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brucikner-9

During the Chicago Orchestra’s thirteenth season, Theodore Thomas programmed Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony for its first performances in the United States. This was the fourth of Bruckner’s symphonies to be performed by the Orchestra in Chicago, as Thomas had already led the Fourth in January 1897, the Third in March 1901, and the Second in February 1903.

On February 19, 1904, the capacity crowd at the Auditorium Theatre had gathered mainly to hear contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink, one of the most famous singers of the day. Thomas had strategically programmed the Bruckner on the first half of the concert between Schumann-Heink’s two selections—“Non più di fiori” from Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito and an orchestration of Schubert’s song “Die Allmacht”—to obviously assure that the premiere would be heard by all in attendance.

February 19 and 20, 1904

February 19 and 20, 1904

“The name of Bruckner caused these 3,700 persons [over 700 had been turned away] to listen in patient, long suffering to a piece of tedious music which endured for fifty-five wearisome minutes, and to applaud when the trial was at an end,” wrote William Lines Hubbard in the Chicago Tribune. “There may have been those in the audience yesterday who did not find the three movements of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony tedious almost beyond endurance, but certainly their number was small. . . . We have endured four of his symphonies in the last six years—please, Mr. Thomas, is there not somebody else it would be ‘good for us’ to hear? Anybody will be preferable to more Bruckner!”

This article also appears here.

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James Conlon (Todd Rosenberg photo)

James Conlon (Todd Rosenberg photo)

James Conlon began his tenure as the Ravinia Festival’s fourth music director on June 24, 2005, leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Ullmann’s Second Symphony and Mahler’s First Symphony. The programming that season of several works by Ullmann was part of a multiseason effort by Conlon to showcase music written by composers whose music was suppressed by the Nazi regime, remaining all but forgotten for decades following World War II.

“Sophisticated programming is one thing, of course. Thrilling performances are another. The ultimate success Friday night was the committed, profoundly nuanced performance each symphony received,” wrote Wynne Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times. “Mahler’s Symphony no. 1 was a revelation. . . . The CSO positively glowed, most often with a low, lustrous burnish rather than a hectic gleam. In the final, frenzied movement, the Orchestra’s impeccable precision and tightly wound, urgent rhythmic drive set the blood racing.”

Joshua Guerrero, Michelle DeYoung, Latonia Moore, Roberto Alagna, and James Creswell, along with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Verdi’s Aida on August 3, 2013 (Patrick Gipson photo)

Joshua Guerrero, Michelle DeYoung,
Latonia Moore, Roberto Alagna, and James
Creswell—along with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus—in Verdi’s Aida on August 3, 2013 (Patrick Gipson photo)

Conlon’s eleven seasons at Ravinia’s helm included symphonies by Mahler; seldom-heard works by Korngold, Schulhoff, Schreker, and Zemlinsky; several of Mozart’s operas performed in the Martin Theatre; as well as Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Tosca; Strauss’s Salome; and Verdi’s Aida, Otello, and Rigoletto.

Conlon had made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 28, 1977, with violinist Itzhak Perlman and cellist Lynn Harrell as soloists in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major, Mendelsssohn’s Violin Concerto, and Brahms’s Double Concerto. Two days later, on July 30, he conducted Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 23 and Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand with John Browning and Mahler’s First Symphony. Conlon first conducted the Orchestra at Orchestra Hall on November 14, 15, 16, and 19, 1991, leading the first symphonies by Mendelssohn and Mahler. He concluded his tenure at Ravinia on August 15, 2015, leading the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.

This article also appears here.

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Title page of Theodore Thomas's score for Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks

Title page of Theodore Thomas’s score for Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks

According to Theodore Thomas’s Memoirs, “While in Europe [during the summer of 1882] Thomas had, as usual, been on the lookout for musical novelties for coming programs. He had met, in Munich, a young and almost unknown composer, one Richard Strauss, who had recently finished writing a symphony. Thomas secured the first movement of the work, and was so much impressed with it that he requested the young Strauss to let him have the other three movements, promising to bring out the whole work in a concert with the [New York] Philharmonic.” Thomas kept his word and gave the premiere of Strauss’s Symphony no. 2 in F minor on December 13, 1884, thus introducing Strauss to America.

