We have lost a great one. 

Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester passed away last week in Toronto at the age of 79. Beautifully written tributes have been published in the Montreal Gazette and in The New York Times.

Forrester made quite an impression here in Chicago. At the age of twenty-seven, she made her debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as a soloist in Mozart’s Requiem on March 13 and 14, 1958. Those now historic concerts also included the subscription concert debut of Margaret Hillis‘s newly formed Chicago Symphony Chorus and would also be the final Chicago appearances of beloved guest conductor Bruno Walter.

Her biography from that first program could not have been more modest: “Miss Forrester is a Canadian singer who made her New York recital debut in November 1956; in February, 1957, she appeared with the New York Philharmonic with Bruno Walter. She recently returned from her third European tour.”

Even though Mozart’s Requiem is hardly a showcase for the alto soloist, Forrester’s performance certainly attracted Claudia Cassidy’s attention in her review for the Chicago Tribune: “stately Maureen Forrester of the contralto so big, warm and gentle it makes you feel rested just to listen . . . [part of] a wonderful Mozart quartet.”

Forrester’s second appearances in Chicago were on November 5 and 6, 1959, when she performed what was to become one of her signature works, Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with Welsh tenor Richard Lewis and conducted by music director Fritz Reiner. The recording, made on November 7 and 10, has never gone out of print.

Forrester would go on to appear with the CSO on numerous occasions, both at Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, in a wide variety of repertoire: Pablo Casals’s El pessebre (conducted by the composer); Beethoven’s Ninth, Bach’s Saint John Passion, Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer and Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody (Jean Martinon); Verdi’s Requiem and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (William Steinberg); Mahler’s Third (James Levine and Edo de Waart); Dvořák’s Stabat mater (Rafael Kubelík); and her final performance in Chicago in Mahler’s Second in 1988 (Zubin Mehta).
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One more thing. In 1995, we released the tenth volume of our From the Archives series of recordings (a limited release, featuring works that had been broadcast but not previously commercially released). The name of the set was Great Soloists and included performances with the CSO by Emanuel Feuermann, Zino Francescatti, Håkan Hagegård, Leonid Kogan, Byron Janis, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Andrés Segovia, and Maureen Forrester’s 1968 performance of Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer with Jean Martinon conducting.

Since the recording was produced to be a fundraiser premium, all participants — orchestra members, soloists, publishers, etc. — were asked to donate their services. Of course, we offered each artist a couple of complimentary copies of the finished product. Forrester agreed for her performance to be included and had only one request: that we send a copy of the recording to each of her five grandchildren.

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