Wishing a very happy ninetieth birthday on September 8, 2019, to legendary German conductor Christoph von Dohnányi! For nearly forty-five years, he has been a frequent guest conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, both in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, as follows:

Christoph von Dohnányi (Terry O’Neill photo for Decca)

January 31, February 1, and 2, 1974, Orchestra Hall
BARTÓK Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin, Op. 19
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto D Minor, Op. 47
György Pauk, violin
DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 (From the New World)

February 7, 8, and 9, 1974, Orchestra Hall
SCHUMANN Overture, Scherzo, and Finale, Op. 52
MOZART Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat Major, K. 365
Anthony and Joseph Paratore, pianos
LIGETI Lontano
STRAUSS Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28

April 5, 6, and 7, 1979, Orchestra Hall
MOZART Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, K. 546
SCHUMANN Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54
Maurizio Pollini, piano
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93

April 12, 13, and 14, 1979, Orchestra Hall
MENDELSSOHN Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 11
HENZE Symphony No. 5
SCHOENBERG Erwartung, Op. 17
Anja Silja, soprano

May 22, 23, and 24, 1980, Orchestra Hall
BARTÓK Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin, Op. 19
SCHOENBERG Six Songs with Orchestra, Op. 8
Anja Silja, soprano
SCHUMANN Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120

March 4, 5, and 6, 1982, Orchestra Hall
RIHM Tutuguri II, Music after Artaud
HANDEL/Schoenberg Concerto for String Orchestra and Orchestra
Chicago Symphony String Quartet
Victor Aitay, violin
Edgar Muenzer, violin
Milton Preves, viola
Frank Miller, cello
SCHUMANN Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61

Christoph von Dohnányi (Andreas Garrels photo)

November 7, 8, and 9, 2002, Orchestra Hall
IVES The Unanswered Question
Craig Morris, trumpet
LUTOSŁAWSKI Concerto for Orchestra
BRAHMS Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68

May 6, 7, and 8, 2004, Orchestra Hall
PÄRT Fratres
Yuan-Qing Yu, violin
PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25 (Classical)
MAHLER Symphony No. 1 in D Major

July 2, 2004, Ravinia Festival
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595
Emanuel Ax, piano
IVES Three Places in New England
SCHUMANN Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61

May 11, 12, and 13, 2006, Orchestra Hall
MOZART Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K. 183
STRAUSS Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28
BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15
Emanuel Ax, piano

November 1, 2, 3, and 4, 2007, Orchestra Hall
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
Arabella Steinbacher, violin
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major (Romantic)

November 19, 20, 21, and 22, 2009, Orchestra Hall
BARTÓK Divertimento for String Orchestra
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major, K. 414
Paul Lewis, piano
SCHUMANN Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61

July 14, 2011, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73
BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15
Emanuel Ax, piano

July 15, 2011, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90
BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83
Emanuel Ax, piano

July 11, 2013, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica)
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37
Emanuel Ax, piano

July 12, 2013, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 (Emperor)
Emanuel Ax, piano

May 1, 2, and 3, 2014, Orchestra Hall
LUTOSŁAWSKI Funeral Music
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37
Paul Lewis, piano
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 (Pathétique)

June 9, 10, and 11, 2016, Orchestra Hall
MOZART Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K. 183
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19
Martin Helmchen, piano
MOZART Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 (Jupiter)

Happy, happy birthday!

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Leonard Slatkin (Nico Rodamel photo)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family wishes American conductor Leonard Slatkin a very happy seventh-fifth birthday on September 1, 2019! A frequent and favorite guest conductor, he has appeared with the Orchestra on countless occasions—in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival—over the last forty-eight years.

