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Wishing a very happy ninetieth birthday to the wonderful mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig!

Christa Ludwig in 1967 as Fricka in Wagner’s Die Walküre (Metropolitan Opera photo)

Ludwig has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on numerous occasions, at Orchestra Hall, the Ravinia Festival, and Carnegie Hall, as follows (concerts at Orchestra Hall, unless otherwise noted):

February 20, 21, and 25, 1958
MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano
Richard Lewis, tenor

October 26 and 27, 1967
MAHLER Songs from Des knaben Wunderhorn
Alfred Wallenstein, conductor
Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano

July 7, 1970 (Ravinia Festival)
MAHLER Kindertotenlieder
István Kertész, conductor
Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano

April 24, 25, and 26, 1980
May 2 and 3, 1980 (Carnegie Hall)
MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Isobel Buchanan, soprano
Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

Christa Ludwig in 2014 (Ernst Kainerstorfer photo)

April 25, 26, and 27, 1985
April 29, 1985 (Carnegie Hall)
VERDI Falstaff
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Guillermo Sarabia, baritone
Wolfgang Brendel, baritone
Yordi Ramiro, tenor
Heinz Zednik, tenor
Francis Egerton, tenor
Aage Haugland, bass
Katia Ricciarelli, soprano
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano
Ann Murray, mezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 5, 1991 (Ravinia Festival)
MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde
James Levine, conductor
Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano
Gary Lakes, tenor

Happy, happy birthday!


Theodore Thomas, founder and first music director of the Chicago Orchestra, insisted that his young ensemble also needed its own chorus in order to perform important works in the repertoire. He enjoyed frequent collaboration with local choruses but desired an ensemble specifically dedicated to the Orchestra.

Arthur Mees

At Thomas’s insistence, the board of trustees of The Orchestral Association voted on July 3, 1896, to proceed with the organization of a chorus with the hope that Arthur Mees* would agree to serve as the Orchestra’s first associate conductor and chorus director, as well as program annotator. Mees previously had worked with Theodore Thomas in training the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus and also was assistant to Thomas at the American Opera Company.

Mees agreed and began to audition singers on September 8, 1896, but interest was much less than expected. According to Philo Adams Otis (a member of the board and the author of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Its Organization, Growth, and Development 1891–1924), the timing was off—it was just before the presidential election and Chicago was “aflame with excitement over the rival parties—[William J.] Bryan and ‘Free Silver!’ [William] McKinley and ‘Protection!’—but it was not a favorable time to talk of symphony concerts and chorus rehearsals.”

Roster for the Chorus of the Association’s official debut on December 18 and 19, 1896

Despite the sparse turnout, the Chorus of the Association began rehearsals on October 5, with ninety-five singers. Membership gradually increased, and the Chorus made its informal debut on the second concert of the season on October 31, leading the audience in The Star-Spangled Banner in “recognition of the presidential election, then near at hand.”

According to Thomas’s Memoirs (edited by Rose Fay, Thomas’s second wife), the Banner was performed as an encore, following Massenet’s “quiet and almost ethereal” suite, Les Érinnyes, using a “device [Thomas] had employed at the opening ceremonies of the World’s Fair. His new chorus were seated in the front rows of the parquet, to lead the singing of the audience, and a drum corps was placed on the stage behind the orchestra. As the last strains of the Massenet suite were still vibrating on the strings, the drums began a double roll so softly that it was barely audible. Louder, louder, and still louder it rose, till every heart began to beat wildly with excitement, wondering what was coming next. At last the moment of climax was reached, and then Thomas turned toward the audience, motioned to them to rise and sing, and, with the full power of the orchestra, the great organ, the chorus, and the [four] thousand people of the audience, all joining together in one stupendous maelstrom of sound, The Star-Spangled Banner was given such a performance as is not often heard. Many people were in tears before it was over, and when Thomas held aloft both hands to sustain through the full measure its final glorious chord, the singing was merged in a great shout—cheer on cheer echoing through the hall.”

December 18 and 19, 1896

The ranks soon increased to 125, in time for the Chorus’s formal debut in the Choral Fantasy and the chorus from The Ruins of Athens on an all-Beethoven program on December 18 and 19, 1896.

