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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!


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!

Silvia Kargl, archivist for the Vienna Philharmonic, gives a tour of the artifacts to Jamie Bernstein

Silvia Kargl, archivist for the Vienna Philharmonic, gives a tour of the artifacts to Jamie Bernstein (Ardon Bar-Hama photo)

On Wednesday, February, 22, the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York City hosted a concert and exhibit opening for Vienna and New York: 175 Years of Two PhilharmonicsFeaturing artifacts highlighting the founding and history of both the New York Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the exhibit also included the manuscript score of Richard Strauss’s Symphony no. 2 in F minor from the Theodore Thomas collection in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Rosenthal Archives.

Frank Villella, archivist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, describes the Strauss manuscript to Matthew VanBesien, president of the New York Philharmonic, and William Josephson

Frank Villella, archivist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, describes the Strauss manuscript to Matthew VanBesien, president of the New York Philharmonic, and William Josephson (Ardon Bar-Hama photo)

Musicians from both orchestras—clarinet Daniel Ottensamer and violins Daniel Froschauer and Harald Krumpöck from the Vienna Philharmonic, and viola Cynthia Phelps and cello Carter Brey from the New York Philharmonic—were on hand to perform Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet at the beginning of the program. Remarks were delivered by the presidents of both orchestras, Andreas Großbauer and Matthew VanBesien, along with Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s minister for foreign affairs and integration. And in the entryway to the Forum, COSMIC ROCKET, a temporary art installation by Nives Widauer, utilized tour trunks from both orchestras.

Barbara Haws, archivist for the New York Philharmonic, talks about the case dedicated to Leonard Bernstein

Barbara Haws, archivist for the New York Philharmonic, talks about the case dedicated to Leonard Bernstein (Ardon Bar-Hama photo)

The press release describing the event and exhibit is here, and an article from The New York Times, which includes images of several of the artifacts, is here.

The exhibit will be open to the public until March 10 and then travel on to Vienna (the Strauss score will only be included in the New York leg of the exhibit), opening on March 28 at the Haus der Musik and on display through January 2018.

Archivists and historians representing five institutions were on hand for the opening reception: Gino Fran

Archivists and historians representing five institutions were on hand for the opening reception: Gino Francesconi (Carnegie Hall), Barbara Haws (New York Philharmonic), Silvia Kargl (Vienna Philharmonic), Frank Villella (Chicago Symphony Orchestra), Gabryel Smith (New York Philharmonic), Friedemann Pestel (Vienna Philharmonic), and Bridget Carr (Boston Symphony Orchestra) (Ardon Bar-Hama photo)

Strauss's manuscript score for his Symphony in F minor, paired with the New York Philharmonic program from the world premiere, December 13, 1884

Strauss’s manuscript score for his Symphony in F minor paired with December 13, 1884, program from the New York Philharmonic world premiere, conducted by Theodore Thomas

The manuscript score of Richard Strauss’s Symphony no. 2 in F minor—one of the most historically significant artifacts in the Theodore Thomas collection—is back in New York.

During the 2016-17 season, the New York Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra—both founded in 1842—celebrate their 175th anniversaries. To commemorate this remarkable occasion, a joint exhibit of archival materials opens this week at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York. For this event, the Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was invited to collaborate, loaning the Strauss score.

The exhibit will then travel to Vienna (the Strauss score will only be included in the New York leg of the exhibit) and open on March 28 at the Haus der Musik (the one-time home of Otto Nicolai, the founder of the Vienna Philharmonic), launching a new permanent archive.

Coinciding with the exhibit, the Vienna Philharmonic presents three concerts at Carnegie Hall on February 24, 25, and 26, and the New York Philharmonic will perform at Vienna’s Konzerthaus on March 29 as part of its spring European tour.

Several images of the artifacts featured and the exhibit setup are below. More images of tonight’s press opening event to come . . . stay tuned!

