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Fantasia 2000

Between 1993 and 1996, James Levine conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in recording sessions at Medinah Temple for Fantasia 2000, the long-awaited sequel to Disney’s classic Fantasia from 1940. Levine led extended excerpts from Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5, Respighi’s Pines of Rome, Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto no. 2 with Yefim Bronfman, Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals with pianists Gail Niwa and Philip Sabransky (both children of CSO members), Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance marches with soprano Kathleen Battle and the Chicago Symphony Chorus, and Stravinsky’s The Firebird.

The movie was released on New Year’s Day 2000, and Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert described the IMAX version “not just as a film, but as an event.” He continued, “Movies like this renew my faith that the future of the cinema lies not in the compromises of digital projection, but by leaping over the limitations of digital into the next generation of film technology.”

This article also appears here.

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March 9 and 10, 1928

March 9 and 10, 1928

On March 9 and 10, 1928, Vladimir Horowitz first appeared with the Orchestra in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto with Frederick Stock conducting. His U.S. debut had been less than two months before, at Carnegie Hall on January 12, when he was soloist in Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the New York Philharmonic under Sir Thomas Beecham.

In the Herald & Examiner, Glenn Dillard Gunn proclaimed the twenty-four-year old pianist the greatest talent to come out of Russia since Rachmaninov. “Whether he sustains a tenuous thread of melody or thunders more loudly than the Orchestra’s basses and percussions, his playing has diction. He never fails to impart to every moment of his performance that especial inflection, accent, or rhythmic impulse which adds eloquence to mere tonal beauty.” Herman Devries in the Chicago American took it even further, saying, “A sensation, nothing less, one of the most amazingly legitimate sensations of the generation. . . . The Orchestra itself, Mr. Stock, too, whose accompaniment was actually emotionally inspired, was visibly moved and impressed. Don’t ask me to describe his playing, just go. It’s something one does not have to describe. No one can dissect genius—and Horowitz is a genius—a young demi-god.”

March 26 and 27, 1953

Advertisement for Horowitz’s March 26 and 27, 1953 concerts (canceled due to illness)

Horowitz returned regularly for more than twenty years, performing under music directors Désiré Defauw and Artur Rodzinski and guest conductor Eugene Ormandy in concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky. To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of his U.S. debut, he was scheduled to appear again in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto under Rafael Kubelík in March 1953, but having fallen ill with the flu, he was forced to cancel.

He returned to Chicago on several occasions to perform in recital, and his last appearance—at the age of eighty-three— was on October 26, 1986. “Sunday’s concert found the great pianist in a generally more introspective mood,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. Horowitz played with “a lyrical sensitivity, a limpid and beautifully proportioned pianism, a seamless, purling legato of the sort no other pianist can duplicate.”

Deutsche Grammophon recently released—for the first time on CD—Horowitz‘s final recital in Orchestra Hall from October 26, 1986.

This article also appears here.

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Rafael Kubelík, Chicago, November 1951

Rafael Kubelík, Chicago, November 1951

On October 23 and 24, 1952, fifth music director Rafael Kubelík led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the music most closely associated with his native Czechoslovakia, Smetana’s Má vlast.

“Smetana’s My Country is regarded in Kubelík’s Czechoslovakia with a reverence which rises superior to admiration and becomes a symbol of patriotic love,” wrote Felix Borowski in the Chicago Sun-Times. He continued that Kubelík’s interpretation “transcended mere music making. It was an impressive, even jubilant, rite. . . . It was evident that Orchestra Hall realized that this concert was more than ordinarily important to its conductor. Kubelík never previously had led his orchestra with so much outward disclosure of inspiration, nor indeed, had the players responded with so much zest. . . . The Moldau was received with notable enthusiasm, and this was as it should be, for the work rarely has been given with so much color and brilliance of effect.”

October 27, 28, and 29, 1983

October 27, 28, and 29, 1983

On December 4 and 5 of that year, the work was recorded by Mercury Records. Returning as a guest conductor, Kubelík led performances of the six symphonic poems on January 23 and 24, 1969, and again on October 27, 28, and 29, 1983.

John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune called Kubelík’s third complete cycle with the Orchestra “his finest. One has only to compare it with the famous recording of Má vlast he made with the Chicago Symphony in 1952 at the start of his final season as CSO music director. In every respect the present performance was superior, not just because Kubelík is a more searching interpreter than he was thirty-one years ago, but also because the Orchestra responds with so much more skill and understanding. And why not? Kubelík taught them the style.”

This article also appears here.