Their friendship blossomed, and as a result, Thomas introduced several of Strauss’s tone poems to Chicago audiences, including the U.S. premiere of Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks on November 15, 1895. The reviewer for the Chicago Record reported, “Strauss’s rondo is a tour de force, astonishing at every measure, irresistibly droll, full of quaint medieval quips and cranks, teeming with clever mimicry and brilliant instrumental pantomime, and, above all, a masterpiece of orchestral art. The intricacy of the score is extraordinary, the ingenious devices resorted to for effect amazing, and the humor and wholesome buffoonery of the piece unique. Nothing could have been chosen better to illustrate the immense resources of the young composer and the fertility of his genius. What is more, the piece gave the Orchestra an opportunity to display its consummate training, and it may be said that music never was played in Chicago with finer technical nicety or with more of the spirit of a composer.”

November 15 and 16, 1895

November 15 and 16, 1895

Thomas also led the Orchestra in the U.S. premieres of Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra on February 5, 1897; Don Quixote on January 6, 1899; and Ein Heldenleben on March 9, 1900.

This article also appears here.

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lincoln

Orchestra Hall became a Hollywood recording studio in May 2012 when John Williams led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in recording sessions for the motion picture Lincoln. Director Steven Spielberg was on hand to supervise the production.

“I can’t speak for Steven certainly, but I would guess that this particular project, Lincoln, was viewed by him as a great responsibility and a daunting challenge very different than making a straightforward entertainment film,” commented Williams. “For quite a few years now I’ve been conducting the Chicago Symphony . . . one of our greatest orchestras in the country and certainly one of the best in the world. And every time I would come back from Chicago I’d say, ‘Steven, that’s the greatest orchestra in Chicago. Someday we should do something with them,’ never really thinking that would be practical. And as we approached the time to make the decisions about where, when, and how to do Lincoln, I think Steven said, ‘You know, wouldn’t it be a great time to have your friends down at the Chicago Symphony perform?’ ”

The recording was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score and a Grammy Award in the Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media category.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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Chicago Orchestra, October 16 and 17, 1891

October 16 and 17, 1891

According to Philo Adams Otis in his book The Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Its Organization, Growth, and Development, 1891–1924: “The first meeting for the incorporation of The Orchestral Association was held at the Chicago Club, December 17, 1890, and a board of five trustees elected. The first season (1891–92) of the Chicago Orchestra will consist of twenty concerts, each concert preceded by a public rehearsal, to be given at the Auditorium under the direction of Theodore Thomas. The talent engaged to make up the Chicago Orchestra is of the very finest order.”

Theodore Thomas Orchestra, October 20 and 21, 1905

October 20 and 21, 1905

Following Thomas’s unexpected death on January 4, 1905, Frederick Stock temporarily assumed the duties of music director as the Association began a search for a permanent replacement. But after a few months, it was evident that the more-than-capable successor to Thomas already had been in place. On April 11, the trustees met and unanimously elected Stock as the second music director, and the ensemble’s name was changed to the Theodore Thomas Orchestra. The program books for that season’s last concerts on April 14 and 15 were perhaps already printed, and the new name first appeared in October 1905.

Otis’s account of the twenty-second season completed the saga: “During the winter of 1912–13 [Association] President [Bryan] Lathrop interviewed or wrote to every member of the Board of Trustees, suggesting important reasons for changing the name ‘The Theodore Thomas Orchestra’ to ‘The Chicago Symphony Orchestra.’ Mr. Lathrop had always held to the belief that an institution depending largely on the public for its support suffers in bearing the name of its founder or benefactor, however honored or distinguished that name may be.”

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, February 28 and March 1, 1913

February 28 and March 1, 1913

The Board’s executive committee met on Friday, February 21, 1913, and adopted the following: “Resolved, that hereafter the official name of the Orchestra shall be The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, founded by Theodore Thomas . . . indissolubly connecting the name of our first great conductor with that of the Orchestra, and indicating to the world what the present name fails to do, that he was the founder of our Orchestra, and it will commemorate the great work which he did in America for the cause of good music. The new name will also associate the Orchestra with the city and people of Chicago, and insure for it their continued aid and support.” The following week, the cover of the program book made it official.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

Johan Botha, Tenor

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the death of tenor Johan Botha, who died earlier today in Vienna at the age of 51 following a long illness.