Ardon Bar-Hama photographs the title page of Strauss's F minor symphony

In the New York Philharmonic’s archives, Ardon Bar-Hama photographs the title page of Strauss’s F minor symphony

A first edition of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, used for the New York Philharmonic's first concert

A first edition of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, used for the New York Philharmonic’s first concert

Program for the New York Philharmonic's first concert, given on December 7, 1842

Program for the New York Philharmonic’s first concert, given on December 7, 1842

New York Philharmonic assistant archivist Gabryel Smith setting up the exhibit

New York Philharmonic assistant archivist Gabryel Smith setting up the exhibit

New York Philharmonic program for Leonard Bernstein's debut (replacing Bruno Walter) on November 14, 1943

New York Philharmonic program for Leonard Bernstein’s debut (replacing Bruno Walter) on November 14, 1943

Program for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra's first concert, given on March 28, 1842

Program for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s first concert, given on March 28, 1842

Founding documents for the Vienna and New York orchestras

Founding documents for the Vienna and New York orchestras



Today we send all best wishes for a very happy ninetieth birthday to the legendary soprano, Leontyne Price! Several excellent tributes have been written (here, here, and here, among many others) to recognize her extraordinary and groundbreaking career as an artist—in opera, concert, and on recording.

Price has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on numerous occasions, at Orchestra Hall, the Ravinia Festival, Carnegie Hall, and the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, as follows:

February 28 and March 1, 1963 (Orchestra Hall)
BERLIOZ Les nuits d’été, Op. 7
FALLA El amor brujo
Fritz Reiner, conductor

March 13, 1971 (Orchestra Hall)
March 15, 1971 (Pabst Theater)
BARBER “Give me my robe” from Antony and Cleopatra
MOZART “Dove sono” from Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492
STRAUSS Four Last Songs
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor

April 24 and 26, 1975 (Orchestra Hall)
April 30, 1975 (Carnegie Hall)
VERDI Requiem
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Luciano Pavarotti, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 11, 1975 (Ravinia Festival)
PUCCINI “Un bel di vedremo” from Madama Butterfly
VERDI “Ernani! Ernani, involami” from Ernani
MOZART “D’Oreste, d’Ajace” from Idomeneo, K. 366
STRAUSS “Zweite Brautnacht” from Die ägyptische Helena
James Levine, conductor

Proof sheet detail from recording sessions for Verdi's Requeim at Medinah Temple in June 1977

Proof sheet detail from recording sessions for Verdi’s Requiem at Medinah Temple in June 1977 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

July 2, 1976 (Ravinia Festival)
PUCCINI “Senza mamma” from Suor Angelica
PUCCINI “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca
VERDI “Pace, pace, mio Dio” from La forza del destino
MOZART “Come scoglio” from Così fan tutte, K. 588
WAGNER “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser
James Levine, conductor

May 31, 1977 (Orchestra Hall)
VERDI Requiem
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Dame Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

June 22, 1979 (Ravinia Festival)
VERDI La forza del destino
James Levine, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Isola Jones, mezzo-soprano
Sharon Graham, mezzo-soprano
Giuseppe Giacomini, tenor
Andrea Velis, tenor
Cornell MacNeil, baritone
Renato Capecchi, baritone
Carl Glaum, baritone
Bonaldo Giaiotti, bass
Julien Robbins, bass
Daniel McConnell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

Price onstage with Solti and the Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on April 29, 1980 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Price onstage with Solti and the Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on April 29, 1980 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

April 29, 1980 (Carnegie Hall)
WAGNER “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser
WAGNER Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

July 13, 1985 (Ravinia Festival)
PUCCINI “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca
PUCCINI “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” from La rondine
VERDI “Ernani! Ernani, involami” from Ernani
VERDI “D’amor sull’ali rosee” from Il trovatore
WAGNER Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
STRAUSS Final Scene from Salome
James Levine, conductor

Advance notice for Price's 1963 debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Advance notice for Price’s 1963 debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Price also recorded with the Orchestra—including two Grammy Award winners—as follows:

BERLIOZ Les nuits d’été, Op. 7
FALLA El amor brujo
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded on March 2 and 3, 1963 in Orchestra Hall by RCA
Richard Mohr produced the recording, and Lewis Layton was the engineer. The recording won the 1964 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance–Vocal Soloist (with or without orchestra) from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

VERDI Requiem
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Dame Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded on June 1 and 2, 1977, in Medinah Temple by RCA
Thomas Z. Shepard produced the recording, and Paul Goodman was the engineer. The recording won the 1977 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance (other than opera).