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Cover of the program book for the April 8 and 12, 1991, performances of Verdi's Otello at Orchestra Hall

Cover of the program book for the April 8 and 12, 1991, performances at Orchestra Hall

To conclude his twenty-two seasons as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director in 1991, Sir Georg Solti led concert performances of Verdi’s Otello at Orchestra Hall on April 8 and 12 and at Carnegie Hall on April 16 and 19. Principal soloists included soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa as Desdemona, tenor Luciano Pavarotti as Otello, and baritone Leo Nucci as Iago. All four performances were recorded live by London Records.

After the first performance in Orchestra Hall, John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune reported that “Solti had his Chicago Symphony playing this formidably difficult score as if it were a seasoned opera orchestra; every opera house should have such a band of virtuosi in residence. No minor contributions to the evening were made by the Chicago Symphony Chorus, superbly prepared by the redoubtable Margaret Hillis [along with guest chorus director Terry Edwards], and augmented by the Chicago Children’s Choir.”

Kiri Te Kanawa and Luciano Pavarotti onstage at Orchestra Hall

Kiri Te Kanawa and Luciano Pavarotti onstage at Orchestra Hall, April 8, 1991 (Jim Steere photo)

Donal Henahan, following the first Carnegie Hall concert, in The New York Times praised “The Chicago, never in our time less than a great orchestra, provided many thrills. In the stupendous opening scene, it and Margaret Hillis’s chorus unleashed every erg of sonic energy the hall could tolerate, vividly establishing the mood for violent events to come.” In London’s Financial Times, Andrew Porter noted, “I’ve never heard Solti’s famous excitability so completely harnessed to a disciplined, long-lined, marvelously vivid, engrossing account of the whole score.”

At the conclusion of the April 19 concert—Solti’s last as music director—von Rhein reported, “A mighty shout of approval immediately went up from the house.” This continued for several minutes until Solti took “co-concertmaster Rubén González by the hand and [led] him off the stage—a sign for the rest of the Orchestra to follow. . . . He will, of course, return to Chicago in the fall, and for many years thereafter, as CSO music director laureate. But no Solti farewell will ever seem as emotionally momentous as this one.”

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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November 20 1919

November 20, 1919

During the 1919–20 season, music director Frederick Stock inaugurated three major initiatives to cultivate future generations of musicians and concertgoers: a regular series of Children’s Concerts, Youth Auditions, and the Civic Music Student Orchestra.

Anita Malkin

Anita Malkin

On November 20, 1919, Stock led the first of a regular series of Children’s Concerts specifically designed to introduce young Chicagoans to music. After hearing several auditions from promising young instrumentalists, Stock chose eight-year-old Anita Malkin to become the first youth soloist on a Children’s Concert; she performed the first movement of Rode’s Violin Concerto with the Orchestra on February 12, 1920.

March 29, 1920

March 29, 1920

The initial goal of the Civic Music Student Orchestra was threefold: “To give an opportunity to capable players to acquire orchestral routine and experience, fitting themselves for positions in the symphony orchestras of the country; to reduce the
dependence of this country upon European sources of supply for trained orchestral musicians; and to take orchestral concerts to outlying districts where people, because of their remoteness, are denied the privilege of hearing good music.”

The ensemble made its debut on March 29, 1920, and the roster included several future Chicago Symphony Orchestra members (including concertmaster John Weicher). Frederick Stock, Eric DeLamarter, and George Dasch shared conducting duties, leading Halvorsen’s Triumphal Entry of the Boyards, Godard’s Adagio pathétique, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, Grieg’s Suite no. 1 from Peer Gynt, Keller’s Souvenir and Valse, and one of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance marches.

Chicago Tribune, January 20, 1920

Chicago Tribune, January 20, 1920

In the Chicago Tribune, William Lines Hubbard reported, “And O, the youthful enthusiasm and ‘pop’ of it all! The whole room tingled with the vigor and impulse of youth and the audience feeling it grew glad and radiant. At the close of the first half of the program, Mr. Wessling, the concertmaster, presented a baton to Mr. Stock with expression of the players’ thanks for all he had done, and he in return voiced his admiration for the devotion the young people had shown and his appreciation of the wonderful worth of the material Chicago had furnished. . . . Stock used his new baton for the Elgar march, which closed the concert.”

This article also appears here.