At the invitation of CSO general manager John Edwards, Slatkin—in his second season as assistant conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony—made his debut in Orchestra Hall with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago on March 6, 1970, leading the following program:

SCHUBERT Overture to Rosamunde, D. 644
WAGNER Siegfried Idyll
SCHUMAN New England Triptych
FAURÉ Pelleas and Melisande, Op. 80
RESPIGHI Pines of Rome

March 6, 1970

Slatkin’s program book biography for March 6, 1970

The following year, Slatkin first led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducting two free, outdoor Symphony in the Streets concerts, one in the parking lot at Park Forest Shopping Plaza and the other at the Jubilee Celebration site in Westmont, as follows:

July 12, 1971, Park Forest, Illinois
July 21, 1971, Westmont, Illinois
BARBER Adagio for Strings
GRIEG Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46
GRIEG Ingrid’s Lament from Peer Gynt Suite No. 2, Op. 55
ROSSINI Overture to William Tell
J. STRAUSS, Jr. On the Beautiful Blue Danube, Op. 314
J. STRAUSS, Jr. Overture to Die Fledermaus
J. STRAUSS, Jr. Perpetual Motion, Op. 257
SOUSA The Stars and Stripes Forever

Also during that residency, he led the Orchestra on a children’s concert at the Ravinia Festival on July 13, conducting the following program:

IVES/Schuman Variations on “America”
SATIE/Debussy Gymnopédie No. 3
SATIE/Debussy Gymnopédie No. 1
BERLIOZ Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9
BACH/Cailliet Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578 (Little)
MUSSORGSKY/Ravel The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (Baba-Yagá), The Great Gate of Kiev, Bydło (Oxcart), and Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks from Pictures at an Exhibition
TCHAIKOVSKY Scherzo. Pizzicato ostinato: Allegro (third movement) from Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36

And on April 4, 5, and 7, 1974, Slatkin made his debut with the Orchestra on subscription concerts, with this program:

April 4, 5, and 7, 1974

PURCELL Chacony in G Minor
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony no. 6 in E Minor
PISTON Symphony No. 2
RAVEL La valse

“Leonard Slatkin, an enormously talented young American musician who will be the principal conductor of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra this summer, made his subscription concert debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Thursday night at Orchestra Hall,” wrote Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times. “He has at 29 all the skills and all the qualities of leadership necessary to win the respect of a great orchestra and have them play for him with enthusiasm and the fullest measure of their talent. . . . What was impressive in the manner in which Slatkin could prepare three new works [Purcell, Vaughan Williams, and Piston] and have the orchestra playing them with security and bravura as if they were repertory standards. This, plus the clarity and precision of his beat, promises good things to come . . .”

“As a result of Daniel Barenboim’s cancellation—to be with his ailing wife [Jacqueline du Pré]—Slatkin, who is associate conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony, has this week’s subscription concerts,” added Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “He has a direct, music-oriented competence which shows the thoroughness of his training and his concentration on things that matter. Conductors with more experience than he have foundered on the tempo changes in Ravel’s La valse, but he piloted the ensemble through each tempo change with an easy skill, catching the upbeats, shifting into overdrive, and pacing the rising line of apotheosis precisely.”

Slatkin leads the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in the world premiere of Ned Rorem’s Goodbye My Fancy on November 8, 1990 (Jim Steere photo)

A staunch advocate for new music, Slatkin led the Orchestra in the world premieres of Donald Erb’s Concerto for Brass and Orchestra on April 16, 1987; Jacob Druckman’s Brangle on March 28, 1989; and Ned Rorem’s Goodbye My Fancy with mezzo-soprano Wendy White, bass-baritone John Cheek, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by Margaret Hillis) on November 8, 1990. He also led the Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Benjamin Britten’s Quatre chansons françaises with mezzo-soprano Claudine Carlson on May 19, 1983.

And most recently, he returned to the Ravinia Festival on August 7, 2019, leading the Orchestra in this program:

RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30
Denis Matsuev, piano
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Sheherazade
Robert Chen, violin

Happy, happy birthday, Maestro Slatkin!

