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Inaugurating its new thousand-watt transmitter, WMAQ used seven microphones in picking up the first Chicago Symphony Orchestra radio broadcast on December 10, 1925. Frederick Stock conducted at Orchestra Hall, and, seated in the organ loft with a clear view of the Orchestra, assistant conductor Eric DeLamarter operated the radio-control unit used to regulate the microphones (switching in and out, but not controlling volume) in order to produce the best possible balance.

Chicago Daily News, December 9, 1925

Chicago Daily News, December 9, 1925

The concert, a potpourri of popular favorites, included Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theodore Thomas’s arrangement of “Träume” from Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs with concertmaster Jacques Gordon, Saint-Saëns’s The Swan from The Carnival of the Animals with principal cello Alfred Wallenstein, and Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio italien. Interspersed throughout the program, contralto Sophie Braslau, accompanied by pianist Louise Linder, performed several songs (including Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig”) from WMAQ’s studio on the eighteenth floor of the LaSalle Hotel.*

Elmer Douglass in the Chicago Tribune called the broadcast “a marvelous success. When the Orchestra broke in with the soft opening tones of Halvorsen’s March of the Boyards, it was realized that all was well. It was phenomenally clear and pure, and, best of all, the true, pure, characteristic tones as though they were heard from a choice seat in Orchestra Hall itself. We could all but see the separate instruments.”

“An artistic and mechanical triumph,” reported the Chicago Daily News (which then also owned WMAQ). “The applause of the radio audience in the form of telephone calls, telegrams, letters, and postal cards is sweeping like an avalanche.”

Subsequent radio broadcasts were carried over a variety of stations, the longest syndication on WFMT from 1976 through 2001. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra returned to the airwaves in April 2007, syndicated throughout the U.S. by WFMT, featuring performances recorded live as well as recordings from its extensive discography. The first program included Miguel Harth-Bedoya leading Rossini’s Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers, Yanov-Yanovsky’s Night Music: Voice in the Leaves, Chen and He’s The Butterfly Lovers with erhu soloist Betty Xiang, and Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Yo-Yo Ma.

* The LaSalle Hotel, located on the northwest corner of LaSalle Street and Madison Street, was completed in 1909 and demolished in 1976. The lot currently is the home of Two North LaSalle Street, completed in 1979.

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Sir Georg Solti acknowledges Witold Lutosławski following the premiere of his Third Symphony on September 29, 1983 (Terry’s photo)

To open the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ninety-third season on September 29, 1983, Sir Georg Solti led the world premiere of Witold Lutosławski’s Symphony no. 3. The work had been commissioned by the Orchestra and was made possible by a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. John C. Stetson.

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Detail of the opening bars of Lutosławski’s Third Symphony

The composer was in Chicago for the premiere and contributed to the program notes: “I began sketching my Third Symphony as early as in 1972. In the following years I composed the main movement, but subsequently I discarded it completely. It took several years for the idea to become mature and it was only in January 1983 that the whole score finally was ready. . . . When composing the symphony, I had constantly in mind the magnificent sound of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, whose recordings are still in my working room. It was a tremendous stimulus for my imagination. But on the other hand, the weight of responsibility when writing a work for such an extraordinary ensemble made me especially exacting towards myself. That is probably why the work on the symphony cost me such a long time.”

The symphony was recorded for radio broadcast on WFMT, and the recording was later released on Chicago Symphony Orchestra: The First 100 Years, issued during the centennial season in 1991. Daniel Barenboim and the Orchestra also recorded it live in concert in October 1992 for Erato Records.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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Copland

On July 10, 1962, Aaron Copland conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival in a program that began with Haydn’s Symphony no. 95, Stravinsky’s Ode for Orchestra, and Chávez’s Sinfonia india. After intermission, the composer returned to lead his Orchestral Variations and Old American Songs with bass William Warfield.