WAGNER “Dich teure Halle” from Tannhäuser
Recorded by WFMT on April 29, 1980, in Carnegie Hall
Released on Chicago Symphony Orchestra: The First 100 Years during the Orchestra’s centennial season in April 1991

Under the auspices of Allied Arts and CSO Presents, Price also gave numerous recitals in Orchestra Hall on the following dates:

  • May 6, 1956
  • April 7, 1957
  • December 6, 1958
  • May 30, 1962
  • February 3, 1963
  • February 1, 1970
  • February 27, 1972
  • April 4, 1976
  • January 29, 1984
  • November 11, 1990
  • April 24, 1994
  • February 16, 1997

Happy, happy birthday!

Portions of this article previously appeared here.


In the spring of 1976, the major American political parties had not yet hosted their conventions to nominate candidates for president. But on May 11—the day after the first of three concerts at Carnegie Hall by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Sir Georg SoltiDonal Henahan of The New York Times had a suggestion:


“Solti’s Chicagoans Stimulate a Yen to Yell”

It is pretty well agreed now, among decibel collectors, that the audiences at Chicago Symphony concerts make more noise than anybody. If you happen to pass Carnegie Hall tomorrow or Friday night and notice that sturdy old monument rocking slightly on its foundations, do not worry: It is only the Chicago orchestra’s fans going happily mad over a performance conducted by Sir Georg Solti. (Don’t run out to buy tickets, by the way; Chicago Symphony concerts are invariably sold out as soon as they are announced.)

The sheer fervor, somewhat resembling religious fanaticism, that characterizes the New York ovations for Chicago/Solti, is a phenomenon worth some sociologist’s study. Of course, the Chicago Symphony is one of the world’s great orchestras, and Sir Georg is undeniably one of the world’s most exciting conductors. The cheering is, therefore, aimed at real quality.

But the Dionysian frenzy that many observers have commented upon goes beyond ordinary enthusiasm into the category of the demonstration. Chicago players and Sir Georg himself have confessed that the intensity of these ovations in New York takes them aback. Thoughtful musicians cross their fingers, in fact. They have seen reputations rise and fall, for what seems too little reason either way, and know how capricious and irrational audiences can be.

The Chicago/Solti phenomenon has been compared to the cult that grew up around Toscanini and his NBC Symphony a generation ago, to the Stokowski fan clubs of his Philadelphia Orchestra years and to the von Karajan mystique in some sectors of the musical world today. Unsophisticated music listeners, with the help of judicious publicity agents, love to fasten upon an idol, to proclaim this or that artist “the greatest” and fall prostrate at mention of the holy name. Other and wiser folk simply like to cheer what they regard as the best. Cheering is an emotional purgative, a primal scream that often seems to do the screamer more good than the

The New York Times, May 11, 1976

The New York Times, May 11, 1976

Beyond the obvious fact of its lofty quality, there are several arguable rationalizations for the kind of hysteria regularly generated by the Chicago under Sir Georg. When the orchestra made its first Carnegie Hall appearances under him six years ago, many knowledgeable New Yorkers were simply flattened by what they heard. The Chicago Symphony—unlike the Cleveland under Szell, the Boston under Leinsdorf, the Philadelphia under Ormandy—had not been a regular visitor.

Fritz Reiner, who built the orchestra to its current level in the late 1950s, hated touring. He refused to do the kind of barnstorming to high prestige places that would have made the Chicago Symphony’s greatness apparent to more than the blessed few who heard it regularly in its own Orchestra Hall during Dr. Reiner’s ten‐year regime.

The fact, which Sir Georg readily admits, is that the Chicago Symphony as it stands (or sits) is largely the product of the Reiner years. The Solti genius has consisted in making splendid use of a ready‐made instrument. Not the least amazing thing about the Chicago’s current status as a symbol of excellence is that of all major American orchestras it is the oldest: Most of the players date back to the Reiner years before.

Another possible factor in the Chicago’s popularity is the high percentage of opera fans who frequent these concerts. One of Sir Georg’s first smash successes at Carnegie came in 1971 with a concert performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, and he subsequently offered four other operatic attractions. His sixth, on Friday night, will be The Flying Dutchman.

Sir Georg, you remember, had been artistic director of London’s Covent Garden opera house, and his renown as an opera conductor fattened considerably when he completed the first Ring cycle ever produced on commercially available recordings, for London Records. And, since opera enthusiasts on the whole are famous—or notorious, as you wish—for treating their heroes and heroines to hysterical ovations, Chicago/Solti has not suffered from being attractive to the opera set.


