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November 3 and 4, 1955

November 3 and 4, 1955

Carlo Maria Giulini made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in November 1955, leading two weeks of subscription concerts. In the subsequent years, he was a regular and popular visitor to Chicago, and it was no surprise when he was invited to be the Orchestra’s first principal guest conductor beginning with the 1969–70 season (also Georg Solti’s first as music director). Giulini would serve in that capacity through the 1971–72 season, and he frequently returned to Chicago until beginning his tenure as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1978.

On March 18 and 19, 1971, Giulini led the Orchestra in Mahler’s First Symphony, which, according to Bernard Jacobson in the Chicago Daily News, was his first time leading a symphony by the composer. “And the performance of the First Symphony that burst on us Thursday night showed us, in one dazzling stroke, what the waiting was for.” His interpretation “was of a stature, an integrity, an electrifying grandeur that relegated even those landmark performances to the shadows. It seemed to take all the virtues of every interpretation, heard or merely conceived, and fuse them in a new, flawlessly projected and proportioned unity. . . . And the Orchestra, playing with the sort of devotion their principal guest conductor always arouses in them, responded with perhaps their finest playing of the season. The strings combined polish and delicacy with an irresistible rhythmic zest. The woodwinds produced some of the most tellingly accurate chording we have heard from them. The percussion covered the dynamic gamut—from magical soft cymbal and tam-tam effects in the funeral march to bloodcurdling timpani rolls in the finale—with minute precision, and at the end the brass choir proclaimed a glorious triumph.”

Giulini Mahler 1

“It was Carlo Maria Giulini’s finest hour to date in Orchestra Hall last night, bringing the Chicago Symphony audience cheering to its feet for a prolonged standing ovation,” wrote Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune, describing the concert as an “impassioned, marvelously balanced performance . . . of monumental stature.”

On March 30, Giulini and the Orchestra recorded the symphony at Medinah Temple for Angel Records. The recording won the 1971 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance—Orchestra.

This article also appears here.

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James Levine in the early 1970s (Metropolitan Opera photo)

James Levine in the early 1970s (Metropolitan Opera photo)

As a last-minute replacement conductor for the opening concert of the Ravinia Festival’s thirty-sixth season on June 24, 1971, James Levine led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Mahler’s Second Symphony. Having just made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera leading Puccini’s Tosca on June 5, he conducted both the rehearsals and the performance of the Mahler without a score.

In the Chicago Daily News, Bernard Jacobson reported that the reverberations of Mahler’s symphony “were matched at the end of the performance by the ovation that greeted conductor James Levine. And indeed, this gifted twenty-eight-year-old musician earned every last resounding cheer. He had taken the concert over at a week’s notice from István Kertész (who was himself a replacement for the originally scheduled Eugene Ormandy), and everything he did was proof of thorough preparation, fine artistic judgment, and the ability to communicate ideas to an orchestra and, through it, to the audience.”

By February 1972, the Metropolitan announced that Levine would become its first principal conductor, and that October, Ravinia announced that he would be the festival’s second music director, succeeding Kertész, who had served as principal conductor from 1970 through the 1972 season.

Levine launched the first of his twenty years at the Ravinia Festival on June 27, 1973, leading the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Beethoven’s Missa solemnis. His tenure was marked with an astonishing range of repertoire: cycles of symphonies by Brahms and Mahler; Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Beethoven’s piano concertos; choral masterworks by Berlioz, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Orff, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky; and concert performances of operas by Bellini, Donizetti, Mozart, Puccini, Saint-Saëns, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, and Wagner, all with the leading singers of the day.

Carmina burana

Levine amassed an extensive discography with the Orchestra and Chorus (including several Grammy winners) on Deutsche Grammophon, Philips, and RCA, recorded at Orchestra Hall and in Medinah Temple, including Beethoven’s five piano concertos with Alfred Brendel; Berg’s Violin Concerto and Rihm’s Time Chant with Anne-Sophie Mutter; Brahms’s four symphonies and A German Requiem with Kathleen Battle and Håkan Hagegård; Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (conducting from the keyboard); Holst’s The Planets; Mahler’s symphonies no. 3 with Marilyn Horne, no. 4 with Judith Blegen, and no. 7; and Schubert’s Ninth Symphony.