Copland’s appearance drew “the largest Tuesday crowd in many a Ravinia summer [and] everything added up to the best program given summer audiences here in a decade of concerts,” wrote Roger Dettmer in the Chicago American. “The strongest music was Mr. Copland’s Variations, tense and unrelenting, splendorously scored, and in design, memorable.”

July 10, 1962

July 10, 1962

William Warfield—who had given the premiere of the orchestral arrangement of the first set of songs as well as the first performance of the original version of the second set with the composer at the piano—was soloist for the occasion. Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times commented, “In the two sets of American songs, William Warfield showed us that the acoustically revamped pavilion is now a fit place for a vocal soloist, for his big, warm baritone came to us as no singer had before.”

Copland had made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 21, 1956, in a concert that had attracted over 5,000 people, despite a late-afternoon hailstorm. He led a program of his own works: An Outdoor Overture, suites from Our Town and Billy the Kid, the first two movements from the Third Symphony, and Lincoln Portrait with Claude Rains as narrator. For his debut at Orchestra Hall, the composer was soloist in his Piano Concerto on December 5, 1964, led by assistant conductor Irwin Hoffman.

This article also appears here.

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Sir Georg Solti and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in front of Saint Basil's Cathedral in November 1990

Sir Georg Solti and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in front of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in November 1990 (Jim Steere photo)

On November 18, 1990, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra departed for a tour that would include its first concerts in Russia as well as in Sir Georg Solti’s native Hungary.

“Orchestra officials concede this trip was the toughest they have ever put together, requiring more than a year’s planning and a major solicitation,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. Quoting Solti, “I fought very hard for this tour. . . .We have the opportunity to send a message from our city, and from this orchestra, which is unparalleled by any ambassador America could send to Russia [and that] America has produced a cultural institution that is the best in the world.”

Early on November 21, Solti and the Orchestra recorded Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony at the Bolshoi Hall of the Philharmonie in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg); that evening they performed their first concert: Bartók’s Dance Suite and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. The following evening’s program featured only Bruckner’s symphony; however, the audience demanded no less than four encores, and Solti and the Orchestra obliged with Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, the second movement (Allegro) from Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and Debussy’s Festivals from Nocturnes.

Russia tour book

Traveling on to Moscow the next day, a truck hauling instruments and luggage broke an axle just outside Leningrad. “It took dozens of midnight phone calls and a full militia escort to get the instruments and performance clothes to the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory just four-and-a-half hours before the CSO was to begin playing,” reported Thom Shanker, a correspondent in the Tribune’s Moscow bureau. “As if that weren’t enough . . . students, soldiers, museum workers, and average folks lied, pushed, and flashed false passes to win their way into the hall. Fire codes were ignored as spectators filled the aisles, exits, and passageways in the balconies of the nineteenth-century concert hall.”

For the November 28 concert in Budapest, Solti led the Orchestra in an all-Bartók program: the Dance Suite, Third Piano Concerto with András Schiff, and the Concerto for Orchestra. Again, the audience demanded more: Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, Shostakovich’s Allegro, and Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger.

This article also appears here.

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McBurney

Gerard McBurney (Dan Rest photo)

On November 13, 2005—under the leadership of Martha Gilmer, vice president of artistic administration, and composer and writer Gerard McBurney—the Chicago Symphony Orchestra launched Beyond the Score with an in-depth analysis followed by a complete performance of Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben. Daniel Harding conducted.

“The introduction deftly mixed vintage photos projected onto a huge overhead screen, excerpts from Strauss’s letters, commentary from his contemporaries, and short excerpts from the tone poem itself,” wrote Wynne Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times. “The pacing was seamless, the information on Strauss and his era coming in easily digestible but never watered-down nuggets. When the CSO played the entire work straight through after intermission, the large audience couldn’t help but feel like newly minted connoisseurs. Enjoying subtleties well below the surface beauties of Strauss’s tone poem, they were attentive, at times rapt. McBurney and his colleagues at the CSO succeeded brilliantly with the most difficult aspect of these kinds of programs: keeping the focus on the music.”

