, and CSO musicians, the Civic Orchestra offers advanced training for young classical musicians seeking to make a professional life in music. Drawing on the extraordinary musical resources of the CSO, Civic musicians develop into experienced orchestral musicians who are imaginative, innovative, collaborative and flexible artists of the 21st century.

The Civic Orchestra performs eight to ten full orchestra concerts annually – in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center and in locations across Chicago—for approximately 14,000 people. In addition to these critically acclaimed live concerts, Civic Orchestra performances can be heard locally on WFMT (98.7 FM) and by nearly three million listeners in nationally syndicated radio broadcasts on more than ninety broadcast outlets in 25 states.

In preparation for each concert, Civic musicians study orchestral repertoire with Maestro Colnot, Yo-Yo Ma, coaches from the CSO, and distinguished guest conductors and other visiting artists. The curriculum emphasizes artistic excellence through mastery of orchestral playing and in-depth study of key composers and repertoire, supplemented by additional opportunities to perform chamber music at Symphony Center and in locations throughout greater Chicago.

A typical concert cycle includes a series of split orchestra and full orchestra rehearsals with the principal conductor, sectionals with coaches from the CSO and final rehearsals with the guest conductor. In addition, Civic musicians have opportunities to receive chamber coaching and participate in professional development workshops, master classes, and mock auditions with CSO musicians. Civic musicians are invited to observe select CSO rehearsals with Music Director Riccardo Muti and other distinguished guest conductors, and receive complimentary or discounted tickets to as many as 40 CSO concerts and other visiting artists’ performances at Symphony Center.

Many Civic Orchestra musicians go on to perform with many of the most prestigious musical institutions around the world, including the CSO. More than 15 percent of the current CSO membership is Civic alumni. Hundreds of additional Civic alumni are currently active leaders in the field of music.


New in the 2014/15 season, the Civic Orchestra announces the Citizen Musician Fellowship program. Up to 8 Civic musicians will be selected to participate in a rigorous two-year curriculum that cultivates their abilities as effective musical leaders, entrepreneurs, and educators. Citizen Musician Fellows participate in all regular activities of the Civic Orchestra program as well as additional artistic and professional development.

With mentorship by Yo-Yo Ma, musicians of the CSO, guest artists and CSOA staff, fellows will gain hands-on experience through:

  • residencies with notable ensembles (13/14 pilot fellowship program residencies include Eighth Blackbird, Third Coast Percussion, Ensemble Dal Niente and Fifth House Ensemble);
  • workshops in fundraising, marketing, public speaking, classroom management, artistic planning, website design;
  • leadership of chamber ensembles comprised of Civic Orchestra members including curation of chamber concerts at Symphony Center and in locations throughout greater Chicago;
  • collaboration with Chicago’s rich network of community music schools;
  • support of pre-concert activities for Once Upon a Symphony and CSO Education and Family Concerts;
  • coordination of master classes and mock auditions;
  • work with at-risk and incarcerated youth at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center and the Illinois Youth Center in Warrenville;
  • and more.


Participation in the Civic Orchestra as a regular member is a part-time commitment, enabling musicians to pursue additional educational opportunities and engage in the rich professional musical life of Chicago. Each regular member of the Civic Orchestra will receive a stipend of $7,100 in the 2014/15 season to help offset some living expenses. Those who audition successfully for principal string positions will receive an additional $3,240 per season. At the start of the season, Civic members may audition to participate in chamber music ensemblesand receive a modest increase in stipend.

Regular members are eligible to participate in the Civic Orchestra for up to two consecutive seasons. Musicians accepted as associate members are offered a one-season associate membership and are contacted on as-needed basis as extra/substitute musicians.

Civic musicians who are invited to be Citizen Musician Fellows will receive a two year term in the program and an all-inclusive annual stipend of $20,000. String players who are appointed as fellows may also audition for and receive additional compensation that is commensurate with a principal string position.


There is no age limit or academic requirement to be a member of the Civic Orchestra. Most members are between the ages of 22 and 30 and either graduate level students or post-graduates. While some members are undergraduates, the time commitment for the Civic Orchestra is substantial and may often conflict with undergraduate university obligations.

Citizen Musician Fellows must possess at least an undergraduate degree in music performance and/or education from an accredited college or university. Fellows may not be enrolled in a degree or diploma program at any point during their tenure. Applicants need not be graduates of a degree program at the time of application, provided they intend to complete all degree requirements no later than September 1, 2014.


Application and audition materials are due no later than 11:59pm Central Time on Friday, February 14, 2014. A $90.00 non-refundable application fee applies.

In order to be considered for regular or associate membership in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, all applicants must complete the following steps:

1. Select "Online Application" followed by your instrument from the drop down menu to the right.
2. Complete the online application form and pay the application fee.
3. Upload a photo of yourself.
4. Record and upload a video audition.
  • Videos must be shot in one take and include all of the required excerpts for your instrument. Absolutely no editing or sound enhancements of any kind are permitted. Audition videos that are suspected to have been edited or otherwise enhanced will be immediately disqualified.
  • Begin the audition by stating your name, where you are from, age, and the piece of solo repertoire you will perform for the audition. Continue the audition by playing the required excerpts for your audition in the listed order.
  • Following the playing portion of your audition, please briefly answer, in one minute or less, the following question: Why are you applying for this program?

Civic Orchestra applicants who are also applying for the Citizen Musician Fellowship program must submit, in addition to the Civic Orchestra application and audition requirements:

1. A second video with brief spoken answers to the following questions.

  • What motivates your music-making?
  • What new skills do you need to build and refine in order to make a life in music?
  • What is your greatest strength? What is your greatest weakness?
  • It has been said that “classical music is dying”. Conceive of a musical program or project that responds creatively to that idea. In three minutes or less, describe the project and how you would bring it to life.

2. A PDF of a complete curriculum vitae that includes comprehensive educational, musical, and professional experience.  

A small number of applicants to the Citizen Musician Fellowship program will be selected to participate in a final round interview, to be conducted via Skype – or in person for those who are in or chose to travel to Chicago – between March 17-30, 2014.

Woodwind applicants are highly encouraged, although not required, to audition on auxiliary instruments. Upon acceptance into Civic, however, all members are required to play auxiliary instruments as assigned.

For bass trombone, percussion, and keyboard, the video recorded audition is a preliminary round. Bass trombone, percussion, and keyboard applicants who are selected as finalists will be notified as such by Friday, February 28, 2014 and required to audition live at Symphony Center in Chicago between March 17-30, 2014.

All timpani and harp applicants must audition live at Symphony Center on February 25, 2014 for harp and April 3, 2014 for timpani. Timpani and harp applicants need not submit a video recorded audition. Only the application form and fee are required as application. Following review by Civic Orchestra staff, all timpanists and harpists who have submitted complete applications will be notified of their audition time and instructions. No walk-in auditions will be accepted.

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