Slatkin, Margaret Hillis, Ned Rorem, John Cheek, and Wendy White acknowledge applause on November 8, 1990 (Jim Steere photo)

Advertisement for Verdi’s Aida with the Metropolitan Opera and the (uncredited) Chicago Orchestra on December 10, 1891 (image courtesy of the Newberry Library)

Less than a month after its inaugural concerts in October 1891, the Chicago Orchestra was in the pit at the Auditorium Theatre for performances with the Metropolitan Opera Company (under the auspices of Abbey, Schoeffel, and Grau).

The singers who appeared were among the most famous of the day, including sopranos Emma Albani, Lilli Lehmann, and Marie Van Zandt and mezzo-sopranos Sofia Scalchi and Giulia Ravogli. During the residency, other prominent singers made their U.S. debuts, including soprano Emma Eames; tenor Jean de Reszke; baritones Edoardo Camera, Antonio Magini-Coletti, and Jean Martapoura; and basses Édouard de Reszke and Jules Vinche. Conducting duties were shared by Auguste Vianesi and Louis Saar, the Orchestra’s first guest conductors.

Opening with Wagner’s Lohengrin on November 9, the residency continued through December 12 and included a staggering number of operas: Bellini’s Norma and La sonnambula; Flotow’s Martha; Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice; Gounod’s Faust and Romeo and Juliet; Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana; Meyerbeer’s Dinorah and Les Huguenots; Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Thomas’s Mignon; as well as Verdi’s Rigoletto and act 1 of La traviata.

The residency also included a single performance of Verdi’s Aida on December 10 with Lehmann in the title role, de Reszke as Radamès, Ravogli as Amneris, Magini-Coletti as Amonasro, Enrico Serbolini as Ramfis, Lodovico Viviani as the King, and M. Grossi as the Messenger. The Metropolitan Opera Chorus was prepared by its director, Carlo Corsi, and Louis Saar conducted.

Lilli Lehmann

“Jean de Reszke and Lilli Lehmann bade farewell to Chicago last evening by appearing together in Verdi’s Aida,” wrote the reviewer in the Chicago Tribune. “It was a performance which for superb solo work, excellence of ensemble, and splendor of scenic and spectacular effects has not been equaled in this city—a performance which marked the highest point on the standard of excellence yet reached by the Abbey-Grau company.”

German soprano Lilli Lehmann—under the guidance of Richard Wagner—created the roles of Woglinde (in Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung), Helmwige, and the Forest Bird in the first Ring cycle during the inaugural Bayreuth Festival in 1876. She made her American debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Carmen on November 25, 1885; five days later, she sang Brünnhilde in Die Walküre and the following year Isolde in the American premiere of Tristan and Isolde. Lehmann regularly performed at the Salzburg Festival—also serving as its artistic director—and her operatic repertoire ultimately included 170 roles in 114 operas. A notable teacher, her students included Geraldine Farrar and Olive Fremstad.

“Mme. Lehmann found in Aida a role which permitted a display of her splendid histrionic gifts, and the music to which was more nearly suited to her vocal powers than has been any she has sung this engagement,” continued the Chicago Tribune reviewer. “Her success was, therefore assured and splendidly she achieved it. Her acting of the slave princess was forceful, intense, at all times free from all exaggeration or extravagance. As for her vocal work, it commands unqualified and almost unlimited praise. The ‘Ritorna vincitor’ was given with marvelous appreciation of its sad, troubled character, and the ‘Numi, pietà’ was beautiful in the purity and simplicity of its interpretation. In the long duet with Amneris in act 2, Mme. Lehmann’s singing and acting possessed great power, and in the climax at the end of the act, her voice stood out with telling effect. It was in the third act that the finest vocal work was done. Anything more satisfactory than her singing of the ‘O patria mia’ and the heavy dramatic music which follows cannot be imagined. The ‘Vedi? . . . di morte l’angelo,’ in the last scene of the opera, was exquisite in its delicacy and poetry.”