In May 2006, McBurney officially joined the staff of the CSOA as artistic programming advisor. Since then, the Beyond the Score concept evolved into freer and more vivid presentations and collaborations with a wide variety of art collections, scholars, libraries, folk musicians, and actors from all over the world.

A Pierre Dream

A Pierre Dream, November 14, 2014 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Highlights of the series have included thorough analyses of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Holst’s The Planets, and Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony. Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead and Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde were presented as seamless dramatizations, and Pierre Boulez led Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin and closely advised on Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire. Concertmaster Robert Chen was featured in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade; and Gwendolyn Brown, an alumna of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center, performed Negro spirituals as part of Dvořák’s New World Symphony. In 2014, McBurney—collaborating with architect Frank Gehry—presented a special and comprehensive examination of music by Pierre Boulez.

This article also appears here.

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In March 1898, Theodore Thomas and the Chicago Orchestra embarked on a monthlong tour through Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. In New York, the tour included six concerts at the Metropolitan Opera House, one at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Orchestra’s debut in Carnegie Hall on March 7.

March 7, 1898

March 7, 1898

The program for Carnegie was entirely comprised of music by French composers, featuring the U.S. premiere of Franck’s Variations symphoniques and Saint-Saëns’s Fifth Piano Concerto, both with Raoul Pugno as soloist. Composer Alexandre Guilmant also appeared, as organ soloist in his Adoration, Allegro, and Final à la Schumann, as well as Lefebvre’s Méditation. Berlioz’s Overture to King Lear, Franck’s Le chasseur maudit, Saint-Saëns’s Le rouet d’Omphale, and Massenet’s Suite from Les Erinnyes rounded out the program.

The reviewer in Harper’s Bazaar praised the performances of both Pugno and Guilmant, “and the enjoyment of the afternoon was increased by the good work done by the Chicago Orchestra.” The New York Times added, “The Orchestra was heard to great advantage in Saint-Saëns’s symphonic poem, which was played with consummate finish, and Mr. Thomas’s accompaniments to the soloists were a source of joy.” And the New York Tribune heralded the concert as “an exhibition of virtuosity.”

The Orchestra has returned to Carnegie Hall on numerous occasions, under music directors Frederick Stock, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, and Riccardo Muti; principal guest conductors Carlo Maria Giulini, Claudio Abbado, and Pierre Boulez; principal conductor Bernard Haitink; chorus director and conductor Margaret Hillis; and associate conductor Henry Mazer.

This article also appears here.

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Following performances in Chicago, Pierre Boulez led the Orchestra, Chorus (prepared by Margaret Hillis and singing in Hungarian), and soloists tenor John Aler and bass John Tomlinson in recording sessions for Bartók’s Cantata profana on December 16, 1991. Later that week, Boulez and the Orchestra recorded The Wooden Prince on December 20 and 21. Deutsche Grammophon paired both works and released the recording in early 1993.

Bartók Wooden Prince

“Boulez provides what is by far the best studio recording the [Cantata profana] has ever had . . . truly state-of-the-art in terms of sound,” wrote Rob Cowan in the March 1993 issue of Gramophone. “Boulez is able to command a shimmering hushed pp, yet the battle-hardy Allegro molto with its hectoring syncopations and warlike percussion, is full of grit and muscle. . . .The Chicago Symphony Chorus egg the proceedings on with tireless zeal.”

Regarding The Wooden Prince, Cowan continued: “Again, the soft music is wonderfully atmospheric: the ppp muted violins in the prelude have a ghostly pallor that is so typical of this orchestra’s quiet string playing, yet when all are enraged at full throttle, the effect is shattering. Detail is legion throughout: the basses, brass, and drums have immense presence (the Dance of the Trees issues an ominous growl), there’s plenty of percussion glitter in the chirpy Dance of the Princess with the wooden prince, and the work’s lyrical close is beautifully blended.”