Another and probably more disputable conjecture: there existed in New York at the time of the Chicago/Solti arrival on the scene, a considerable number of people who yearned to hear concerts led by an unashamedly passionate “maestro,” preferably someone cast in the Toscanini mold. To some extent, Leonard Bernstein in his early years with the Philharmonic fulfilled the needs of this sizable and vocal constituency.

But when Pierre Boulez took charge of the Philharmonic these New Yorkers missed their former feeling of audience participation. They came to regard themselves as disenfranchised musical citizens. Mr. Boulez seemed to them more acoustical scientist than performer, and his analytical talents and objective approach to music were largely unappreciated. For this emotional breed of listener, the coming of Chicago/Solti offered a chance not merely to applaud but also—almost in the political sense of the word—to demonstrate. It was as if they were sending a message.

The yen to yell can come to be as important to certain audiences as the music itself. Opera fans, in particular, seem to regard their demonstrations of affection and approbation as part of the performance, and that can be obnoxious when carried too far. But any continuing audience, such as the one attracted by the Chicago/Solti concerts, is also acting out a communal claim to eliteness. It is proclaiming its own superior taste and knowledge, as well as showing the performers how much they are appreciated: We happy few who know what’s what, we proud melomaniacs, we who make (and can easily break) heroes, salute.

In any event, the Chicago Solti ovations are likely to go down among the legends of New York’s cultural life. And perhaps the explanation is simpler than suggested here. When the inevitable ranting and raving is heard at Carnegie Hall, it may merely be one sector of the musical electorate voting for its concept of what orchestral concerts should be. The Chicago Symphony for President, as it were. Well, we could do worse.

The 1976 U.S. presidential election was held on November 2, 1976. Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, the Democratic party candidate, ran against and defeated incumbent president Gerald Ford, the Republican candidate.




Solti and the Orchestra onstage at Carnegie Hall on January 9, 1970 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Georg Solti and the Orchestra onstage at Carnegie Hall on January 9, 1970 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

In January 1970, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its new music director traveled to New York for their first concerts together in Carnegie Hall. The concert on January 8 included Georg Solti leading Haydn’s Symphony no. 102, Bartók’s Dance Suite, and Brahms’s First Symphony; and the following evening, the program was Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder with contralto Helen Watts and the Fifth Symphony.

Solti and the Orchestra were hardly prepared for the reception following the January 9 concert. Multiple accounts reported the thunderous cheers and applause—calling Solti to the stage for twelve curtain calls—that continued even after the performers had left the stage.

“Is the Chicago Symphony the greatest orchestra in America? Stravinsky has said so, and it was impossible not to agree with him when this orchestra appeared in Carnegie Hall last Friday night in an all-Mahler program under the baton of Georg Solti,” wrote Winthrop Sargeant in The New Yorker. “Its brass section is unique in its power and beauty of tone, and its first horn player [Dale Clevenger] is a virtuoso who has a huge tone or a delicate tone—whichever you prefer—and who can hit his upper notes with exemplary accuracy. The woodwinds and strings are not far behind. There is a solid craftsmanship about the whole ensemble, which leaves the conductor nothing to do except exert his leadership and artistic ideas. The Orchestra itself is already trained in everything that pertains to technique, intonation, beauty of tone, and accuracy of attack. Add to all this a conductor of Mr. Solti’s stature (there is none greater at this moment in history), and you have an unusual treat. . . .


“Mahler’s Fifth Symphony was something of a sensation,” Sargeant continued. “There is a special brilliance and drive about Mr. Solti’s conducting that illuminate and emphasize not only large lines but details that escape one in most performances of this symphony. . . . The conclusion of the final Allegro was the occasion for the largest ovation I have seen any conductor receive since the time of Toscanini.”

In March and April 1970 at Medinah Temple for London Records, Solti and the Orchestra—collaborating in recording sessions for the first time—recorded Mahler’s Fifth and Sixth symphonies along with the Songs of a Wayfarer and selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn with mezzo-soprano Yvonne Minton.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.


The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the loss of Deborah Guscott, who was a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus’s alto section for twenty-eight seasons. Having most recently performed in Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet and Verdi’s Falstaff this past April under Riccardo Muti, she died on August 10, 2016, following a long illness.