Jean de Reszke

Born in Poland, Jean de Reszke began his career as a baritone in 1874, debuting in Venice as Alfonso in Donizetti’s La favorita. By 1879, he had made the switch to tenor when he sang the title role in Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable in Madrid. De Reszke was soon a regular at the Paris Opera and at London’s Covent Garden, performing the major French, Wagner, and Verdi roles; the title role in Massenet’s Le Cid—premiered in Paris in 1885—was written for him. His American debut was the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera’s residency with the Chicago Orchestra in the title role of Wagner’s Lohengrin on November 9, 1891. After his debut the following month with the company in New York—as Gounod’s Romeo on December 14—he was a regular with the Metropolitan until his retirement from the stage in 1904, settling in Poland to breed racehorses and Paris to teach singing. His students included Bidu Sayão and Maggie Teyte.

“Jean de Reszke’s triumph as Radamès was a triumph of voice and vocal art. Not that the dramatic side of the character was not developed. It was developed with the same consummate skill which has made his dramatic treatment of every role in which he has seen truly remarkable. But Radamès makes far greater demand upon a tenor’s vocal powers than upon his histrionic. Much of the music is purely lyrical in character, while other portions are strongly dramatic. A singer to do it justice must, therefore, combine the qualities of a tenore de grazia and a tenore robusto—a combination but rarely found. Jean de Reszke is such, however, and his singing of the music of Radamès is not alone satisfactory but an artistic treat of the highest kind. The famed ‘Celeste Aida’ was sung with a smoothness, clearness, and tonal beauty which were the perfection of pure vocal art, while the impassioned music of the third act was delivered with a vigor and intensity and a display of thrilling high notes which showed how dramatic singing may become and yet never cease to be singing nor degenerate into shouting.”

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

Riccardo Muti leads soloists Krassimira Stoyanova, Anita Rachvelishvili, Francesco Meli, Kiril Manolov, Ildar Abdrazakov, Eric Owens, Issachah Savage, Kimberly Gunderson, and Tasha Koontz, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe) in Verdi’s Aida on June 21, 23, and 25, 2019.

William and Shirlejean Babcock (Vincent Cichowicz collection)

The Chicago Symphony notes with the sorrow the passing of William Babcock—a former member of the Orchestra’s trumpet section from 1951 until 1958—on June 10, 2019, in Townshend, Vermont. He was 94.

Born in New London, Connecticut on May 7, 1925, Babcock began playing the piano at the age of four and trumpet at seven. He won many high school competitions as a trumpet player, was first solo cornet in the All New England High School Band for three years, and graduated from Bulkeley School for Boys in 1943.

After graduation, Babcock enlisted in the US Air Force and was called into duty on June 14, 1943, serving for nearly three years, active in combat flying in the European theatre.

Benefiting from the G.I. Bill, he enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music in January 1946. While in line for admittance, Babcock met not only his future colleague Adolph “Bud” Herseth but also his future wife Shirlejean Wallace (whom he would marry on March 29, 1947). During his three years at the conservatory, he studied with Boston Symphony Orchestra trumpets Roger Voisin and Marcel LaFosse. Babcock performed at Tanglewood’s Berkshire Music Center (under the guidance of BSO principal trumpet Georges Mager), with the New England Opera Theater and at Boston’s Shubert Theatre, and also as a substitute with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitzky, Charles Munch, Leonard Bernstein, and Pierre Monteux.

William Babcock (Vincent Cichowicz collection)

Rafael Kubelík, during his first season as music director, hired Babcock into the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s trumpet section, beginning with the 1951 Ravinia Festival season. He was a member of the section until 1958, when he became principal trumpet of Chicago’s NBC Orchestra, where he remained until 1965. Babcock continued to work as a freelance musician and private trumpet teacher into his retirement, and he and his wife were longtime members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association.