On March 1, 1994, the recording was awarded four Grammy awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Orchestra’s performance of The Wooden Prince was recognized in the Best Orchestral Performance category, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was awarded Best Performance of a Choral Work for its rendering of the Cantata profana. Rainer Maillard was recognized for his work in the Best Engineered Recording–Classical category, and the entire release won for Best Classical Album.

This article also appears here.

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In October 1958, Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra embarked on a two-week Eastern tour with stops in Ann Arbor, Cleveland, Syracuse, Rochester, Burlington, Boston, Philadelphia, New Brunswick, and Washington, D.C.

Fritz Reiner (Oscar Chicago photo)

Fritz Reiner (Oscar Chicago photo)

In Nancy Jordan Fako’s book Philip Farkas and His Horn, the Orchestra’s principal horn recounts the October 14 concert: “One incident that I think is worth repeating is a series of concerts we gave with Reiner in 1958 where we played in New York and several other cities, but the most notable concert was in Boston. This particular concert consisted of an overture by Berlioz, I believe it was the Corsair, and I know it was the Brahms Third Symphony, and after intermission we did [Strauss’s] Ein Heldenleben. The concert started off brilliantly, as the Berlioz would require, but as the concert progressed, it became apparent that we were about to give a flawless performance. Nothing happened! There were no cracked notes, no bad entrances, no bad intonation. Nothing! Nothing out of perfection! It went on and on, till the middle of Ein Heldenleben we all began to realize that were giving the perfect performance. And that is when the tension began mounting, much the same as the pitcher realizes in the eighth inning that he has a perfect no-hitter in the making, where each pitch becomes even more intense. At any rate, we finished the concert. It was an absolutely flawless production, even with Heldenleben. The audience was amazed and we were awed in our own ability. And as we came offstage, I saw Reiner standing in the wings at Symphony Hall in Boston and he was shaking hands with each and every musician as they came out. It finally came to my turn to shake hands and I noticed that Dr. Reiner was crying with tears running down his face, so I took the liberty to ask him why. He answered, ‘Well, we just had a perfect concert. All my life I have waited for a perfect concert and tonight we had one.’ Well, we all got backstage and everyone was elated. It was like we had just won the World Series. And who came backstage but Arthur Fiedler who had been in the audience, and he was shouting, ‘You’re not men, you’re gods.’ ”

October 14, 1958, Symphony Hall in Boston

October 14, 1958, Symphony Hall in Boston

This article also appears here.

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French Festival

In May 2015, Esa-Pekka Salonen led the Orchestra, Chorus, and numerous soloists in the French Reveries and Passions Festival. The three weeks of concerts featured Debussy’s La damoiselle élue, Syrinx, and Pelléas et Mélisande with Jenny Carlstedt and Stéphane Degout in the title roles; Messiaen’s Turangalîla-symphonie with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Valérie Hartmann-Claverie on ondes martenot; and Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, Piano Concerto in G major with Thibaudet, and L’enfant et les sortilèges.

“Part conductor, part traffic cop, he kept the semistaged performance flowing tightly and smoothly, securing gossamer textures and refined playing from the Orchestra, and crisp singing from the soloists and choruses,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune after L’enfant et les sortilèges, the Orchestra’s first performances of Ravel’s one-act opera. “If other interpreters have brought out more of the work’s charm and sentiment, Salonen’s cooler, analytical manner presented every measure of this delicious little opera in as clear and direct a manner as possible.”

Regarding Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande—also a first performance by the Orchestra—von Rhein added, “The CSO players may be unfamiliar with this music but so fully did they respond to Salonen’s precise, urgently dramatic direction—particularly in the atmospheric preludes and interludes—that you would have sworn Pelléas is standard repertory for them. I cannot recall when I have heard Debussy’s orchestral music played so ravishingly, or so well.”