The Chorus would appear three more times during the Orchestra’s sixth season (1896–97)—in Grieg’s Olaf Trygvason, Nicolai’s Festival Overture on Ein’ feste burg, and selections from Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser, and Parsifal—and then on five occasions during the following season—the chorale and chorus from Bach’s Reformation Cantata (no. 80), Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Brahms’s A German Requiem, and Mendelssohn’s 114th Psalm and selections from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

After William L. Tomlins, who had led the Apollo Chorus since 1875, announced his resignation in 1898, there was some discussion (according to newspaper accounts) regarding merging the Chorus of the Association with the Apollo. The accounts also mention the possibility of Mees serving as the director of the new ensemble.

A merger did not occur, and the Chorus of the Association was disbanded in the fall of 1898, most probably as a result of the Orchestra’s deficit following its seventh season and the departure of Arthur Mees, who returned to New York. The next year, Thomas appointed the Orchestra’s twenty-seven-year-old assistant principal viola—Frederick Stock—to also serve as his next assistant conductor.

*Arthur Mees (1850–1923) and Theodore Thomas likely first worked together during the inaugural Cincinnati May Festival in 1873, and Mees would serve the festival in a variety of capacities—including organist, chorus master, and assistant director—until 1898. He also was the program annotator for the New York Philharmonic Society from 1887 until 1896. After Mees returned to New York in 1898, he conducted the Mendelssohn Glee Club (1898–1904) and, in 1913, the Bridgeport Oratorio Society. His New York Times obituary concluded with, “He was a thorough musician and a constant friend to students. As a writer he had a gift of clear analysis and expression. His loss is a grievous one, not only to his friends, but to American music.”

Portions of this article previously appeared in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s program book in November 1997.

Fritz Reiner (Oscar Chicago photo)

One of Fritz Reiner’s primary goals, early in his tenure as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s sixth music director, was to program major choral works. However, the repertory he wished to perform was, in his opinion, too demanding for the amateur and student groups usually engaged.

While visiting New York in February 1954, Reiner observed a rehearsal of the New York Concert Choir, under the direction of its founder, Margaret Hillis. He was so impressed that on his return to Chicago, Reiner convinced the board of trustees to hire Hillis and her ensemble for performances the following season of Barber’s recently composed Prayers of Kirkegaard and Orff’s Carmina burana, both new to the Orchestra’s repertoire. (For performances of Beethoven’s “less demanding” Ninth Symphony, the local Swedish Choral Club was engaged.)

Margaret Hillis

Hillis and the New York Concert Choir first traveled to Chicago in March 1955 for three performances of the works by Barber and Orff. Roger Dettmer, writing for the American, exclaimed, “it was Miss Hillis’s magnificent choir of sixty which matched most closely the Orchestra’s astonishing virtuosity by giving Dr. Reiner the fullest measure of choral artistry.” In the Daily News, Irving Sablosky added, “We’re not used to hearing choral singing of such refinement and nuance in symphony concerts. I hope we’ll hear more.”

Despite scheduling challenges, Reiner reengaged Hillis the following season for Mozart’s Mass in C minor and Bruckner’s Te Deum in January 1956. Dettmer wrote that the Orchestra and “Margaret Hillis’s magnificent [choir], easily the finest professional chorus in this country today, [performed] with uncommon brilliance, and maestro himself was in supremely spirited command.”

For the 1957–58 season, Reiner hoped to perform and record Verdi’s Requiem, and again he contacted Hillis. The New York Concert Choir averaged only sixty voices, and she informed Reiner they would need nearly double that in order to do justice to the Verdi. It would simply be too expensive.

This impasse gave Reiner an idea. He persuaded board president Eric Oldberg to hire Hillis to organize a chorus permanently affiliated with the Orchestra in Chicago. She initially agreed to advise on how to audition a director and choristers, but Reiner insisted there would be no chorus unless Hillis herself was the director. At the trustees meeting on September 20, 1957, Oldberg reported on successful negotiations and the plan to hire Hillis was approved.

