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Sir Georg Solti (Yousuf Karsh photo)

As the summer of 1997 drew to a close, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association was putting the finishing touches on Symphony Center, culminating a three-year, $120 million project. To celebrate the renovation of Orchestra Hall and facilities expansion, a three-week festival was planned that included gala concerts and the first Day of Music, twenty-four hours of free, live performances across all genres in multiple Symphony Center venues.

One of the gala concerts was scheduled for Saturday, October 25, with music director laureate Sir Georg Solti leading the Orchestra in an all-Beethoven program: the Seventh Symphony and the Emperor Piano Concerto with music director Daniel Barenboim as soloist. The concert would celebrate not only Solti’s 85th birthday (October 21, 1997) but also his 1,000th concert with the Orchestra. In November, he was scheduled to return for two weeks of subscription concerts, leading Ives’s Decoration Day, Schumann’s Symphony no. 3, and Mendelssohn’s Symphony no. 3, along with a full program of choruses from Wagner’s operas with the Chicago Symphony Chorus, to be recorded live by London.

Over the Labor Day holiday, the world had been rocked with the news of the tragic death of Princess Diana on Sunday, August 31. The day before her funeral on September 5, news outlets began to report the death of Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India. And late that same evening, we heard the unthinkable. While on holiday with his family in Antibes, France, Sir Georg Solti had taken ill and died peacefully in his sleep.

Michigan Avenue entrance of Orchestra Hall on September 6, 1997 (Marilyn Arado photo)

“I had just returned hours earlier from Europe, where I was working with Daniel Barenboim on Solti’s 85th birthday celebration concert,” remembered Martha Gilmer, former vice president for artistic planning. After confirming with Charles Kaye, Solti’s longtime assistant, she called Barenboim in Bayreuth, waking him to relay the news.

“I was stunned,” recalled Henry Fogel, then president of the CSO Association. The following morning, senior staff held a meeting to determine how to proceed with the plans for the festival, among several other issues. As some of them approached the entrance, “We were very touched because when we came to Orchestra Hall, one person had left a bouquet of flowers at the Michigan Avenue entrance.”

Daniel Barenboim leads Mozart’s Requiem on October 22, 1997 (Jim Steere photo)

The festival would continue mostly as planned. The Symphony Center inaugural gala opened with Barenboim leading a performance of Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, performed in Solti’s memory. A special, free memorial concert was added on October 22 with Barenboim leading Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, followed by Mozart’s Requiem with Emily Magee, Anna Larsson, John Aler, René Pape, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus, prepared by Duain Wolfe.

Richard L. Thomas receives one of Solti’s batons from Lady Valerie Solti on October 25, 1997 (Jim Steere photo)

The program for the celebration concert on October 25 changed slightly, and Barenboim led Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto from the keyboard along with the Seventh Symphony. At the beginning of the concert, Lady Valerie Solti presented Richard L. Thomas (chairman of the CSO Association from 1986 until 1991) with one of Solti’s batons.

A special commemorative program book for the memorial and celebration concerts was prepared, and it included tributes from President Bill Clinton, Illinois governor Jim Edgar, and Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, along with Solti’s colleagues from all over the world, members of the Orchestra, and administrative staff. The program book is available here.

The block of Adams Street between Michigan and Wabash avenues was named honorary Sir Georg Solti Place on October 24, 1997. The following spring (just before the beginning of the fifteenth European tour with concerts in Paris and Berlin), a small contingent of Orchestra family traveled to Budapest for a ceremony on March 28, 1998, in which Solti’s ashes were interred next to the grave of his teacher, Béla Bartók. During the ceremony, principal viola Charles Pikler performed Ravel’s Kaddish.

Fogel continued, “One thought that I did keep having was how sad it was that Maestro Solti would never see the renovated hall, with which I believe he would have been thrilled.”

“Solti, so vibrant, such energy, such magnetism, such a life force,” added Gilmer. “It was impossible to believe that it ended so quietly and in a place so far away. . . . He was a young 84-year-old and what occurred to all of us is that we had all been robbed of wonderful musical memories that were yet to be made.”

Decca Classics is releasing a 108-CD set of Sir Georg Solti’s entire catalog with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in the United States on September 15, 2017. It can be pre-ordered here.

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Wishing a very happy birthday to Michael Gielen, celebrating his ninetieth on July 20, 2017!

Between 1973 and 2002, Maestro Gielen led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a broad range of repertoire. A complete list of his appearances (all concerts at Orchestra Hall unless otherwise noted) is below:

December 6 and 7, 1973
December 10, 1973 (Uihlein Hall, Milwaukee)
HAYDN Symphony No. 95 in C Minor
SZYMANOWSKI Violin Concerto No. 2, Op. 61
Wanda Wilkomirska, violin
PENDERECKI Capriccio for Violin and Orchestra
Wanda Wilkomirska, violin
SCRIABIN Symphony No. 3, Op. 43 (The Divine Poem)

March 21, 22, 23, and 26, 1996
MAHLER Symphony No. 6 in A Minor

March 28, 29, and 30, 1996
J. STRAUSS, Jr. Overture to Die Fledermaus
STUCKY Pinturas de Tamayo (Paintings of Tamayo) (world premiere)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (Pastoral)

October 29, 30, 31, and November 1, 1997
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 2, Op. 72
CARTER Piano Concerto
Ursula Oppens, piano
Richard Graef, flute
Grover Schiltz, oboe and english horn
J. Lawrie Bloom, clarinet
David Taylor, violin
Charles Pikler, viola
Stephen Balderston, cello
Joseph Guastafeste, bass
SCHUBERT Incidental Music from Rosamunde, D. 797
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72

