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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family remembers one of its iconic musicians, Milton Preves (1909–2000), in honor of the anniversary of his birth on June 18.

Milton Preves in 1934, the year he joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (George Nelidoff)

Born in Cleveland, Preves moved to Chicago as a teenager and attended Senn High School. He was a student of Leon Sametini at Chicago Musical College, Richard Czerwonky at the Bush Conservatory of Music, and Albert Noelte and Ramon Girvin at the Institute of Music and Allied Arts before attending the University of Chicago.

Preves joined the Little Symphony of Chicago in 1930, regularly worked in radio orchestras, and was invited by Mischa Mischakoff (then CSO concertmaster) to join the Mischakoff String Quartet in 1932. Two years later, second music director Frederick Stock appointed Preves to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s viola section, promoting him to assistant principal in 1936 and principal in 1939. He would remain in that post for the next forty-seven years, serving under a total of seven music directors, including Désiré Defauw, Artur Rodzinski, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, and Sir Georg Solti.

Preves performed as a soloist with the Orchestra on dozens of occasions, including the world premieres of David Van Vactor’s Viola Concerto and Ernest Bloch’s Suite hébraïque for Viola and Orchestra, both dedicated to him. Under Reiner, he recorded Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote—along with cellist Antonio Janigro and concertmaster John Weicher—with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for RCA in 1959.

Louis Sudler (Orchestral Association chairman emeritus), Lady Valerie and Sir Georg Solti, and Milton and Rebecca Preves celebrate Preves’s fiftieth anniversary as a member of the CSO in October 1984 (Terry’s Photography)

A lifelong educator, Preves served on the faculties of Roosevelt, Northwestern, and DePaul universities, and he also always taught privately out of his home. An avid conductor, he held titled posts with the North Side Symphony Orchestra of Chicago, Oak Park–River Forest Symphony, Wheaton Summer Symphony, Gary Symphony, and the Gold Coast Chamber Orchestra. As a chamber musician, he performed with the Budapest, Fine Arts, Gordon, and Chicago Symphony string quartets, as well as the Chicago Symphony Chamber Players.

As reported in his obituary in the Chicago Tribune, “It was while directing the Oak Park–River Forest group that he gained an unusual measure of national attention. He briefly became an icon of the fledgling civil rights movement in 1963, when he resigned from the community orchestra because it would not allow a Black violinist he had invited to perform with the group.” (More information can be found here.)

Preves died at the age of ninety on June 11, 2000, following a long illness. Shortly thereafter, his family began donating materials to the Rosenthal Archives, establishing his collection of correspondence, contracts, photographs, scrapbooks, programs, and recordings. Most recently, his children donated additional photographs, mostly portraits of music directors and guest conductors, all autographed and dedicated to Preves. A sample of that collection is below.

In October 1984, on the occasion of Milton Preves’s fiftieth anniversary with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, fellow viola Isadore Zverow (1909–1999) composed this poem to honor his colleague:

It’s no mean feat, without retreat
To hold the forte so long,
To stroke and pluck in cold and heat—
All to produce a song.

Toward music bent, with single intent,
Unyielding dedication,
You of yourself so gladly lent
Your valued perspiration.

You sat and played and marked and bowed
And sometimes e’en reproached
And sometimes we squirmed (just a bit)
We didn’t wanna be coached.

And yet whene’er the chips were down
Throughout these fifty anna,
Your steadfast presence was a crown
Aiming at Nirvana.

This article also appears here.

Willard Elliot in the early 1990s (Jim Steere photo)

For more than thirty years, Willard Elliot (1926-2000) was the foundation of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s wind section. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, he studied piano and clarinet before switching to the bassoon at the age of fourteen, even though he wanted to play the instrument much sooner. According to his widow, Patricia, “He was waiting until he was big enough to play the bassoon.” Elliot earned a bachelor’s degree from North Texas State University, and, at the age of nineteen, he completed a master’s degree in composition from the Eastman School of Music. He spent three years with the Houston Symphony and eleven years as principal bassoon with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, in addition to performing with the Fourth Army Band at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. In 1964, Elliot was hired by seventh music director Jean Martinon as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s principal bassoon.