William Babcock’s beloved wife Shirlejean—after sixty-seven years of marriage—preceded him in death in 2014. He is survived by his children Douglas, Richard, Barbara LaMontagne (Henry), Laura Casoli (Darrel), and granddaughter Melissa. Memorial gifts may be made to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and services have been held.

Emanuel Ax in 1980 (Nick Sangiamo photo)

Wishing a very happy seventieth birthday to the remarkable American pianist Emanuel Ax! A longtime Chicago favorite—in recital, as a chamber musician, and as soloist with orchestra—he has appeared in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival on near-countless occasions.

Following first place triumphs at the Michaels Award of Young Concert Artists and the Artur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, Ax made his local debut at Ravinia on July 23, 1975, substituting for an indisposed Alexis Weissenberg. Performing an all-Chopin program, “the young Polish-American master took the evening by storm,” according to Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “Still in his middle twenties . . . there is nothing of the poseur in him, no excess mannerism, no youthful sentimentality, no histrionic display. He walks onstage, settles solidly onto the bench, shakes a hand to limber up, and begins to play. At that moment, or within a few seconds, a transformation of near miraculous proportions takes place. . . . This is quite possibly the outstanding poet-performer of his generation.”

Ax made two debuts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra the following year in 1976, on May 20 and 21 in Orchestra Hall, performing Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto under the baton of Henry Mazer, and on July 29 at the Ravinia Festival, as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20 with Andrew Davis on the podium. According to Alan Artner in the Chicago Tribune, media reports following Ax’s competition wins had compared the young pianist to Vladimir Horowitz and Sviatoslav Richter. “But to have actually heard him in Liszt’s Second Concerto was to discover that Ax in n a class virtually by himself. . . . His performance was intelligent, wholly refreshing . . .”

Emanuel Ax in 2016 (Lisa Marie Mazzucco photo)

Since then, Ax has been one of the most frequent guest artists in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as with visiting orchestras, and as a chamber musician and recitalist with an astounding array of collaborators. He has worked with conductors David Afkham, Daniel Barenboim, James Conlon, James DePreist, Sir Mark Elder, Christoph Eschenbach, Lawrence Foster, Bernard Haitink, Daniel Harding, Mariss Jansons, Bernhard Klee, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Itzhak Perlman, David Robertson, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Leonard Slatkin, Sir Georg Solti, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Christoph von Dohnányi. Ax also has collaborated with Yefim Bronfman, Robert Chen, Evelyn Glennie,
Benjamin Hochman, Aleksey Igudesman, Richard Hyung-ki Joo, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma, Anthony McGill, Orli Shaham, Raimi Solomonow, Isaac Stern, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Orion Weiss. With visiting orchestras, he also has performed in Orchestra Hall with the Cleveland Orchestra, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Juilliard Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

Ax returns to the Ravinia Festival this summer, as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on August 2, 2019, in Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto with Rafael Payare on the podium. He will be back in Orchestra Hall next season on March 2, 2020, for an all-Beethoven chamber music concert, collaborating with violinist Leonidas Kavakos and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Happy, happy birthday!

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the death of Israeli mezzo-soprano Mira Zakai, who died on May 20, 2019. She was seventy-six.

Mira Zakai in 2013 (Daniel Tchetchik photo)

Zakai appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on several notable occasions, both in the concert hall and in the recording studio. A complete list is below.

MOZART Mass in C Major, K. 317 (Coronation)
March 13, 14, and 15, 1980, Orchestra Hall
Rafael Kubelík, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano
Mira Zakai, mezzo-soprano
Alexander Oliver, tenor
Malcolm King, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Originally recorded by WFMT for radio broadcast, this was released on the CSO’s From the Archives, vol. 13 (Chicago Symphony Chorus: A Fortieth Anniversary Celebration).

MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
May 5, 6, 7, and 8, 1980, Medinah Temple, (recording sessions only)
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Isobel Buchanan, soprano
Mira Zakai, mezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
The symphony was performed in Orchestra Hall on April 24, 25, and 26 in Orchestra Hall and on May 2 and 3, 1980, in Carnegie Hall with Buchanan and Christa Ludwig as soloists. James Mallinson produced the recording, and James Lock and John Dunkerley were the balance engineers for London Records. The recording won the 1981 Grammy Award for Best Classical Album and Best Classical Orchestral Recording from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
October 2, 3, 4, and 6, 1980, Orchestra Hall
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Faye Robinson, soprano (October 2, 3, and 4)
Jill Gomez, soprano (October 6)
Teresa Cahill, soprano
Jo Ann Pickens, soprano
Jan DeGaetani, mezzo-soprano
Mira Zakai, mezzo-soprano
Kenneth Riegel, tenor (October 2, 3, and 4)
Dennis Bailey, tenor (October 6)
Brent Ellis, baritone
Theo Adam, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

SCHOENBERG Moses und Aron
April 19 and 21, 1984, Orchestra Hall
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Franz Mazura, speaker
Philip Langridge, tenor
Barbara Bonney, soprano
Daniel Harper, tenor
Kurt Link, baritone
Aage Haugland, bass
Mira Zakai, mezzo-soprano
Herbert Wittges, baritone
Thomas Dymit, tenor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Members of the Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director
The opera was recorded in Orchestra Hall on April 23, 24, 30, and May 1, 1984. James Mallinson produced the recording, and James Lock and John Pellowe were the engineers for London Records. The recording won the 1985 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Civic Music Student Orchestra, onstage at Orchestra Hall in March 1920 (William T. Barnum photo)

We recently received an extraordinary donation to our collections: a mounted photograph—in remarkable condition—of the Civic Music Student Orchestra onstage in Orchestra Hall from March 1920. This image appeared in the Civic’s first program book (see here), and previously, the only copies in our collections were quite grainy and not the best quality.

In this newly acquired image, clearly visible—downstage, front and center—is the Civic’s founding leadership: (standing) Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Frederick Stock and (seated, left to right) assistant conductors Eric DeLamarter (the CSO’s assistant and associate conductor from 1918 until 1936) and George Dasch (a member of the CSO’s violin and viola sections from 1898 until 1923).

Mildred Brown in the early 1920s (Image courtesy of the Archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis, Rochester, Minnesota)

Also clearly visible in the assistant concertmaster chair is Mildred Brown, the previous owner of this artifact. The photograph came to us from the archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester, Minnesota, where Brown—later Sister M. Ancille—lived from 1924 until her death in 1963. The handwriting at the bottom of the image reads, “Mildred Brown (Sr. Ancille), Assistant concert mistress, Front & center,” and an arrow points to her.

Born in Chicago on March 23, 1894, Brown earned a master’s degree in violin at the Chicago Musical College in 1915, where she studied with Alexander Sebald, and Leon Sametini, along with Chicago Symphony Orchestra assistant concertmaster Hugo Kortschak. She also attended the Juilliard School where she was a student of Franz Kneisel.

February 8, 1923

Brown was a member of the Civic Orchestra for its first season in 1919-20, one of fourteen women on the ensemble’s roster. At Stock’s invitation, she returned to the Civic in 1922-23, this time as concertmaster—the first woman to hold that position in the ensemble. During that season, Stock also invited her to be a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a Popular concert on February 8, 1923. Brown performed Wieniawski’s Fantaisie brillante (based on themes from Gounod’s Faust).

After her first year in the Civic Orchestra, Brown embarked on a solo career and enjoyed considerable success. A press brochure itemized generous critical praise:

  • “Miss Brown has traveled far upon the road to success [performing] with so much brilliance, so much technical clarity with tone so pure and round. Hers is an admirable gift” (Felix Borowski, Chicago Record Herald).
  • “A young violinist of high attainments, both in the technical and interpretative sense (Eric DeLamarter, Chicago Tribune).
  • “She dashed into the finale with brilliance and carried it off with joyous abandon. Miss Brown has the right stuff in her and made such a ‘hit’ with the audience that she had to give an encore (Karleton Hackett, Chicago Evening Post)

    Sister M. Ancille in the early 1960s (Image courtesy of the Archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis, Rochester, Minnesota)

  • “Mildred Brown possesses all the attributes of the finished artist [with] rich tone and brilliant technique. . . . The difficult harmonic passages were played with security and in a flawless fashion” (Milwaukee Free Press).