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Ignace Paderewski in the 1890s

Ignace Paderewski in the 1890s

In American Orchestras in the Nineteenth Century, Brenda Nelson-Strauss wrote that 1892 “found the city in a frenzy of preparations for the World’s Columbian Exposition, planned as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus and constructed on a grandiose scale that would surpass the [1876] Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. Thomas was appointed director of the Bureau of Music, and he issued a proclamation in the spring of 1892 setting forth many lofty goals, among them ‘the hearty support of American musicians, amateurs, and societies, for participation on great festival occasions of popular music, and for the interpretation of the most advanced composition, American and foreign.’ ”

For the exposition’s inaugural concert on May 2, 1893, Ignace Paderewski performed his Piano Concerto in A minor, and Theodore Thomas conducted the Exposition Orchestra (the Chicago Orchestra expanded to 114 players).*

May 2, 1893

May 2, 1893

“Those who sat beneath the potent spell [Paderewski’s] mighty genius weaves could but acknowledge his unrivaled greatness and congratulate the exposition upon having secured him for the assisting artist at the inaugural concert,” reported the Chicago Tribune. “All of [his selections] he had played here before, and as the surpassing beauty and matchless artistic greatness of his performances were pointed out at that time, attempt to comment upon the work of yesterday could but result in feeble reiteration of praise that to be adequate must seem rhapsody.”

Paderewski had first appeared during the Orchestra’s first season on January 1 and 2, 1892, as soloist in Rubinstein’s Fourth Concerto and Liszt’s Fantasia on Hungarian Folk Melodies. In Paderewski Adam Zamoyski noted, “In Chicago, too, he found a magnificent orchestra and conductor, Theodore Thomas, ‘a real musician, a musician by the Grace of God.’ At the Chicago Auditorium he played to his largest audience yet—4,000 people. Prominent amongst these, he noticed with emotion, were hundreds of local Polish émigrés who had flocked to the concert at the sound of his name.”

A regular visitor to Chicago both as concerto soloist and recitalist for more than forty years, Paderewski last appeared with the Orchestra on March 31 and April 1, 1932, in Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Frederick Stock conducting.

*It had been decided that only pianos made by exhibiting companies could be used at the fair. Steinway, which was not exhibiting, was preferred by Paderewski, and one of its pianos was sneaked into the Music Hall the night before the May 2 concert, unbeknownst to Thomas. However, numerous piano manufacturers accused him of conspiring with Paderewski, and there was significant public debate. After having conducted nearly seventy concerts in little more than three months, “by mid-August of 1893, distraught over poor attendance and mired in controversy, Thomas resigned as musical director” of the fair, according to Nelson-Strauss.

This article also appears here.

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In January 1986, Chicago Bears fever invaded Orchestra Hall.

DOWNS Bear Down, Chicago Bears

According to Norman Pellegrini (longtime WFMT program director as well as producer and host of CSO radio broadcasts): “At the end of a Tchaikovsky–Liszt orchestral concert with Sir Georg Solti conducting [on January 23] . . . applause kept the maestro returning to center stage. Suddenly, members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus—wearing Bears sweatshirts—streamed onstage, and Solti led the Orchestra and Chorus in a rousing rendition of the Bears’ fight song, “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” [written by Al Hoffman under the pseudonym Jerry Downs in 1941]. The audience joined in singing, and in the two repeats of the concert, the same thing happened with even more ‘performers’ onstage. Backstage people, Chicago Symphony Orchestra staff, and others—including Lady Valerie Solti—crowded in to sing along.”

On January 26, 1986, the Bears beat the New England Patriots Super Bowl XX, 46–10.

Solti and the Orchestra recorded the fight song—along with The Star-Spangled Banner (also with the Chorus) and John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever—for London Records on January 27. It was released a few months later on a tremendously popular album in conjunction with the annual Marathon fundraiser. A live version from January 23 also was released on Chicago Symphony Chorus: A Fortieth Anniversary Celebration in the spring of 1998, in conjunction with the annual Radiothon fundraiser.

This article previously appeared here and also appears here.

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Florence Price (George Nelidoff photo)

Florence Price (George Nelidoff photo)

As part of the World’s Fair in Chicago—called A Century of Progress International Exposition in honor of the city’s centennial—the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presented a concert of music featuring not only African American soloists but also several works by black composers. Given on June 15, 1933, at the Auditorium Theatre under the auspices of Chicago Friends of Music, the program included compositions and arrangements by Florence Price, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Harry Burleigh, and Roland Hayes; Hayes also was tenor soloist along with pianist Margaret Bonds.

