At the invitation of music director Sir Georg Solti, John Corigliano became the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first composer-in-residence in 1987, and his Symphony no. 1 was jointly commissioned for the Orchestra’s centennial by the Chicago Symphony and the Meet-the-Composer Orchestra Residencies Program.
“During the past decade I have lost many friends and colleagues to the AIDS epidemic, and the cumulative effect of those losses has, naturally, deeply affected me. My First Symphony was generated by feelings of loss, anger, and frustration,” wrote Corigliano in the program note for the premiere. “A few years ago, I was extremely moved when I first saw ‘The Quilt,’ an ambitious interweaving of several thousand fabric panels, each memorializing a person who had died of AIDS, and, most importantly, each designed and constructed by his or her loved ones. This made me want to memorialize in music those I have lost, and reflect on those I am losing.”
Music director designate Daniel Barenboim conducted the world premiere of the symphony on March 15, 1990, with soloists principal cello John Sharp and, offstage, pianist Stephen Hough. The live recording—Barenboim and the Orchestra’s first on the Erato label—won two 1991 Grammy awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Contemporary Composition.
Corigliano served the Orchestra as composer-in-residence until 1990, and he was succeeded by Shulamit Ran (1990–1997), Augusta Read Thomas (1997–2006), Osvaldo Golijov and Mark-Anthony Turnage (2006–2010), Mason Bates and Anna Clyne (2010–2015), and Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek beginning in 2015. In January 2002, CSO trustee Cynthia Sargent and her sister, governing member Sally Hands, endowed the position, and Augusta Read Thomas became the Orchestra’s first Mead Composer-in-Residence.
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