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August 12/1893

August 12/1893

“Bohemia ruled the World’s Columbian Exposition yesterday. It was the special date set apart for that nationality, and its citizens invaded the White City at every entrance by the thousands,” wrote the reviewer in the Chicago Daily Tribune.

On August 12, 1893, 8,000 people packed into the fair’s Festival Hall to hear the Exposition Orchestra—the Chicago Orchestra expanded to 114 players—under the batons of Vojtěch I. Hlaváč, professor of music at the Imperial University in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and the director of New York’s National Conservatory of Music in America, Antonín Dvořák.

The Tribune reviewer continued: “As Dvořák walked out upon the stage a storm of applause greeted him. For nearly two minutes the old composer [age fifty-one!] stood beside the music rack, baton in hand, bowing his acknowledgements. The players dropped their instruments to join in the welcome. Symphony no. 4 in G major [now known as no. 8], considered a severe test of technical writing as well as playing, was interpreted brilliantly. The Orchestra caught the spirit and magnetism of the distinguished leader. The audience sat as if spell-bound. Tremendous outbursts of applause were given.” On the second half of the program, Dvořák conducted selections from his Slavonic Dances and closed the program with his overture My Country.

This article also appears here.

August 12, 1893

August 12, 1893

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Sir Georg Solti and soloists (standing) Herbert Lippert, Karita Mattila, Ben Heppner, and Alan Opie; (seated) José van Dam, Iris Vermillion, and René Pape (Jim Steere photo)

Sir Georg Solti and soloists (standing) Herbert Lippert, Karita Mattila, Ben Heppner, and Alan Opie; (seated) José van Dam, Iris Vermillion, and René Pape (Jim Steere photo)

In September 1995, Sir Georg Solti led three concert performances of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Orchestra Hall. The performances were split: the first two acts on one concert and the third act on a separate concert over the course of two open dress rehearsals and four concerts. Principal soloists included Karita Mattila, Iris Vermillion, Ben Heppner, Herbert Lippert, José van Dam, Alan Opie, and René Pape, along with the Chicago Symphony Chorus prepared by Duain Wolfe.

“Last weekend you could call the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, without fear of contradiction, the best and most prestigious Wagnerian pit band in the world of opera,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “Even as Solti blockbusters go, [these concerts] were an extraordinary experience—painstakingly prepared and powerfully executed. . . . It would be no exaggeration to call this a milestone in Solti’s Wagnerian career to rank with his historic recording of the Ring.”

WAGNER Die Meistersinger

The subsequent London Records release won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. The award marked Solti’s thirty-first Grammy, more than any other recording artist in any genre. He received seven awards in addition to his twenty-four awards with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Solti and producer John Culshaw also received the first NARAS Trustees’ Award in 1967 for their “efforts, ingenuity, and artistic contributions” in connection with the first complete recording of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen with the Vienna Philharmonic. Solti also received the Academy’s 1995 Lifetime Achievement Award.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

On October 28 and 29, 1954, soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf made her American and Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuts in Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs and the closing scene from his final opera, Capriccio. Fritz Reiner conducted.

Schwarzkopf “is both a soprano with a historically beautiful voice of its kind and a musician of transcendent intelligence. She knows most intimately what her texts are about, feels them deeply, and possesses the extraordinary vocal capacity to color with each word, each mood, each musical phrase,” raved Roger Dettmer in the Chicago American. “Here was artistry of the utmost fulfillment of an exquisite and cherished kind heard rarely in a lifetime of listening.”

October 28 and 29, 1954

October 28 and 29, 1954

“It has seemed to me that it took Miss Schwarzkopf a long time to come here,” commented Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “But exactly the right time, too. For it brought her here when Reiner, a kind of Straussian magician, had restored to the Orchestra its old, deep layered glow, and had added an immaculate polish strictly his own. Good things go together, and it is worthwhile to wait.”

The capacity crowd on October 28 included another legendary soprano—Maria Callas—also preparing to make her American debut, in town for the title role in Bellini’s Norma during Lyric Theatre of Chicago’s first season.*

*The company’s name was changed to Lyric Opera of Chicago for the 1955–56 season.

This article also appears here.