Deborah Guscott (Jennifer Girard photo)

Deborah Guscott (Jennifer Girard photo)

A graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Guscott joined the Chicago Symphony Chorus at the invitation of founder and longtime director Margaret Hillis in 1987. For nearly thirty years, she regularly performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under three music directors—Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, and Muti—as well as Pierre Boulez, Bernard Haitink, James Levine, Christoph Eschenbach, and James Conlon, among many others. Guscott appeared on numerous recordings—several of them Grammy Award winners—and performed in Orchestra Hall, Medinah Temple, and Carnegie Hall; at the Ravinia Festival; and on tour with the Orchestra and Chorus to London, Salzburg, and Berlin.

Guscott was a fixture on the Chicago vocal scene, performing with countless ensembles, including the Grant Park ChorusLight Opera Works, Music of the Baroque, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Ravinia Festival Orchestra, Bach Week FestivalOriana Singers, and Chicago a cappella, among many others. She was a soloist on several occasions for the Do-it-Yourself Messiah under Hillis and with the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest under its music director Jay Friedman. An active liturgical musician, Guscott worked at many churches and temples in the Chicagoland area, most recently as music director and cantor at both Saint Domitilla Parish in Hillside and Divine Providence Parish in Westchester.

Duain Wolfe, director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus since 1994, described his longtime colleague: “An alto with a particularly rich, luscious sound, Deb contributed significantly to the highly lauded sound of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. We are all very grateful for her gifts, both as an important musician in our ranks and as a strong, positive force who always found the silver lining in every cloud. Deb’s indomitable spirit has been an inspiration to all of us, and we will miss her greatly.”

Music director of the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest—and CSO principal trombone—Jay Friedman added, “Deb Guscott was my go-to contralto for the past twenty years in many solo roles from opera to oratorio. She possessed a true contralto voice, something rare and perfect for Mahler, Wagner, and many other great masters. Deb was a fun person and a joy to work with—always upbeat and willing to rehearse at a moment’s notice—and she will be greatly missed.”

Christopher Bell, director of the Grant Park Chorus since 2002, shared his thoughts with the musicians of his chorus: “I was privileged to have Deb—a well known and beloved singer in Chicago—in the Grant Park Chorus and honored to be able to call her a friend. My abiding memory of my last visit with her will be of much laughter and hilarity, as we shared many memories and reminiscences. The Chicago singing community is a strong and closely knit one, and I know that you, like me, are saddened and shocked by this loss of one of our own. Today, I am thinking of you all and sharing your sorrow.”

There will be a service in her memory given at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica (3121 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago 60612) on Saturday, September 3, 2016, beginning at 11:00 a.m. The upcoming Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performances of Brahms’s A German Requiem on November 10, 11, and 12, 2016—a work that Guscott performed on many occasions with the Chorus—will be dedicated to her memory.

One of Guscott’s many solo performances with the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest under Friedman was of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony on November 16, 2003. A live recording of her singing the fourth movement—Urlicht—is available in the link below.




In March 1898, Theodore Thomas and the Chicago Orchestra embarked on a monthlong tour through Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. In New York, the tour included six concerts at the Metropolitan Opera House, one at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Orchestra’s debut in Carnegie Hall on March 7.

March 7, 1898

March 7, 1898

The program for Carnegie was entirely comprised of music by French composers, featuring the U.S. premiere of Franck’s Variations symphoniques and Saint-Saëns’s Fifth Piano Concerto, both with Raoul Pugno as soloist. Composer Alexandre Guilmant also appeared, as organ soloist in his Adoration, Allegro, and Final à la Schumann, as well as Lefebvre’s Méditation. Berlioz’s Overture to King Lear, Franck’s Le chasseur maudit, Saint-Saëns’s Le rouet d’Omphale, and Massenet’s Suite from Les Erinnyes rounded out the program.

The reviewer in Harper’s Bazaar praised the performances of both Pugno and Guilmant, “and the enjoyment of the afternoon was increased by the good work done by the Chicago Orchestra.” The New York Times added, “The Orchestra was heard to great advantage in Saint-Saëns’s symphonic poem, which was played with consummate finish, and Mr. Thomas’s accompaniments to the soloists were a source of joy.” And the New York Tribune heralded the concert as “an exhibition of virtuosity.”

The Orchestra has returned to Carnegie Hall on numerous occasions, under music directors Frederick Stock, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, and Riccardo Muti; principal guest conductors Carlo Maria Giulini, Claudio Abbado, and Pierre Boulez; principal conductor Bernard Haitink; chorus director and conductor Margaret Hillis; and associate conductor Henry Mazer.

This article also appears here.


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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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