Chicago Tribune, September 22, 1957

“As choral literature takes on increasing importance in the orchestral sphere, the Chicago Symphony is making its move to institutionalize the trend,” wrote Seymour Raven in the Chicago Tribune on September 22. “From Orchestra Hall comes word that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus is to be a new factor in the city’s musical life.”

Auditions began on October 5, and in less than two weeks the Sun-Times reported that they had “produced an exceptionally high rate of successful applicants. . . . Skill in sight-reading, interpretative ability, and voice quality were the main prerequisites for success. Voices with a tremolo or breathless quality were automatically rejected.” On October 13, the Daily News advertised that auditions were continuing: “Men’s voices are still urgently needed.”

Chicago Tribune, December 1, 1957

The Chicago Symphony Chorus, nearly one hundred voices strong, began rehearsals on October 28, and on November 30, the ensemble made an informal debut at a private concert for guarantors and sustaining members. On the first half of the concert, Reiner led Cailliet’s orchestration of Bach’s Little G minor fugue and Strauss’s Oboe Concerto (with principal Ray Still), and after intermission, Hillis took the podium, becoming the first woman to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She led the Orchestra and Chorus in Thompson’s Alleluia and Billings’s Modern Music (both a cappella), the final section of Purcell’s Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day, and the Servants’ Chorus from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. Dettmer reported in the American that the debut was “more than promising . . . Miss Hillis’s choristers were fresh-voiced, musically sensitive, already balanced internally . . . she has accomplished much in the briefest time span.”

When popular guest conductor Bruno Walter informed the Orchestral Association that his March 1958 appearances would be his last in Chicago, Oldberg insisted that he should lead Mozart’s Requiem with the new chorus as his swansong. To prepare for both sets of concerts, Hillis and the Chorus began their work in earnest on Mozart’s and Verdi’s requiems, with Reiner regularly attending rehearsals.

Chicago Tribune, March 14, 1958

On March 13 and 14, 1958, the Chicago Symphony Chorus made its official debut in Mozart’s Requiem, under Walter’s baton with soloists Maria Stader, Maureen Forrester, David Lloyd, and Otto Edelmann. In the Chicago Tribune, Claudia Cassidy wrote: “The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is in high estate, with the kind of clairvoyance that gives a conductor what he wants in sound. . . . The evening’s card up the Mozartean sleeve was the new Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus of about 100 voices, expertly chosen and admirably trained by Margaret Hillis. It had balance and hints of brilliance, it was adroit in attack and it had moments of reassuringly imaginative song. The Confutatis in particular caught the haunted terror that was Mozart’s when the mysterious commission for the Requiem convinced him that the death knell he wrote was his own.”

Program page for Verdi’s Requiem, performed on April 3 and 4, 1958. It was repeated the following Tuesday, April 8.

Less than a month later, the Chorus appeared in Verdi’s Requiem with Reiner conducting and soloists Leonie Rysanek, Regina Resnik, David Lloyd, and Giorgio Tozzi. In the Sun-Times, Robert C. Marsh wrote that “Miss Hillis’s chorus proved its virtues earlier this season. Again its excellent enunciation, reliable intonation, and intelligent response were praiseworthy.”*

The following season, at Reiner’s invitation, Hillis conducted the Orchestra and Chorus in Honegger’s Christmas Cantata in December 1958. In the Daily News, Donal Henahan wrote, “Miss Hillis, who has been until now unknown except by name to most symphony subscribers, ruled her vast forces with a firm beat and a sure hand.” And the critic in the American noted, “With a clear (if inflexible) beat, Miss Hillis marshalled her forces, choral and orchestra, in a tight, sensitive, sweet-sounding statement of the music. . . . All in all, a glorious Christmas program.”

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus onstage in March 1959. Also pictured is chorus director Margaret Hillis, music director Fritz Reiner, and associate conductor Walter Hendl (Oscar Chicago photo).

Later that season in March 1959, Reiner led Prokofiev’s cantata Alexander Nevsky. “The climactic ‘Battle on the Ice’ was approached with expansive calm and deliberation. . . . A conductor who tries to pile climax after climax into this work can never achieve the hair-raising thrust that Reiner drew from Margaret Hillis’s Chicago Symphony Chorus at such a moment,” observed Henahan in the Daily News. The Chorus “produced a pleasing sound in all voices and a more homogeneous tone than at any time since Miss Hillis began her missionary work in Chicago.” On March 7, Reiner, the Orchestra, and Chorus committed their performance to disc for RCA, collaborating for the first time in recording sessions.