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August 15, 1967

August 15, 1967

On August 15, 1967, more than 50,000 Chicagoans gathered to witness the unveiling of what would quickly become an iconic landmark. “With applause, startled exclamations, and incredulous smiles, Chicago received its long-awaited gift yesterday from the most celebrated of living artists,” wrote Edward Barry in the Chicago Tribune. “Shortly after noon, Mayor Daley pulled the cord which controlled the coverings of Pablo Picasso’s untitled steel sculpture in the Civic Center Plaza. The sheets billowed to the ground. There, looming against the sky and against the glass and steel of the Civic Center,* was a huge, rust-colored object calculated to baffle the mind and stir the imagination.”

Chicago Tribune, August 16, 1967

Chicago Tribune, August 16, 1967

Architect William E. Hartmann served as master of ceremonies and read a telegram from President Lyndon B. Johnson: “Your new Civic Center Plaza with its unique and monumental sculpture by one of the acknowledged geniuses of modern art is a fitting addition to a city famous for its creative vitality. Chicago, which gave the world its first skyscraper and America some of our greatest artists and poets, has long recognized that art, beauty, and open space are essential. . . . You have demonstrated once again that Chicago is a city second to none.”

The Englewood Neighborhood Corps Youth Choir led the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner, representatives of multiple faiths pronounced invocations, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks read a poem written especially for the occasion, and Seiji Ozawa led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Gershwin’s An American in Paris along with Bernstein’s Overture to Candide and excerpts from the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.

*The building was renamed Richard J. Daley Center on December 27, 1976, seven days after the mayor’s death.

This article also appears here.

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Illustration by Pam Rossi

Illustration by Pam Rossi

After more than three years of planning, building, testing, and fine-tuning, Symphony Center—a $120 million project that included a facility expansion and extensive renovation of Orchestra Hall—opened its doors on October 4, 1997, with an opening night gala concert.

Led by acousticians Kirkegaard Associates and architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the project encompassed additions and improvements to Orchestra Hall, including raising the roof line for increased sound reverberation, replacing plaster walls, decreasing the width and increasing the depth of the stage, adding an extensive riser system, replacing all seats and adding terrace seating behind the stage, installing an acoustic canopy (to improve onstage ensemble conditions and sound reflection to the audience), and increasing patron amenity spaces. In addition, the project included new administrative offices in the former Chapin & Gore building; Buntrock Hall, a multipurpose rehearsal and performance space; renovation of a private club (formerly the home of the Cliff Dwellers); and a multistory arcade and rotunda. The following year brought the opening of a new restaurant (originally Rhapsody and now tesori) and an education center.

Natyakalalayam Dance Company performing in Symphony Center’s rotunda on October 5, 1997 (Jeff Meacham photo)

Natyakalalayam Dance Company performing in Symphony Center’s rotunda on October 5, 1997 (Jeff Meacham photo)

Launching a three-week inaugural festival, the October 4 gala concert was conducted by Daniel Barenboim and included excerpts from Verdi’s Otello with Soile Isokoski and Plácido Domingo, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 27 (with Barenboim conducting from the keyboard), Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with William Warfield, and Bruckner’s Te Deum with the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Midnight marked the beginning of the first Day of Music: twenty-four hours of free, live performances of music across all genres in multiple Symphony Center venues, attended by more than 20,000 people.

October 22, 1997 (Jim Steere photo)

October 22, 1997 (Jim Steere photo)

Sadly, the many celebrations were bittersweet. Music director laureate Sir Georg Solti—who, during the festival would have celebrated not only his eighty-fifth birthday but also his 1,000th concert with the Orchestra—had unexpectedly died on September 5, 1997. A special, free memorial concert was added on October 22 that included Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, followed by Mozart’s Requiem with Emily Magee, Anna Larsson, John Aler, René Pape, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus. A celebration concert was given on October 25, with Daniel Barenboim conducting Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto (from the keyboard) and the Seventh Symphony.

This article also appears here.

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March 3 and 4, 1938

March 3 and 4, 1938

On March 3 and 4, 1938, Paul Hindemith made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, appearing as composer, conductor, and viola soloist. The concert opened with associate conductor Hans Lange leading Mozart’s Symphony no. 39 followed by Hindemith’s Der Schwanendreher (subtitled Concerto on Old Folk Melodies) with the composer as soloist. After intermission, Lange returned to the podium for Hindemith’s Chamber Music no. 1 followed by the composer leading the U.S. premiere of his Symphonic Dances.