A remarkably versatile singer, Botha was known for a vast number of roles in works by Beethoven, Puccini, Strauss, Verdi, and Wagner, among others. During his nearly thirty-year career, he appeared regularly on many of the world’s opera stages, including La Scala; the Royal Opera House Covent Garden; the Metropolitan Opera; the Vienna Staatsoper, where he made his home; and Lyric Opera of Chicago, where he most recently appeared in Wagner’s Tannhäuser in 2015.

Born on August 19, 1965, in the northern South African city of Rustenburg, Botha studied at the Technical College Pretoria. He made his debut as Max in Weber’s Der Freischütz at the Staatstheater Roodepoort in 1989, and the following year traveled to Germany, where he sang with the Bayreuth Festival Chorus before making his debut as Gustavus in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera in Kaiserslautern. Botha made his United States debut in 1994, as Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina; and he first appeared with Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1998, as Enzo in Ponchielli’s La gioconda.

He is survived by his wife and two sons.

Botha appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on two occasions, as follows:

September 13, 1996 (Royal Albert Hall, London)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Deborah Voigt, soprano
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
Johan Botha, tenor
René Pape, bass
BBC Singers
London Voices
Terry Edwards, director

April 24, 26, and 28, 2001 (Orchestra Hall)
VERDI Requiem
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Margaret Jane Wray, soprano (April 24)
Deborah Voigt, soprano (April 26 and 28)
Violeta Urmana, mezzo-soprano
Johan Botha, tenor
René Pape, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director

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May 27, 1999 (Dan Rest photo)

May 27, 1999 (Dan Rest photo)

On May 27, 1999, Mstislav Rostropovich and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra launched a three-week festival celebrating the music of Dmitri Shostakovich with a concert that included the First Symphony along with arias and interludes from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk with soprano Olga Guriakowa.

Interviewed for the Orchestra’s program book, Rostropovich commented, “Shostakovich’s world is our world. For many decades my own life was inextricably part of that world, and has continued to be so, even now. To have lived at the same time as Shostakovich is a source of great joy. To have been invited in his creative life has been an immense responsibility. And to play his music has been the greatest happiness.”

shostakovich-festival

Over the course of the festival, Rostropovich conducted four more of the composer’s symphonies: nos. 10, 11, 12, and 13 with bass Sergei Aleksashkin and men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. He also included a suite from the incidental music to the film Hamlet, the First Piano Concerto with Constantin Lifschitz and principal trumpet Adolph Herseth, and the Violin Concerto with Maxim Vengerov. In addition, Rostropovich conducted the composer’s arrangement of Schumann’s Cello Concerto with Enrico Dindo and Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death with contralto Larissa Diadkova. Finally, he performed as soloist in the First Cello Concerto—a work written especially for him—led by associate conductor William Eddins.

Rostropovich first appeared as soloist with the Orchestra on December 9, 10, and 11, 1965, in Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Georg Solti—in his Orchestra Hall debut—conducting. He first appeared as conductor with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on August 14, 1975, leading Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini; arias from Puccini’s operas with his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya; and Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony. Rostropovich first conducted at Orchestra Hall on the Orchestra’s gala centennial concert on October 6, 1990, leading the last movement of Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with András Schiff as soloist.

This article also appears here.

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Toscanini

Arturo Toscanini made his only appearance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on April 24, 1941, at Orchestra Hall. For the occasion, the seventy-four-year-old conductor was invited to lead a special concert to conclude the fiftieth season and to benefit the musicians’ pension fund. Toscanini conducted Gluck’s Overture to Iphigénie en Aulide, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Respighi’s Fountains of Rome, Berlioz’s orchestration of Weber’s Invitation to the Dance, and Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll and Overture to Tannhäuser.

“Toscanini [is] the most celebrated musician of our day,” reported Edward Barry in the Chicago Tribune. “It was as if a big exclamation point had been put at the end of a season which had already had more than its share of pleasurable astonishment. For the great conductor called on every resource of his imagination to make the music vivid and meaningful. And the Orchestra leaped to the execution of his ideas with a passion and a sureness that transcended technical considerations entirely and succeeded in laying the music itself before us in all its purity and beauty.”