The Chorus’s first recording with the Orchestra: Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, released by RCA in May 1960

Margaret Hillis directed the Chicago Symphony Chorus for thirty-seven years, preparing and leading concerts—in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, as well as on tour to Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Albert Hall, and Salzburg’s Grosses Festspielhaus—and amassing an award-winning discography. Following her death in February 1998, the Rosenthal Archives received her collection of papers, photographs, over 1,000 scores bearing her markings, awards (including nine Grammy statuettes), recordings, and memorabilia. Representing an exceptional and pioneering career, the collection is regularly accessed by researchers, scholars, and musicians.

In June 1994, following an international search, music director Daniel Barenboim appointed Duain Wolfe to succeed Hillis. Currently in his twenty-fourth season, Wolfe continues in Hillis’s tradition, maintaining the Chorus’s extraordinarily high standards of excellence.

*Due to scheduling conflicts, Reiner was unable to get the soloists—primarily Zinka Milanov and Jussi Björling—he wanted to record Verdi’s Requiem in Chicago. He, along with Leontyne Price, Rosalind Elias, Björling (in his last commercial recording), and Giorgio Tozzi, recorded it in Vienna in June 1960 with the Vienna Singverein and Philharmonic for RCA.

This article also appears in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s March 2018 program book and here.


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!


The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins our friends at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in mourning the passing of beloved Chicago actor John Mahoney. He died in Chicago on February 4, at the age of 77.

John Mahoney in rehearsal at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 2008 (Chris Walker photo for the Chicago Tribune)

John Mahoney appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on three occasions, once at the Ravinia Festival and twice in Orchestra Hall, as follows:

July 14, 2001 (Ravinia Festival)
MENDELSSOHN A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Sir Andrew Davis, conductor
John de Lancie, Narrator/Puck and director
John Mahoney, Bottom
Janet Zarish, Titania
Timothy Gregory, Oberon
Stacey Tappan, soprano
Lauren McNeese, mezzo-soprano
Chicago Children’s Choir
Josephine Lee, director

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Wynne Delacoma set the stage. “It was a dream of a midsummer’s night at the Ravinia Festival Saturday, the kind of warm, clear evening just made for picnicking and listening to music outdoors. The music offered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Andrew Davis provided a perfect match. After intermission, the pavilion light dimmed and sprites with glowing wands flitted through the night as the orchestra, singers and actors including John Mahoney . . . as the bumptious Bottom [he was] an endearing monster.”

April 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21, 2002 (Orchestra Hall)
STRAVINSKY The Soldier’s Tale
William Eddins, conductor
Pinchas Zukerman, violin
John Mahoney, Narrator
Paul Adelstein, Soldier
Hollis Resnik, Devil
Tina Cannon, dancer
John Bruce Yeh, clarinet
David McGill, bassoon
Craig Morris, trumpet
Jay Friedman, trombone
Joseph Guastafeste, bass
Edward Atkatz, percussion
Peter Amster, director and choreographer
Rafael Viñoly, stage designer

“Seizing the opportunity to do something different, the CSO teamed with Steppenwolf Theatre to stage The Soldier’s Tale, which Stravinsky wrote in 1918 as a theater piece,” wrote Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times. “Mahoney was the dispassionate Narrator and Hollis Resnik a fashionable Devil in a generally lively staging by Peter Amster. Zukerman and six CSO musicians, conducted by William Eddins, perched on a tall, black platform centerstage, while Mahoney, Resnik, Paul Adelstein as the Soldier and dancer Tina Cannon spilled around the set of raised platforms and a few props devised by Rafael Viñoly. . . . Amster and his colleagues created a compelling drama. . . . Relaxed, making no judgments as he chronicled the Soldier’s victories and defeats, [Mahoney] was a sympathetic guide to Stravinsky’s morality tale.”