As a composer, Elliot was co-winner of the 1961 Koussevitzky Foundation Award for his Elegy for Orchestra. Under Seiji Ozawa, he was soloist with the CSO in the world premiere of his Concerto for Bassoon, first performed at the Ravinia Festival on June 27, 1965; and Richard Graef was soloist in The Snake Charmer (Concerto for Alto Flute and Orchestra), first performed on Youth Concerts on January 7, 1976, under the baton of then–associate conductor Henry Mazer. Elliot also composed two symphonies; arrangements of works by Glinka, Granados, Grieg, Mozart, Ravel, Scriabin, and Weber; along with numerous chamber works for a variety of instrument combinations.

During his thirty-three-year tenure, Elliot performed as a soloist under Claudio Abbado, Lawrence Foster, Carlo Maria Giulini, Morton Gould, Antonio Janigro, Martinon, and Sir Georg Solti. On March 19, 1966, he was a soloist—along with his colleagues Clark Brody, Dale Clevenger, Jay Friedman, Adolph Herseth, Donald Koss, Donald Peck, and Ray Still—in recording sessions for Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra for RCA under Martinon’s baton. On February 4, 1984, Elliot recorded Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto with Abbado conducting for Deutsche Grammophon.


As an educator, Elliot taught at the University of North Texas and DePaul and Northwestern universities, and he also coached the Civic Orchestra of Chicago‘s bassoon section. Following his retirement from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1996, Elliot and his wife moved to Fort Worth to teach music at Texas Christian University and give master classes around the country. They also continued their work with Bruyere Music Publishers (founded in 1986), preparing his compositions and arrangements for publication.

“When I joined the CSO in 1992, Willard was nearing the end of a long performing career. I was very aware of being a different generation from Willard, but he was very collegial from the first time we worked together,” commented William Buchman, assistant principal bassoon. “He encouraged me to play with real gusto and engagement. It made me feel like my contributions to the Orchestra’s sound were important.”

“Willard Elliot was a fascinating man and wonderful musician,” according to John Bruce Yeh, assistant principal clarinet. He was “a true renaissance musician: arranger, composer, educator, as well as orchestral bassoonist par excellence.” Elliot and Yeh were both founding members of the Chicago Symphony Winds, and together they toured and recorded Elliot’s transcription of Grieg’s Four Lyric Pieces as well as Mozart’s Serenade in E-flat major, K. 375, both for the Sheffield Lab label.

Willard Elliot in 1970 (Zeloof-Stuart Photography)

“In 1979, I formed Chicago Pro Musica,” Yeh continued, and “Willard and I were pleased to explore a wide range of chamber music with our CSO colleagues and guests.” In 1983, the ensemble recorded Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale along with Elliot’s arrangement of Scriabin’s Waltz in A-flat major for their debut on Reference Recordings. “Willard loved the music of Scriabin and the composer’s exotic harmonies. Those of us in the CSO woodwind section to this day fondly remember some of the inspired little signature harmonic touches Willard would inject into standard repertoire, a small alteration that only those close by would be able to hear during a rehearsal, for example. He would always liven things up that way.” The ensemble won the 1985 Grammy Award for Best New Classical Artist.

“Willard was always an upbeat man with a smile on his face,” remembered Michael Henoch, assistant principal oboe. “He was, of course, a marvelous musician, a consummate master of the bassoon, but he had many other interests including geology, gardening, and researching his family’s genealogy. . . . He had a huge presence in the CSO woodwind section, and I was honored to perform with him. Over the years, I also played many chamber music concerts with him in the Chicago Symphony Chamber Players, Chicago Pro Musica, and the Chicago Chamber Musicians.  We played many of his own compositions and arrangements, all crafted with a high degree of professionalism.”