April 24, 1941

April 24, 1941

“But in many ways Respighi’s Fountains of Rome was the high point of the concert,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Journal of Commerce. “He has for it the full sensitivity, the quality of creative imagery, the almost clairvoyant tenderness that make it deeply communicative. The performance took on a murmurous magic possible only when conductor and orchestra have established full understanding.”

This article also appears here

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Maud Powell

Born in Peru, Illinois, Maud Powell first played for Theodore Thomas in 1885 at the age of seventeen in New York’s Steinway Hall, auditioning with Bruch’s First Violin Concerto. Thomas immediately booked her with his orchestra, and she performed the concerto on July 30 that year in a Summer Night Concert in Chicago. According to Karen A. Shaffer and Neva Garner Greenwood’s book Maud Powell: Pioneer American Violinist, Thomas “glowed over her success: ‘At the close of that concert—my debut in America—Mr. Thomas came to me with his two hands full of greenbacks. He handed them to me, saying, “I want the honor of paying you the first fee you have earned as an artist.” ’ Theodore Thomas christened the young American his ‘musical grandchild’ and engaged her as soloist for the New York Philharmonic’s first concert of the 1885–86 season in November.”

July 18, 1893

July 18, 1893

For her Chicago Orchestra debut, Powell again performed Bruch’s First Violin Concerto on July 18, 1893, with Thomas at the World’s Columbian Exposition. According to Shaffer and Greenwood, “Maud Powell took her place among some of the world’s greatest musicians at the exposition. She was the only woman violinist to appear in these concerts and served as the representative American violinist.” In the Musical Courier, the reviewer raved, “It is hard to know where to begin to praise Miss Powell, for nearly every tone she played was full of meaning. She has improved beyond what was supposed to be the limit of her powers; her tone is pure and noble, her bowing grace itself, and her conception of the concerto was equal to that of any of the great violinists whom I have heard.”

Powell appeared with the Orchestra on several more occasions with both Thomas and Frederick Stock. Her final appearances were in March 1916, performing Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto and Saint-Saëns’s Introduction and Rondo capriccioso with Stock conducting. In 2014, she was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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June 19, 2013 (Brian Kersey photo)

June 19, 2013 (Brian Kersey photo)

Music director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra jumped on the Chicago Blackhawks bandwagon on June 19, 2013, recording for video the song “Chelsea Dagger” by the Scottish band the Fratellis. For the past several years, the song—played in United Center whenever the Blackhawks scored a goal—had become a hit with Chicago hockey fans.

“The CSO musicians and I are happy to honor and support another home team, the Chicago Blackhawks, with our music,” said Maestro Muti. “They are a world-class hockey team, and we hope this recording demonstrates our support of them and their desire to bring the Stanley Cup back to this great city. As I keep hearing and seeing everywhere in Chicago, ‘Go Hawks!’ ”

On June 24, 2013, in game six of the Stanley Cup finals, the Chicago Blackhawks were behind the Boston Bruins 2–1 with less than two minutes remaining in the third period. Scoring two goals in seventeen seconds, the Blackhawks defeated the Bruins to win the series 4–2, claiming their fifth Stanley Cup victory.

June 18, 2015 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

June 18, 2015 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Two years later, on June 15, 2015, the Blackhawks defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in game six of the National Hockey League finals, securing the Stanley Cup for the sixth time. Later that week on June 18, the Orchestra began the final subscription week of the 124th season with the world premiere of Bates’s Anthology of Fantastic Zoology. Just after intermission and before beginning Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, Riccardo Muti addressed the audience: “We want to celebrate in our way, and we can celebrate only by playing, singing, making music. So we will play for you now the ‘Chelsea Dagger.’ ” The audience roared.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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And we're off! The 16/17 season launches with Riccardo Muti and the CSO performing Mussorgsky, Strauss and Bruckner.  #muti  #mussorgsky #nightonbaldmountain #strauss #donjuan #bruckner #chicago #openingnight #firstdayoffall  photo by @toddrphoto

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