While on tour in 1923, she performed a concert at the College of Saint Teresa in Winona, Minnesota and served as an instructor for its summer session. In January 1924, she joined the Sisters of Saint Francis. As a postulant, she directed the Teresan Orchestra and gave frequent concerts, and later—as Sister M. Ancille—she served on the faculties of the School of Musical Art and Lourdes High School (both in Rochester) and the College of Saint Teresa. She completed a second master’s degree in music from the University of Michigan in 1941 (likely attending for several summers, as it was common for Sisters teaching at the high school and college levels to continue work on advanced degrees by taking summer classes).

Sister Ancille died unexpectedly on November 19, 1963, at the age of sixty-nine. An obituary published in The Campanile (the college’s newspaper), she was remembered for “her performances as presentations of impeccable technique, finesse of style, and the artistry of a great musician, [always] striving for perfection. Sister Ancille had a reserve and repose that persons of all ages admired and respected. Her complete composure and graciousness exemplified the fullness of her life as a Franciscan. It seems, to us, very fitting that God called her home on the feast of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, the patron of all Third Order Franciscans.”

Mildred Brown in the second chair of the Civic Orchestra’s first violin section in 1920

Special thanks to the Archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester, Minnesota, and congregational archivist Sister Marisa McDonald, OSF

We have just heard news of the death of the wonderful Irish soprano Heather Harper, as reported in The Guardian. She was 88.

Harper appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of notable occasions, as listed below (all appearances are subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, unless otherwise noted):

April 3, 4, and 5, 1969
MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
Georg Solti, conductor
Helen Watts, contralto
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

December 11 and 12, 1969
HAYDN The Creation
Georg Solti, conductor
Stuart Burrows, tenor
Giorgio Tozzi, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

August 30, 31 & September 1, 1971 (recording sessions at the Sofiensaal in Vienna)
MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
Georg Solti, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano
Arleen Augér, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Helen Watts, contralto
René Kollo, tenor
John Shirley-Quirk, bass-baritone
Martti Talvela, bass
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Norbert Balatsch, chorus master
Singverein Chorus
Helmut Froschauer, chorus master
Vienna Boys’ Choir
David Harvey produced the recording, and Gordon Parry and Kenneth Wilkinson were the engineers for London Records. The recording won the 1972 Grammy Award for Album of the Year—Classical, Best Choral Performance—Classical (other than opera), and Best Engineered Recording—Classical from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Mahler's Symphony no. 8 in E-flat Major, recorded in Vienna in 1971

Mahler’s Symphony no. 8 in E-flat Major, recorded in Vienna in 1971

March 30, 31, and April 1, 1972
HANDEL Jephtha
Margaret Hillis, conductor
Helen Watts, contralto
Richard Lewis, tenor
Robert Johnson, tenor
Barry McDaniel, baritone
Boris Carmeli, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

October 12, 13, and 14, 1972
VIVALDI Gloria
ROSSINI Stabat mater
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Julia Hamari, mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti, tenor
Raffaele Arié, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

March 7, 8, and 9, 1974
TIPPETT Symphony No. 3
Sir Michael Tippett, conductor

April 12 and 13, 1974
BACH Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Helen Watts, contralto
Jerry Jennings, tenor
Mallory Walker, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Philip Booth, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

Wishing a very happy ninetieth birthday to the celebrated American mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias!