Messiaen’s Turangalîla-symphonie on May 21, 2015 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Messiaen’s Turangalîla-symphonie on May 21, 2015 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Following Messiaen’s Turangalîla-symphonie, von Rhein praised the Orchestra’s “terrific” performance. Salonen “clearly appreciates what makes this mad behemoth unlike anything else in twentieth-century music. His keen ear, his long experience with shaping and organizing its multiple sound-layers, and, most of all, his ability to inspire an orchestra of more than 100 musicians to share his insights and convictions, and convey them to the audience without embarrassment, made the performance feel like an occasion, not just a concert. . . . [Salonen kept] detail in sharp focus rather than wallowing in emotive sensuality for its own dubious sake. Messiaen, the conductor would argue, does quite enough of that without needing any help from the podium. The Orchestra came through magnificently for him in every department, not least the platoon of percussionists.”

This article also appears here.

Muenzer, Edgar1

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family notes with sorrow the passing of Edgar Muenzer, a member of the violin section from 1956 until 2003. He died on July 22, 2016, at the age of 88, following a long illness.

Music was long the lifeblood of the Muenzer family. Edgar’s father, Hans, was concertmaster of the Chicago Theater Orchestra, the WGN Symphonietta, and head of the string department at the University of Iowa; his mother, Esther Payne, was a concert pianist and teacher. His brother Albert was professor of violin at the University of Houston and served as concertmaster of the Houston Grand Opera until his retirement; and his sister, Louise Bruyn, pursued modern dance and taught in Boston.

An alumnus of Lane Technical High School in Chicago and the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Muenzer was a musician in the U.S. Air Force for nearly a decade. Following his military service, he was appointed by Fritz Reiner to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s second violin section in March 1956, moving to the first violin section in October of that year. In addition to previous solo work with orchestras and in recital, Muenzer was an active chamber musician as a member of the Chadamin Trio and the Chicago Symphony String Quartet. He was professor of violin at Northwestern University from 1970 until 1988 and concertmaster of the Northbrook Symphony Orchestra from 1988 until 1994.

Serving under four music directors—Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim—Muenzer retired from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2003 after forty-seven years. In his retirement, he was a longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association, serving for many years on the board of directors.

Muenzer, Edgar2

In 1994, Muenzer and his wife Nancy founded the Park Ridge Civic Orchestra. For nearly twenty years, he was music director, growing the ensemble into one of Illinois’s finest professional orchestras and featuring soloists that included CSO concertmasters Samuel Magad and Robert Chen, violinist Rachel Barton Pine, CSO principal cello John Sharp, CSO principal trumpet Adolph Herseth, and baritone William Warfield, among many others. Under Muenzer’s leadership, the ensemble received numerous awards, including Orchestra of the Year from the Illinois Council of Orchestras in 2000 and the Governor’s Hometown Award in 1998. In 2002, Muenzer won the Illinois Council of Orchestras’ Conductor of the Year Award, and in 2004, he and Nancy received a Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award. Following his retirement in March 2013, he passed the baton to his son Victor and became music director emeritus.

Edgar Muenzer is survived by his beloved wife, Nancy; three sons Victor, Peter, and James; and grandchildren Gregory and Gabriel. Services have been held.

Upon his retirement, Muenzer recalled one of his early experiences in the Orchestra: “One of my most memorable performances was shortly after I joined the Orchestra. We did a staged version of Richard Strauss’s Elektra, with Fritz Reiner conducting. It was as if I hit the ceiling, it was such a wonderful experience—not only to be able to play that music, but to hear it, right in the orchestra. That was the first of many high points, experiences that I will never forget.”

An obituary was posted by the Chicago Tribune on July 25, 2016.

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#125Moments: 108 First Radio Broadcast. Inaugurating its new thousand-watt transmitter, WMAQ uses seven microphones to pick up the first Chicago Symphony Orchestra radio broadcast on December 10, 1925. At Orchestra Hall, Frederick Stock conducts. #CSO125th #RosenthalArchives #tbt #ThrowbackThursday #throwback

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