“I remember being aware that Willard was always so well-prepared and enthusiastic. He had played just about every piece at least once before, and he had a photographic memory of all of his previous performances,” added Buchman. “He also was remarkably organized with his reeds. He had a journal in which he kept notes about every reed he made and used, including what pieces he had used each reed for. . . . He adjusted well to retirement, though, and he kindly bestowed upon me a couple of large boxes of reed cane he had been storing for decades. I still have some of it today!”

Willard Elliot’s Two Sketches for Woodwind Quintet—performed by Jennifer Gunn, Michael Henoch, John Bruce Yeh, William Buchman, and Oto Carrillo—can be heard on CSO Sessions Episode 19, available on CSOtv from May 6 until June 4, 2021.

Elliot also can be heard as part of the continuo in the January 1990 London recording of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, under the baton of Sir Georg Solti and featured on the May 11, 2021, From the CSO’s Archives: The First 130 Years radio broadcast.

Walfrid Kujala in 1997 (William Burlingham photo)

Wishing Walfrid Kujala—a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s flute and piccolo section from 1954 until 2001—a very happy ninety-fifth birthday!

A native of Warren, Ohio, Kujala grew up in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where he started flute lessons when he was in the seventh grade. (His father, a bassoonist, steered him to the flute in order to “save him” from the headaches of reed making.) While attending high school in Huntington, West Virginia, he studied with Parker Taylor, principal flute of the Huntington Symphony Orchestra, and  played second flute with the ensemble from 1939 until 1942.

Kujala attended the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Joseph Mariano, principal flute of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. His college career was interrupted by two and a half years of military service in the U.S. Army, serving in the 86th Infantry Division Band from 1943 until 1946. During his tour of duty in the Philippines, after the end of hostilities, Kujala was briefly a member of the Manila Symphony Orchestra. From Eastman, he received his bachelor of music degree in 1948 and a master’s degree in 1950, and he was a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra under Erich Leinsdorf from 1948 until 1954. Kujala also served on Eastman’s faculty from 1950 until 1954.

In 1954, sixth music director Fritz Reiner hired Kujala as assistant principal flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and in 1957, he became principal piccolo, serving in that capacity until 2001. He also performed as principal flute of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra from 1955 until 1960.

As a soloist, Kujala has appeared under Reiner, Sir Georg Solti, Seiji Ozawa, Antonio Janigro, and Lawrence Foster. He also has soloed at the Stratford and Victoria Festivals in Canada, as well as recitals, chamber music concerts, and master classes across the United States.

Kujala, Gunther Schuller, and Sir Georg Solti following the world premiere performance of Schuller’s Flute Concerto on October 13, 1988 (Jim Steere photo)

Kujala joined the faculty at Northwestern University in 1962 and taught there for fifty years, retiring in 2012. In honor of his sixtieth birthday, his students and colleagues commissioned a flute concerto from Gunther Schuller, and Kujala was soloist in the world premiere with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Solti on October 13, 1988. On August 19, 1990, he was soloist in the U.S. premiere of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Concerto for Flute under Kurt Redel, at the National Flute Association convention in Minneapolis. The Chicago Flute Club’s biennial international piccolo competition is named in his honor.

The author of the textbook The Flutist’s Progress, Kujala also regularly contributes articles and editorial to several publications, including The Instrumentalist, Flute Talk, Music Journal, and Woodwind World. He is a founding board member and founding secretary of the National Flute Association, where he also served as president, vice president, and board chairman. Kujala and his wife Sherry make their home in Evanston.

Happy, happy birthday!

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Heldenleben

On March 6, 1954, Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra recorded together for the first time. For RCA at Orchestra Hall, they committed to disc two works by Richard Strauss: the Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Ein Heldenleben.

“A single condenser microphone, noted for its uniform response and broad pick-up, was suspended approximately sixteen feet above the conductor’s podium to secure the exact balance desired by Dr. Reiner between instrumental choirs of the Orchestra,” according to the liner notes from the original RCA release. “At the time this recording was made, a special microphone set-up was used to make a separate stereophonic recording of the same performance as part of RCA Victor’s continuing policy of development and research in recording techniques.”