March 3 and 4, 1938

March 3 and 4, 1938

In the Journal of Commerce, Claudia Cassidy described Hindemith’s Chamber Music no. 1 as “brilliant, witty, and spectacularly scored. Mr. Lange conducted and the Orchestra turned in a glittering job, particularly in the introduction to the finale, which has that kinetic energy at a boil.” She described Der Schwanendreher as having “no compassion for the poor viola player, taking for granted that he can handle the instrument as Mr. Hindemith does, which is nothing short of amazing.”

Hindemith had conducted the first performance of the Symphonic Dances only three months earlier, on December 3, 1937, in London. Eugene Stinson in the Chicago Daily News described the work as having “more unity, and it seems to me there is more thoughtfulness, in the Symphonic Dances than in almost all the other music Hindemith’s Chicago knows. At a first hearing it struck me as one of the most impressive and most affecting contemporary scores I can recall.”

Hindemith returned to lead the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival for three concerts in July 1961, and again in March and April 1963, leading two weeks of subscription concerts in Orchestra Hall, a television concert, and a run-out concert to the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. Each of those programs included at least one of his compositions, including the Concert Music for Strings and Brass, Pittsburgh Symphony, Concerto for Orchestra, Sinfonietta in E, and Nobilissima visione.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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On May 5, 2008, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association president Deborah Rutter Card announced that Riccardo Muti would become the Orchestra’s tenth music director, beginning with the 2010–11 season.

Barbara Frittoli sings the final "Libera me" with Riccardo Muti leading the Orchestra and Chorus on January 16, 2009 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Barbara Frittoli sings the final “Libera me” with Riccardo Muti leading the Orchestra and Chorus on January 16, 2009 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Muti’s first appearances as music director designate were on January 15, 16, and 17, 2009, in Verdi’s Requiem. Soloists were Barbara Frittoli, Olga Borodina, Mario Zeffiri, and Ildar Abdrazakov, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by chorus director Duain Wolfe.

“From the moment he walked out onto the stage of Orchestra Hall until the last notes of the Verdi sounded just over ninety minutes later, Muti showed us the summary of nearly every possible positive quality a great conductor can possess,” wrote Andrew Patner in the Chicago Sun-Times. “The CSO played on the edge of its collective seat throughout. . . . When has the CSO Chorus sounded like this? Not since founder Margaret Hillis at her peak. Some 170 voices singing as one, powered from the bottom ranges, standing and delivering on cue with equal parts passion and precision, and investing the softest passages with the greatest musicality.”

CSOR Verdi Requiem

Regarding the subsequent release of the Requiem on CSO Resound, Robert Levine for classicstoday.com wrote, “Muti still brings Toscanini to mind more than any other conductor, but he is more pliable in this performance than that other great Italian maestro or his earlier self. The Chorus, like the Orchestra, moves from fortissimo to pianissimo on a dime; their singing is effortless, precise, and filled with attention to the text. The quieter, spiritual sections are remarkable for their aura of stillness and meditation and their outbursts thrill and terrify. It’s breathtaking.”

On February 13, 2011, the recording received Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

This article also appears here.

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Abbado

Claudio Abbado first conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in January 1971, leading three weeks of subscription concerts. For the next twenty years, he was a frequent visitor—both before and after his tenure as second principal guest conductor from 1982 until 1985—also leading the Orchestra in concerts at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. Abbado’s numerous residencies included collaborations with the Chicago Symphony Chorus, recording sessions, and performances with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

On May 24, 25, and 27, 1984, Abbado led the Orchestra’s first performances of Berg’s landmark opera, Wozzeck. The principal cast included Benjamin Luxon in the title role, Hildegard Behrens as Marie, Alexander Malta as the Doctor, Jacque Trussel as the Drum Major, and Gerhard Unger as the Captain. Members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus were prepared by associate director James Winfield, members of the Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus were prepared by Doreen Rao, and the concert staging was directed by Robert Goldschlager.

Abbado with the Orchestra onstage at Orchestra Hall on May 24, 1984 (Jeff Wassmann photo)

Abbado with the Orchestra onstage at Orchestra Hall on May 24, 1984 (Jeff Wassmann photo)

“Sung by an extraordinary cast and played with surpassing beauty and intensity by the Orchestra, this first CSO performance of the Berg masterpiece served as a resoundingly successful climax to the season,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “In a wondrous score that shifts between Straussian contrapuntal complexity and a translucence of texture worthy of Debussy, Abbado was masterful. His limning of detail was extraordinary, and he never stressed the agonized lyricism at the expense of passion or intensity. Given orchestral playing of power, shimmer, and clarity, Berg’s tight formal structures supported a vocal performance of shattering dramatic impact.”