A stalwart at the Metropolitan Opera, between 1954 and 1996, Elias performed 687 performances of fifty-four roles. Also at the house, she created the role of Erika in Samuel Barber‘s Vanessa in January 1958.

The following year, she made her only appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as soloist in the following programs.

March 5 and 6, 1959
Fritz Reiner, conductor
RAVEL La valse
CHAUSSON Poem of Love and the Sea, Op. 19
PROKOFIEV Alexander Nevsky, Op. 78
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

March 10, 1959
Fritz Reiner, conductor
PROKOFIEV Alexander Nevsky, Op. 78
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
CHAUSSON Poem of Love and the Sea, Op. 19
TCHAIKOVSKY Marche miniature from Suite No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 43
TCHAIKOVSKY Marche slav, Op. 31

On March 7, RCA was on hand to record Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky—the first recording collaboration with the Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus—in Orchestra Hall. Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer, and the recording recently was re-released as part of a comprehensive box set of Fritz Reiner’s complete recordings with the CSO on RCA.

Happy, happy birthday!

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning conductor and composer Michael Gielen, who died earlier today at his home in Mondsee, Austria. He was ninety-one. Between 1973 and 2002, Maestro Gielen led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a broad range of repertoire, and a complete list of his appearances is below.

Michael Gielen (Patrik Müller photo)

December 6 and 7, 1973, Orchestra Hall
December 10, 1973, Uihlein Hall, Milwaukee
HAYDN Symphony No. 95 in C Minor
SZYMANOWSKI Violin Concerto No. 2, Op. 61
Wanda Wilkomirska, violin
PENDERECKI Capriccio for Violin and Orchestra
Wanda Wilkomirska, violin
SCRIABIN Symphony No. 3, Op. 43 (The Divine Poem)

March 21, 22, 23, and 26, 1996, Orchestra Hall
MAHLER Symphony No. 6 in A Minor

March 28, 29, and 30, 1996, Orchestra Hall
J. STRAUSS, Jr. Overture to Die Fledermaus
STUCKY Pinturas de Tamayo (Paintings of Tamayo) (world premiere)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (Pastoral)

October 29, 30, 31, and November 1, 1997, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 2, Op. 72
CARTER Piano Concerto
Ursula Oppens, piano
Richard Graef, flute
Grover Schiltz, oboe and english horn
J. Lawrie Bloom, clarinet
David Taylor, violin
Charles Pikler, viola
Stephen Balderston, cello
Joseph Guastafeste, bass
SCHUBERT Incidental Music from Rosamunde, D. 797
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72

January 11, 12, 13, and 16, 2001, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Overture to Egmont, Op. 84
BEETHOVEN/Liszt Andante cantabile from the Piano Trio in G-flat Major, Op. 97 (Archduke)
BEETHOVEN/Gielen Grosse Fuge in B-flat Major, Op. 133
SCHOENBERG Pelleas and Melisande, Op. 5

January 18, 20, and 23, 2001, Orchestra Hall
MAHLER Adagio from Symphony No. 10
LISZT Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major
Zoltán Kocsis, piano
KURTÁG . . . quasi una fantasia . . .
Zoltán Kocsis, piano
SCHUBERT Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 (Unfinished)

January 17, 18, 29, and 22, 2002, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
Elena Bashkirova, piano
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica)

January 24, 25, 26, and 29, 2002, Orchestra Hall
RAVEL Valses nobles et sentimentales
DUTILLEUX Symphony No. 2 (Le double)
Alex Klein, oboe
Larry Combs, clarinet
David McGill, bassoon
Craig Morris, trumpet
Jay Friedman, trombone
Mary Sauer, piano
Melody Lord-Lundberg, celesta
Donald Koss, timpani
Samuel Magad, violin
Joseph Golan, violin
Charles Pikler, viola
John Sharp, cello
POULENC Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani in G Minor
David Schrader, organ
Donald Koss, timpani
RAVEL La valse

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

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Theodore Thomas

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