Fritz Reiner's autograph on a copy of the original album jacket's liner notes

Fritz Reiner’s autograph on a copy of the original album jacket’s liner notes

“Reiner brought out the opulence of Strauss’s orchestration but never wallowed indulgently in the more episodic moments; instrumental textures were clarified so that transparency of sound was paramount; and climaxes were carefully prepared so that they did not appear bombastic. To successfully balance such a large orchestra while projecting seemingly spontaneous playing was a notable achievement,” wrote Kenneth Morgan in his biography Fritz Reiner: Maestro and Martinet. “Ein Heldenleben, to a critic for Harper’s Magazine [in November 1954], confirmed Reiner as probably the greatest Strauss conductor alive: ‘the razor’s edge combination of lean, hard clarity on a vast orchestral scale and perilously high tension emotionalism is exactly suited to his disciplined directing.’ ”

Over the next eight years, Reiner and the Orchestra recorded several of Strauss’s works: Also sprach Zarathustra and Don Juan (twice each), a suite from Der Bürger als Edelmann, Burleske with pianist Byron Janis, Don Quixote with principal viola Milton Preves and cellist Antonio Janigro, selections from Elektra and Salome with soprano Inge Borkh, waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier, and Symphonia domestica.

This article also appears here.

Schoen, William (SRS)

Last evening we received word that William Schoen, a longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s viola section from 1964 until 1996, passed away yesterday, July 21, following a brief illness. He was 94.

Before coming to Chicago, Schoen served as principal viola of the Philadelphia Orchestra and was soloist with that ensemble under the baton of Eugene Ormandy. In 1964 he was invited by CSO music director Jean Martinon to be the Orchestra’s assistant principal viola, a post he held for twenty-four years. In 1988, he became assistant principal emeritus and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1996. Schoen made his debut as soloist with the CSO under Antonio Janigro, and also made solo appearances with maestros Martinon and James Levine.

Born in Czechoslovakia of Hungarian parents and raised in Cleveland, William Schoen received his bachelor of music degree from the Eastman School of Music. He was chosen by Leopold Stokowski to tour with the All-American Youth Orchestra and during the Second World War he served as a member of the United States Marine Band and Orchestra, was featured as a concerto soloist, and appeared numerous times with ensembles for Presidents Roosevelt and Truman at The White House. After the war he was solo viola of the Columbia Broadcasting System in New York for eight years. While in New York, Schoen was a member of the Guilet and Claremont string quartets, with which he toured and made many recordings.

Schoen received his master of music degree from Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University and later also served as a member of the faculty and a member of the Roosevelt Trio. In 1991, he was invited to be a recitalist and lecturer at the International Viola Congress in Ithaca, New York.

Schoen, William ca1960s

An active chamber musician, he performed with many of his CSO colleagues, frequently as a member of the Chicago Symphony String Trio. Schoen was a founding member of the Chicago Arts Quartet, which in addition to performances at the Bruckner Festival in Linz, Austria and at the Tokyo School of Music, the quartet gave many college concerts, appeared on the CSO’s Chamber Music Series, and was featured on WFMT radio broadcasts. As a member of Indiana University’s Berkshire Quartet, he performed at Music Mountain in Falls Village, Connecticut for several summers, and he also was a participant at the Marlboro Festival in Vermont.

Schoen and his wife Mona Reisman Schoen, a former member of the Lyric Opera Orchestra, performed in duo concerts, as soloists with orchestra, at university concerts, and at the Frank Lloyd Wright estates in Wisconsin and Arizona. In their retirement, the Schoens were active members of the CSO Alumni Association, and in 1998, the Chicago Viola Society awarded William Schoen their lifetime achievement award.

He is survived by his beloved wife Mona. Funeral services will be held this Thursday, July 24, at noon at Anshe Emet Synagogue, 3751 North Broadway in Chicago. Interment will be at Memorial Park Cemetery, 9900 Gross Point Road in Skokie immediately following.

An obituary was posted to the Chicago Tribune website on July 22, 2014.

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Theodore Thomas

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