Wishing a very happy eightieth birthday to John Corigliano!

The recipient of numerous honors—including a Pulitzer Prize, an Academy Award, the Grawemeyer Award, and multiple Grammy awards—Corigliano served as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first composer-in-residence from 1987 until 1990.

The Orchestra first performed Corigliano’s Concerto for Piano in February 1969, with Sheldon Shkolnik as soloist and acting music director Irwin Hoffman on the podium. Under the baton of Sir Georg Solti, the Orchestra performed the Concerto for Clarinet with Larry Combs, as well as the Tournaments Overture on concerts in Orchestra Hall and during the 1985 tour to Europe, performing the work in Hamburg, Madrid, Paris, and London.

On March 15, 1990, music director designate Daniel Barenboim led the world premiere of Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1, 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.”

The live recording—Barenboim and the Orchestra’s first on the Erato label—featured principal cello John Sharp and, offstage, pianist Stephen Hough. The recording was recognized with two 1991 Grammy awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Contemporary Composition. Barenboim programmed the symphony again in 1992, also taking it on tour to Carnegie Hall, Madrid, and London.

Corigliano’s First Symphony also has been performed at the Ravinia Festival under the batons of Christoph Eschenbach in 1996 and Marin Alsop in 2003; Eschenbach also led performances in Orchestra Hall in 1998.

With the Orchestra, Neeme Järvi conducted the Pied Piper Fantasy with Sir James Galway; Eschenbach led The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra with Joshua BellWilliam Eddins conducted Phantasmagoria on The Ghosts of Versailles; and Leonard Slatkin has led Three Hallucinations, Fantasia on an Ostinato, and The Mannheim Rocket.

To celebrate Sir Georg Solti’s seventy-fifth birthday in 1987, associate conductor Kenneth Jean led the Orchestra in the world premiere of Corigliano’s Campane di RavelloWritten while on vacation in Ravello, Italy, the composer remarked, “On Sundays, the multitude of churches in Ravello and the surrounding towns play their bells, each in a different key and rhythm. The cacophony is gorgeous, and uniquely festive. My tribute to Sir Georg attempts to make the sections of the symphony orchestra sound like pealing bells: that tolling, filigreed with birdcalls in the woodwinds, provides the backdrop for a theme that grows more and more familiar as it is clarified. At the end, it is clear and joyous—a tribute to a great man.”

Jean also led the work on the Centennial Gala concert on October 6, 1990, and current music director Riccardo Muti conducted it on September 19, 2015, on the Symphony Ball concert launching the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 125th season.

Corigliano and Stephanie Jeong at the Harris Theater on October 2, 2017 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

MusicNOW, the Orchestra’s contemporary music series, kicked off its twentieth season on October 2, 2017, at the Harris Theater with a concert celebrating past composers-in-residence. Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek honored their predecessors by programming works by Anna Clyne, Osvaldo Golijov, and Mark-Anthony Turnage, along with—in attendance—Mason Bates, Shulamit Ran, Augusta Read Thomas, and Corigliano.

CSO violins Yuan-Qing Yu and Hermine Gagné, viola Danny Lai, and cello Kenneth Olsen performed Corigliano’s A Black November Turkey (in the composer’s string quartet arrangement), and violin Stephenie Jeong soloed in the Red Violin Caprices. The Chicago Classical Review’s Lawrence A. Johnson observed, “Jeong delivered a powerful tour de force performance, sensitively serving the pages of introspective melancholy and throwing off Corigliano’s artful retake on nineteenth-century Paganini-esque fiddle fireworks with blazing virtuosity and panache. It was wonderful to see the veteran composer join the CSO’s young associate concertmaster for a double curtain call.”

And next season, in January 2019, Thomas Hampson will perform the song “One Sweet Morning” from Corigliano’s song cycle One Sweet Morning, commissioned to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks. Bramwell Tovey will conduct.

Happy, happy birthday!

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