The centerpiece of the concert was the world premiere of Price’s Symphony no. 1 in E minor—winner of a Wanamaker Foundation Award in 1932—conducted by Frederick Stock. With this event, Price became the first black female composer to have a large-scale composition performed by a major American orchestra. The reviewer in the Chicago Daily News called the symphony “a faultless work, cast in something less than the most modernistic mode and even reminiscent at times of other composers who have dealt with America in tone. But for all its dependence upon the idiom of others, it is a work that speaks its own message with restraint and yet with passion. Miss Price’s symphony is worthy of a place in the regular symphonic repertory.”

June 15, 1933

June 15, 1933

Bonds was soloist in Chicago composer John Alden Carpenter’s Concertino for Piano and Orchestra. In the Chicago American, Herman Devries remarked that, “Carpenter’s charming concertino received exactly that sort of interpretation from Miss Bonds, who has both the technique and the imagination, the fingers and the mind, ably to reproduce Mr. Carpenter’s genial and persuasive music. The composer was present in a box [with George Gershwin as his guest] and quite openly pleased and perhaps a little moved at the warmth of the applause, directed for and at him.”

Hayes performed arias from Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ and Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha along with two spirituals (“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” orchestrated by Burleigh and “Bye and Bye” arranged by Hayes himself). Coleridge-Taylor’s rhapsodic dance, The Bamboula, concluded the program.

This article also appears here.

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Yo-Yo Ma in August 2010 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Yo-Yo Ma in August 2010 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

On December 14, 2009, cellist Yo-Yo Ma was appointed the Chicago Symphony’s first Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant, “to deepen the Orchestra’s engagement with the Chicago community and to nurture the legacy of the CSO while supporting a new generation of musicians.”

One of Ma’s most important projects—launched in January 2011, during Riccardo Muti’s first season as music director—was the Citizen Musician initiative, encouraging people of all ages, interests, skill levels, and backgrounds to generously use and promote the power of music to make meaningful contributions to their communities. Over the course of the initiative and with Ma’s leadership, Citizen Musician activities engaged tens of thousands of people in schools, hospitals, churches, youth detention centers and prisons, universities, and conservatories in Chicago and around the world.

December 13, 14, and 15, 1979

December 13, 14, and 15, 1979

In collaboration with the staff of the Association’s Negaunee Music Institute, Ma also has worked extensively with the musicians of the Civic Orchestra, developing a variety of artistic challenges, including residencies at Chicago Public Schools, in-depth explorations of core orchestral repertoire (including Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, Strauss’s Don Quixote, and Tchaikovsky’s symphonies), and performances of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos in community venues across the city. He has been an advocate for the value of arts education in the lives of students, and his involvement, on behalf of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was influential in the swift development of the district’s first Arts Education Plan, approved by the Chicago Board of Education in October 2012.

Yo-Yo Ma made his debut with the Orchestra on December 13, 1979, at Orchestra Hall in Kabelevsky’s Cello Concerto with Leonard Slatkin conducting; he first appeared at the Ravinia Festival on July 1, 1982, in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major with Charles Dutoit conducting. With the Orchestra, he has recorded Bloch’s Schelomo, Brahms’s Double Concerto (twice), and Williams’s Suite from Memoirs of a Geisha. Ma has been one of Orchestra Hall’s most frequent guest artists, performing not only as a soloist with the Orchestra but also as a chamber musician in a wide variety of ensembles.

This article also appears here.

imehtaz001p1

Wishing a very happy eightieth birthday to Zubin Mehta!

A frequent and favorite guest conductor in Chicago, Mehta has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on numerous occasions, both at Orchestra Hall and the Ravinia Festival. He first appeared with the Orchestra on a special concert (benefitting the musicians’ pension fund) on December 1, 1986, leading Brahms’s two piano concertos, both with Daniel Barenboim as soloist.

Mehta has led the Orchestra in an incredible array of works, including Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie, as well as symphonies by Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Foss, Lutosławski, and Schubert, and concertos by Bartók, Beethoven, Brahms, and Prokofiev. With the Chicago Symphony Chorus, he has conducted Mahler’s Second and Third symphonies along with Orff’s Carmina burana. Mehta also has led concert performances of complete operas, including Berlioz’s Les troyens and Puccini’s Tosca.

Zubin Mehta (Oded Antman photo)

Zubin Mehta (Oded Antman photo)

Most recently, Mehta was guest conductor on a musicians’ pension fund concert on February 24, 2006, leading the Orchestra in Brahms’s First Symphony and First Piano Concerto. Daniel Barenboim was the soloist.

Happy, happy birthday!

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#125Moments: 079 Fantasia 2000. On January 1, 2000, @Disney's Fantasia 2000—featuring a soundtrack recorded by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with James Levine conducting—is released. #CSO125th #RosenthalArchives

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The opinions expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

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