November 17, 18, 20, and 23, 2004 (Orchestra Hall)
Mikko Franck, conductor
John Mahoney, narrator
Erin Wall, soprano

Again, Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times described the event. “Mahoney returned to Symphony Center Thursday night to narrate a rare performance of Beethoven’s complete incidental music to Goethe’s Egmont. Goethe’s play about a former loyalist fighting Spanish colonialism in the 16th century Netherlands was quickly forgotten, but Beethoven’s Egmont Overture has long been a concert hall staple. It was fascinating to hear it in its complete context, especially with the young Finnish conductor Mikko Franck honing in on the music’s noble bearing and expansive reach. . . . In the minimal staging devised by director Sheldon Patinkin, [Mahoney] managed to turn the obscure Egmont into a flesh-and-blood presence. With his straightforward delivery and Beethoven’s evocative music reinforcing each scene, he brought us glimpses of a brave soldier and king’s loyal administrator destroyed by political intrigue and despotism. The thirst for liberty is a recurring motif in Beethoven’s life and much of his music. Hearing the entire Egmont, the movie music of its day, was a reminder of how strongly Beethoven believed in that ideal.”

Numerous tribute have been posted online, including the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, The New York Timesand CNN, among others.



Alan Stout in 1971

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family notes with sorrow the passing of Alan Stout, composer and longtime composition and theory professor at Northwestern University. Stout died yesterday, February 1, 2018, at the age of 85.

Stout’s music was first performed by the Orchestra on two concerts given at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium on May 29 and 31, 1967, when Esther Glazer was soloist in Movements for Violin and Orchestra with Henry Lewis conducting. Soon thereafter, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presented four world premieres by Stout, under the batons of Seiji Ozawa, Sir Georg Solti, and Margaret Hillis, at the Ravinia Festival and in Orchestra Hall.

On August 4, 1968, Ozawa led the world premiere of Stout’s Symphony no. 2 at Ravinia. The work was commissioned by the Ravinia Festival Association through a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, and the performance was made possible by a Composer Assistance Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

World premiere of Stout’s Second Symphony at the Ravinia Festival on August 4, 1968

The symphony was “vivid [and] multi-dimensional . . . a collection of musical rituals,” according to Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “The work is a marvelous tapestry of textures, combining a superior craftsmanship, a remarkable ear, and encyclopedic knowledge of the inventions of his colleagues, [including] Messiaen, Penderecki, Elliott Carter, and Pierre Boulez . . .”

The composer’s Symphony no. 4 was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its eightieth season and dedicated to Georg Solti, who led the world premiere performances on April 15, 16, and 17, 1971. The score calls for a small chorus, and members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus were prepared by assistant director Ronald Schweitzer.

The following year, Solti also led the world premiere of Stout’s George Lieder (Poems from Das neue Reich) on December 14, 15, and 16, 1972, with baritone Benjamin Luxon as soloist.

Composer and conductor review the score of the George Lieder in December 1972 (Terry’s photo)

Stout’s large-scale Passion for Soloists, Chorus, and Orchestra was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with assistance from the National Endowment for the Arts and was dedicated to Margaret Hillis and the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Hillis led the world premiere performances on April 15, 16, and 17, 1976. Soloists included Mary Sauer on organ, Elizabeth Buccheri on piano, along with soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson, tenors Frank Little and John McCollum, baritones Leslie Guinn and LeRoy Lehr, and bass Monroe Olson.

The premiere of Stout’s Passion, on which the composer worked for over twenty years, was a “monumental undertaking [and] provided the most difficult music the Chorus has undertaken since Fritz Reiner brought Margaret Hillis here in 1957 to found the now internationally known ensemble,” wrote Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “Stout fashions his church Latin text into curtains and tapestries of sound. Like a sonic aurora borealis, they expand and contract as needed, supplying intimate but still objective commentary on an emotional-laden event, creating towering climaxing as the peak points of the action, or providing canopies of tightly woven, often contrapuntal sheets of sound against which other portions of the action can take place.”