Twenty years to the day of his first concert as music director, Levine capped his tenure on June 27, 1993, leading the Orchestra and Chorus in Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

This article also appears here.

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Pierre Boulez and Daniel Barenboim in rehearsal with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in February 1969

Pierre Boulez and Daniel Barenboim in rehearsal with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in February 1969 (Terry’s photo)

Pierre Boulez’s first conducting appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1969 were greatly anticipated. His book Notes of an Apprenticeship had recently been published in English, and the Orchestra would be performing his music—the U.S. premiere of Livre pour cordes (two movements from his Livre pour quatuor from 1948, reworked in 1968 for string orchestra)—for the first time.

The concerts also included the CSO debut of Jacqueline du Pré in Schumann’s Cello Concerto on February 27 and 28 and the CSO subscription concert debut of her husband, Daniel Barenboim, in Bartók’s First Piano Concerto on February 20, 21, and 22. (Barenboim first appeared with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on June 24, 1965, in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with André Previn conducting.)

In the Chicago Tribune, Peter Gorner wrote: “If Diogenes [the cynic] could have made it to Orchestra Hall last night, he would have blown out his lantern and become a believer. For there have existed few composers more honest than Debussy, Bartók, Webern, and [Boulez’s teacher at the Paris Conservatory] Olivier Messiaen. And there are few interpreters more honest than Pierre Boulez. Honesty depends upon conviction, and Boulez firmly believes in the classics of our century. He also is immensely qualified to spread the word, possessing a composer’s mind, a conductor’s savvy, and a poet’s soul.”

On Barenboim, Gorner continued: “The Bartók was his flashy First Piano Concerto, with the ubiquitous Daniel Barenboim as soloist, and a magnificent one at that. His technique made the concerto sound easier than it is, and he conjured the steely touch and native awareness of cumulative energy to make it work. The colloquy between percussion and piano in the andante which followed sounded flawless.”

Jacqueline du Pré's program biography in February 1969

Jacqueline du Pré’s program biography in February 1969

In his review for the Chicago Daily News of the second week’s program, Bernard Jacobson wrote: “Boulez has emphasized that in its new form [Livre pour cordes] is far more than a mere arrangement of the original—it is a full-scale recomposition, tackling the same musical problems but in terms of an entirely different medium. The result is music of formidable textural complexity, great sonorous variety, and powerful dramatic impact. . . . Yet Boulez’s characteristic intellectual control has ensured that the myriad events cohere in a rigorous organization of immediately perceptible unity.”

And in the Chicago Tribune, regarding the “immensely gifted young cellist Jacqueline du Pré,” Thomas Willis added: “[She] plays for keeps all the time. Each note has maximum persuasive power. There is a total commitment of both physiological and musical resources. The melodic line is maximally weighted. When she is not playing, she is often reacting to the orchestral dialog—so much a part of the Schumann concerto.”

This article also appears here.

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Margaret Harris (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Harris leads the Orchestra in Maywood on July 26, 1971 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

While a student at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, ten-year old Margaret Harris won a youth audition and the opportunity to perform with the Orchestra on Young People’s Concerts. On November 17 and December 1, 1953, she was soloist in a movement from Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor with associate conductor George Schick. Shortly thereafter, Harris won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute, and by the age of twelve she was a student at the Juilliard School, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In 1970, she took over the reins of the Broadway musical Hair, conducting the seven-piece orchestra (all male, all older) from the keyboard.

Margaret Harris and the Orchestra in Maywood on July 26, 1971 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Harris addresses the Maywood audience on July 26, 1971 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

During the summer of 1971, Harris became the first African American woman to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, leading three Symphony in the Streets concerts—free outdoor concerts presented in cooperation with the Illinois Arts Council—on July 26 near the village hall in Maywood, on August 1 in Lincoln Park, and on August 6 on the grounds of the First Lutheran Church in Harvey. She led works by Borodin, Granados, Prokofiev, Sibelius, Smetana, Wagner, and a suite from Galt MacDermot’s score for Hair.