Abbado and the cast onstage at Orchestra Hall on May 24, 1984 (Jeff Wassmann photo)

Abbado and the cast onstage at Orchestra Hall on May 24, 1984 (Jeff Wassmann photo)

“Claudio Abbado, who conducted without a score (an achievement appreciated by all who have studied this music) took advantage of the simple setting to permit the work to develop with symphonic continuity, one scene flowing directly into another, and the cumulative effect was tremendous,” raved Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times. “There are occasions when despite our rich diet of superlative music, you say to yourself, ‘This is a historic moment. People will be talking about this for years to come.’ And they will. Abbado and the CSO, in all their years of association, have never done anything finer or more important.”

This article also appears here.

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The score for Mahler's Symphony no. 7 used by Frederick Stock for the U.S. premiere

The score for Mahler’s Symphony no. 7 used by Frederick Stock for the U.S. premiere

Frederick Stock and the Orchestra first introduced the music of Gustav Mahler to Chicago audiences on March 22 and 23, 1907, performing the composer’s Fifth Symphony. Reviews were, shall we say, mixed.

“Ugly symphony is well played: Thomas Orchestra shows director Mahler of Vienna writes bad music,” proclaimed the headline of Millar Ular’s review in the Chicago Examiner. He continued that rather than title the symphony “The Giant,” it might be better titled “The Octopus” due to its ugliness, “The Dachshund” due to its length, or “Chaos” due to its purported lack of form. A writer in the Chicago Journal agreed, calling the symphony a “long and tedious work,” and most of the public agreed, as “before it was done, fully half the audience had fled.”

April 15 and 16, 1921

April 15 and 16, 1921

Undaunted, Stock programmed Mahler’s First in November 1914, the Fourth in March 1916, and three performances of the massive Eighth—with just under a thousand performers onstage at the Auditorium Theatre—in April 1917.

According to Phillip Huscher, “Stock heard Mahler’s Seventh Symphony for the first time in Amsterdam in 1920. He got a copy of the score in Paris and programmed the work for the penultimate concert of the 1920–21 season in Chicago. Perhaps fearing that the Chicago public would not share his enthusiasm for the Seventh Symphony, Stock announced that he had cut out eleven minutes of music, paring the playing time down to one hour and four minutes.”

Regarding the performance on April 15, 1921—the first performance of the symphony in the U.S.—the Chicago Evening Post reported that “the Orchestra played with astonishing virtuosity. There was nothing Mahler could write which they could not play, as they demonstrated to full satisfaction. At the close of the symphony there was a great demonstration for Mr. Stock, in which he had all the players rise and join.”

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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Sir Georg Solti and Birgit Nilsson studying the score for Strauss's Salome (Terry's photo)

Sir Georg Solti and Birgit Nilsson studying the score for Strauss’s Salome (Terry’s photo)

Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson sang the title role in Strauss’s Salome with Sir Georg Solti leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in concerts at Orchestra Hall on December 13 and 15, 1974, and on December 18 in Carnegie Hall. The cast also included Ruth Hesse as Herodias, Ragnar Ulfung as Herod, Norman Bailey as Jochanaan, and George Shirley as Narraboth.

“Superb is hardly the word for Miss Nilsson’s performance of the title role. Hers was a formidable triumph,” wrote Karen Monson in the Chicago Daily News. “She had superb help from Solti, who conducted the mightily convoluted score ingeniously . . . [maintaining] a miraculous balance between voices and instruments.”

December 13 and 15, 1974

December 13 and 15, 1974

“The key to the performance was the combination of the great Salome voice of the century with the great Salome conductor of our day and an orchestra that has been dedicated to Strauss’s cause for all its eighty-four years,” added Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times. Nilsson “gave a performance which, I believe, could not have been duplicated for its strength and depth of insight and vocal richness by any other living singer.”

Following the December 18 concert in Carnegie Hall, Harold C. Schoenberg in The New York Times concluded, “This was a Salome of thrilling impact, well deserving of the cheers that greeted the last note. Mr. Solti remains the conducting idol of New York.”

Nilsson would appear with the Orchestra once more, on a run-out concert to Michigan State University for the gala opening and dedication of the Wharton Center for Performing Arts on September 25, 1982. She performed excerpts from Wagner’s operas, including “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser and Isolde’s narrative from act 1 and the Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde. Reynald Giovaninetti conducted.

This article also appears here.

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