Detail from the first section of Stout’s Passion, with markings by Margaret Hillis



Title page for the first printed edition of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra

Guest conductor George Szell led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra on December 2 and 3, 1948, almost exactly four years following the work’s premiere on December 1, 1944, with Serge Koussevitzky leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In the Chicago Daily News, Clarence Joseph Bulliet called the work, “violent and awesome in its contrasts, sometimes as stormy as the most sensational of modern music. Then it calmed down to rival in delicacy the classicism of Haydn and Beethoven between which it was programmed at Orchestra Hall Thursday night.” (Haydn’s Oxford Symphony opened the concert, followed by the Bartók and Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto, that featured the debut of Seymour Lipkin.) Felix Borowski, writing for the Chicago Sun, added, that Bartók’s Concerto was, “of more than ordinary worth . . . Modern, indeed it is, but there are ideas—often very beautiful ideas—in the course of it. The orchestration is rich and colorful, frequently with new and beguiling textures.”

Early in his tenure as sixth music director, Fritz Reiner first led the Orchestra in his friend and countryman’s work on October 13 and 15, 1955. “This wonderful score, a network of nerves spun and controlled by the most brilliant of nervous energies, was played as only great orchestras can play,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “It is a superb work and a Reiner triumph.”

The following week, Reiner and the Orchestra committed their performance to disc on October 22; for RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton the recording engineer. In February 2016, Gramophone listed this release as one of the “finest recordings of Bartók’s music,” noting the “sheer fervour of Reiner’s direction . . . taut and agile . . . [his] precision and control is immediately apparent.”

The Orchestra has since recorded the work on five additional occasions, as follows:

During his year as principal conductor of the Ravinia Festival, Seiji Ozawa recorded the work in Orchestra Hall on June 30 and July 1, 1969, for AngelPeter Andry was the executive producer, Richard C. Jones the producer, and Carson Taylor was the recording engineer. Eighth music director Sir Georg Solti conducted the Concerto for London on January 19 and 20, 1981, in Orchestra Hall. James Mallinson was the producer and James Lock the balance engineer.

James Levine, Ravinia’s second music director, led sessions in Orchestra Hall on June 28, 1989, for Deutsche Grammophon. Steven Paul was executive producer, Christopher Alder the recording producer, and Gregor Zielinsky was balance engineer. During the 1990 tour to the Soviet Union, Hungary, and Austria, Solti conducted the Orchestra in an all-Bartók program, video recorded at the Budapest Convention Centre on November 28, 1990, for London. Humphrey Burton directed the production, and Katya Krausova was producer, Eric Abraham the executive producer, and Michael Haas the audio producer.

Most recently, Pierre Boulez recorded the work in Orchestra Hall on November 30, 1992, for Deutsche Grammophon. Roger Wright was the executive producer, Karl-August Naegler the recording producer, Rainer Maillard the balance engineer, and Jobst Eberhardt and Reinhild Schmidt were recording engineers. The release won 1994 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Orchestral Performance.

Guest conductor Rafael Payare makes his subscription concert debut leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra on January 18 and 20, 2018.


The advance notice for the November 9, 1891, performance of Lohengrin included the names of producers, principal singers, conductor, and stage manager, but not the accompanying orchestra.

Following the third subscription week of its first season, the Chicago Orchestra (as we were then known) was in the pit of the Auditorium Theatre for performances by the Metropolitan Opera Company from November 9 until December 12, 1891, including three run-out performances at the Amphitheatre Auditorium in Louisville, Kentucky on December 7 and 8.

The first opera given was Wagner’s Lohengrin—sung in Italian—led by Auguste Vianesi, the Orchestra’s first guest conductor. That performance featured no less than five singers making their U.S. debuts: soprano Emma Eames, mezzo-soprano Giulia Ravogli, baritone Antonio Magini- Coletti, and tenor and bass brothers Jean and Édouard de Reszke.

On November 10, 1891, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that even though several patrons were late in arriving due to “the fact that carriages approached in single file and the process of unloading was rather slow . . . [they] failed to dismay Sig. Vianesi, who began his calisthenic exercise with the baton promptly at eight. Eighty-five musicians of the Chicago Orchestra played the graceful Lohengrin prelude in a style which in the show-bill style was ‘alone worth the price of admission.’”