Harris “thoroughly earned her assignment by her own talents,” wrote Bernard Jacobson in the Chicago Daily News following the concert in Maywood. “Her work showed a cool competence that was particularly impressive in view of her limited symphonic experience.” The reviewer praised “the sense of spontaneous musicality she conveys. ‘Let the Sunshine In,’ the final number from Hair urges; and that is exactly what Margaret Harris did.”

This article also appears here.

Pierre Boulez in rehearsal at Orchestra Hall in February 1969

Pierre Boulez in rehearsal at Orchestra Hall in February 1969

As we look forward to celebrating Helen Regenstein Conductor Emeritus Pierre Boulez‘s ninetieth birthday in March 2015, we look back at his extraordinary relationship with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which began in February 1969.

Boulez’s first conducting appearances were greatly anticipated. His book Notes of an Apprenticeship had recently been published in English, and the Orchestra would be performing his music—the U.S. premiere of Livre pour cordes (two movements from his Livre pour quatuor from 1948, reworked in 1968 for string orchestra)—for the first time. The concerts also included the CSO debut of cellist Jacqueline du Pré and the CSO subscription concert debut of her husband, pianist Daniel Barenboim. (Barenboim first appeared with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on June 24, 1965, in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with André Previn conducting.) The complete programs were as follows:

Feb 20 1969

February 20, 21 & 22, 1969
DEBUSSY Jeux
BARTÓK Piano Concerto No. 1
Daniel Barenboim, piano
WEBERN Passacaglia, Op. 1
WEBERN Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6
MESSIAEN Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum

February 27 & 28, 1969
HAYDN Symphony No. 91 in E-flat Major
SCHUMANN Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 129
Jacqueline du Pré, cello
BOULEZ Livre pour cordes
BERG Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6

In the Chicago Tribune, Peter Gorner wrote: “If Diogenes [the cynic] could have made it to Orchestra Hall last night, he would have blown out his lantern and became a believer. For there have existed few composers more honest than Debussy, Bartók, Webern, and [Boulez’s teacher at the Paris Conservatory] Olivier Messiaen. And there are few interpreters more honest than Pierre Boulez. Honesty depends upon conviction, and Boulez firmly believes in the classics of our century. He also is immensely qualified to spread the word, possessing a composer’s mind, a conductor’s savvy, and a poet’s soul.”

On Barenboim, Gorner continued: “The Bartók was his flashy First Piano Concerto, with the ubiquitous Daniel Barenboim as soloist, and a magnificent one at that. His technique made the concerto sound easier than it is, and he conjured the steely touch and native awareness of cumulative energy to make it work. The colloquy between percussion and piano in the andante which followed sounded flawless.”

Jacqueline du Pré

Jacqueline du Pré

In his review for the Daily News of the second week’s program, Bernard Jacobson wrote: “Boulez has emphasized that in its new form [Livre pour cordes] is far more than a mere arrangement of the original—it is a full-scale recomposition, tackling the same musical problems but in terms of an entirely different medium. The result is music of formidable textural complexity, great sonorous variety, and powerful dramatic impact. . . . Yet Boulez’s characteristic intellectual control has ensured that the myriad events cohere in a rigorous organization of immediately perceptible unity.”

And in the Tribune regarding the “immensely gifted young cellist Jacqueline du Pré,” Thomas Willis added: “[she] plays for keeps all the time. Each note has maximum persuasive power. There is a total commitment of both physiological and musical resources. The melodic line is maximally weighted. When she is not playing, she is often reacting to the orchestral dialog—so much a part of the Schumann concerto.”

Pierre Boulez rehearsing the Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Bartók's First Piano Concerto in February 1969

Pierre Boulez rehearsing Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Bartók’s First Piano Concerto in February 1969

Numerous upcoming programs celebrate Pierre Boulez, including Beyond the Score: A Pierre Dream on November 14 and 16, 2014, and Boulez’s Piano Works on March 15, 2015, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich.

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