Wood engraved print by Fred Pegram of Jean and Edouard de Reszke—as Lohengrin and Heinrich—from The Illustrated London News in 1891

In the title role, Jean de Reszke “has the dignity and aplomb of an artist to the manner born and the glittering armor of the Knight of the Grail becomes him well. . . . [He] is an artist to the tips of his mailed boots and gloves. He has immense personal magnetism, and when he casually conveyed to Elsa the information, ‘Io t’amo,’ there was a responsive thrill under many a pretty corsage bouquet.”

On November 14, The New York Times reported from Chicago. “It was though reason for not a little regret both in New York and this city when it was announced that the management of the Metropolitan Opera House, which in a measure seems to control the operatic destiny of the country, had decided to discontinue German opera this year and to substitute therefore Italian opera. By selecting Lohengrin as the opera with which to open the present season, Messrs. Abbey and Grau made a praiseworthy compromise. All fears that the season would be composed of a series of repetitious of hackneyed Italian operas were thus allayed. It is too early to pass any judgment, but, according to the indications to be found in this week’s performances, it is almost safe to assume that in many respects this year will witness some of the most brilliant performances of grand opera ever given in this country.”

Regarding Édouard de Reszke as Heinrich, the Times continued, that he was “endowed with a voice which for power and quality, richness and warmth, range and volume, has seldom been equaled. He displayed the highest art in the use of it. His acting also was artistic, and dignified, and his impersonation was in every respect a regal one.” As Ortrud, Giulia Ravogli, “displayed histrionic ability of an exceptionally high order and a mezzo-soprano voice of extensive compass and considerable power.”

Additional singers who appeared during the residency were among the most famous of the day, including sopranos Emma Albani, Lilli Lehmann, and Marie Van Zandt; mezzo-soprano Sofia Scalchi; tenor Fernando Valero; baritones Edoardo Camera and Jean Martapoura; and bass Jules Vinché. A staggering number of operas were performed, including 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; and Verdi’s Aida, Otello, and Rigoletto.

The final offering of the residency on December 12 was a fourth performance of Lohengrin, and changes in the cast included Valero in the title role, Albani as Elsa, and Vinché as Heinrich; Louis Saar conducted. Two days later on December 14, the company was back in New York for the Metropolitan Opera’s season opening: Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet featuring Eames and the de Reske brothers with Vianesi on the podium.

After a two run-out performances on December 15 (at the Odeon in Cincinnati) and 16 (in Indianapolis), founder and first music director Theodore Thomas and his Chicago Orchestra resumed the regular season with the fourth subscription week at the Auditorium on December 18.

An abbreviated version of this article appears in the program book for the December 14, 15, 16, and 19, 2017, CSO concerts led by Jaap van Zweden. Special thanks to our colleagues at the Metropolitan Opera and their performance history database.


Wishing a very happy birthday to our friends at the New York Philharmonic, as today they celebrate the 175th anniversary of their very first concert, given on December 7, 1842!

March 24, 1912

It would be nearly seventy years before the Philharmonic made their debut in Chicago, on March 24, 1912, in Orchestra Hall. That concert was led by their new music director Josef Stránský (who had succeeded Gustav Mahler the year before) and the program was as follows:

WEBER Overture to Der Freischütz
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Jan Kubelík, violin
LISZT Tasso, Symphonic Poem No. 2
SAINT SAËNS Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Op. 28
Jan Kubelík, violin
DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 (From the New World)

An image of the program—courtesy of the New York Philharmonic’s Leon Levy Digital Archives—can be found here.

“Interest in the New York Philharmonic Society’s first Chicago concert was so great that Orchestra Hall was sold out yesterday afternoon [with patrons] curious to hear America’s oldest orchestra . . .” wrote Glenn Dillard Gunn in the Chicago Daily Tribune. “Conductor Stránský is a man of force and originality, as his interpretations of the Freischütz Overture, Liszt’s symphonic poem Tasso, and The New World Symphony of Dvořák abundantly demonstrated. . . . It was in the scherzo and finale of the symphony, however, that he achieved his most impressive results. He brought to light a wealth of contrapuntal interest not discovered by other interpreters of the symphony, yet supported them with an unfailing clarity and grace in the presentation of the dominant melodic line and with qualities of rhythmical life and accent . . .”

Regarding the violin soloist Jan Kubelík (and father of future Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Rafael), Gunn added, “the Bohemian violinist played with his wonted certainty and purity of tone and intonation and with something more than his usual measure of conviction.”

This past February, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra helped both the Vienna and New York philharmonics launch the celebration of their joint 175th anniversaries by loaning the manuscript score of Richard Strauss’s Symphony no. 2 in F minor (from the Theodore Thomas Collection in the Rosenthal Archives) for an exhibit. Details of that collaboration are here and here, and a virtual tour of the exhibit is here.

Happy, happy birthday!


Fred Spector with his 1733 Bergonzi violin (J.B. Spector photo)

For more than fifty years, Fred Spector—a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s violin section from 1956 until 2003—was the proud owner of a Carlo Bergonzi violin that dates from 1733. Bergonzi, of course, is widely considered to be the greatest pupil of the most significant maker of string instruments, Antonio Stradivari. Spector passed away earlier this year at the age of 92, and this past weekend’s concerts were dedicated to his memory.

Those concerts featured John Storgårds in his Chicago Symphony debut, leading the Orchestra in the Suite no. 1 from Grieg’s Peer Gynt, Sibelius’s Symphony no. 1, and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham, a longtime friend of Fred Spector.

Gil Shaham plays Spector’s Bergonzi on November 29 (Ari Spector photo)

A few weeks ago, the Spector family offered Shaham the opportunity to play the Bergonzi while he was in town. He arrived in Chicago early on Wednesday, November 29, in time for his first run-through of Mendelssohn’s concerto with Storgårds and the Orchestra, and just as the rehearsal ended, Fred’s widow Estelle and their son Ari arrived at Symphony Center with the violin in tow. We met Shaham backstage and introduced him to the Bergonzi.

“It’s wonderful, marvelous,” remarked Shaham after playing a little of the Mendelssohn followed by a taste of Korngold’s concerto. “It’s a privilege and so very special to play on this beautiful instrument.” He then switched to his Stradivarius, the Countess Polignac from 1699 (that he’s been playing since he was eighteen), and then went back to the Bergonzi for a section of one of Bach’s partitas. Needless to say, it was remarkable to hear the two instruments—played by a musician of Shaham’s caliber—back-to-back and up close.

Estelle Spector and Shaham during intermission on Sunday, December 3 (Frank Villella photo)

For the Sunday December 3 matinee, several of Spector’s family members were in attendance, including Estelle, their children—Lea, Mia, J.B., Julie, and Ari—grandchildren, former CSO members, and several friends. Following a spectacular performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, Shaham returned to the stage but holding a different violin. After thanking the audience, he said, “Today is a very special day. This is a beautiful Bergonzi violin, that belonged to Fred Spector, a member of this Orchestra for nearly fifty years. And on it I would like to play for you a brief encore in his memory.” Shaham then performed the Gavotte en rondeau from Bach’s Violin Partita no. 3 in E major, BWV 1006.

During the intermission, Estelle graciously thanked Shaham for his generosity and kindness. “What a wonderful tribute to Fred, the Bergonzi, and the Orchestra. Thank you so much.”

A beautiful gesture from one extraordinary musician—and instrument—to another.


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CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti leads the Civic Orchestra of Chicago—the prestigious training ensemble of emerging professional musicians affiliated with the CSO—in an open rehearsal of Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 (Linz) at Symphony Center. 📷 @toddrphoto Our friends in the Chicago western suburbs always welcome us so warmly for our performances at Edman Memorial Chapel @wheatoncollegeil, and tonight was no exception. Riccardo Muti and the CSO performed a delightful program of Haydn and Mozart symphonies, as well as Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante featuring Concertmaster Robert Chen on violin and Paul Neubauer on viola. We look forward to being back here next season. 📷 @toddrphoto An emotionally riveting evening of Haydn and Mozart conducted by @riccardomutimusic featuring Robert Chen on Violin and Paul Neubauer on Viola. 📷: @toddrphoto #chicagosymphony


The opinions expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.


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