January 11, 12, 13, and 16, 2001
BEETHOVEN Overture to Egmont, Op. 84
BEETHOVEN/Liszt Andante cantabile from the Piano Trio in G-flat Major, Op. 97 (Archduke)
BEETHOVEN/Gielen Grosse Fuge in B-flat Major, Op. 133
SCHOENBERG Pelleas and Melisande, Op. 5

January 18, 20, and 23, 2001
MAHLER Adagio from Symphony No. 10
LISZT Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major
Zoltán Kocsis, piano
KURTÁG . . . quasi una fantasia . . .
Zoltán Kocsis, piano
SCHUBERT Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 (Unfinished)

January 17, 18, 29, and 22, 2002
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
Elena Bashkirova, piano
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica)

January 24, 25, 26, and 29, 2002
RAVEL Valses nobles et sentimentales
DUTILLEUX Symphony No. 2 (Le double)
Alex Klein, oboe
Larry Combs, clarinet
David McGill, bassoon
Craig Morris, trumpet
Jay Friedman, trombone
Mary Sauer, piano
Melody Lord-Lundberg, celesta
Donald Koss, timpani
Samuel Magad, violin
Joseph Golan, violin
Charles Pikler, viola
John Sharp, cello
POULENC Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani in G Minor
David Schrader, organ
Donald Koss, timpani
RAVEL La valse

Happy, happy birthday!

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Australia 1988 logo

Sir Georg Solti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first trip to Australia in March 1988, sharing podium duties with Michael Tilson Thomas. The thirteen-concert tour included stops in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney.

Following the performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony on the second concert of the tour, Peter Wombwell in the Perth Sunday Times described the performance “at the fingertips of one of the world’s greatest conductors, Sir Georg Solti, with, arguably, the finest of all orchestras, the Chicago Symphony. . . . In every section the commitment was ineffable and thus, while it is difficult to single out any particular players, one cannot but refer to the beauty of violin tone of the co-concertmaster Samuel Magad, the viola of Charles Pikler, and the oboe of Ray Still. . . .The growing quiet and calm of the finale was handled by Sir Georg with unfailing control so that this glorious memorial to a composer who enriched the turn-of-the-century music touched the hearts of all who were privileged to hear such an exceptional performance.”

Solti and the Orchestra onstage in Perth (Jim Steere photo)

Solti and the Orchestra onstage at the Perth Concert Hall (Jim Steere photo)

Several of the concerts included performances of Karel Husa’s Trumpet Concerto, which had received its world premiere in Chicago on February 11, just prior to the tour. Principal trumpet Adolph Herseth was soloist. The concerto was made possible by an endowment fund established by the family of Edward F. Schmidt in his memory, and it was dedicated to Herseth, Solti, and the Orchestra.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

Hindemith with viola

During the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2012-13 season, anonymous donors endowed in perpetuity the principal viola chair but requested some time to decide on how they wanted the chair to be named. After quite a bit of thought, the donors have decided upon “The Paul Hindemith Principal Viola Chair, endowed by an anonymous benefactor.”

On March 3 and 4, 1938, Paul Hindemith debuted with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, appearing as composer, conductor, and viola soloist. The concert opened with associate conductor Hans Lange leading Mozart’s Symphony no. 39 followed by Hindemith’s Der Schwanendreher (subtitled Concerto on Old Folk Melodies) with the composer as soloist. After intermission, Lange returned to the podium for Hindemith’s Chamber Music no. 1, followed by the composer leading the U.S. premiere of his Symphonic Dances.

Hindemith's March 1938 program biography

Hindemith’s March 1938 program biography

In the Journal of Commerce, Claudia Cassidy described Hindemith’s Chamber Music no. 1 as “brilliant, witty, and spectacularly scored. Mr. Lange conducted and the orchestra turned in a glittering job, particularly in the introduction to the finale which has that kinetic energy at a boil.” She described Der Schwandendreher as having “no compassion for the poor viola player, taking for granted that he can handle the instrument as Mr. Hindemith does, which is nothing short of amazing.”

Hindemith had conducted the first performance of the Symphonic Dances only three months earlier, on December 3, 1937, in London. Eugene Stinson in the Chicago Daily News described the work as having “more unity, and it seems to me there is more thoughtfulness, in the Symphonic Dances than in almost all the other music Hindemith’s Chicago knows. At a first hearing it struck me as one of the most impressive and most affecting contemporary scores I can recall.”

Hindemith’s complete performance history with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is as follows:

March 3 and 4, 1938

March 3 and 4, 1938

March 3 and 5, 1938, Orchestra Hall
HINDEMITH Der Schwanendreher
Paul Hindemith, viola
Hans Lange, conductor
HINDEMITH Symphonic Dances
Paul Hindemith, conductor

July 25, 1961, Ravinia Festival
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major
CHERUBINI Overture to Les Abencerages
HINDEMITH Concert Music for Strings and Brass, Op. 50
Paul Hindemith, conductor

July 27, 1961, Ravinia Festival
HINDEMITH Pittsburgh Symphony
MENDELSSOHN Fingal’s Cave Overture, Op. 26
SCHUBERT Symphony in C Major, D. 944
Paul Hindemith, conductor

July 29, 1961, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37
Gary Graffman, piano
HINDEMITH Concerto for Orchestra, Op. 38
SCHUMANN Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120
Paul Hindemith, conductor

March 28 and 29, 1963, Orchestra Hall
April 1, 1963, Pabst Theater, Milwaukee
BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
HINDEMITH Concert Music for Strings and Brass, Op. 50
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 7 in E Major
Paul Hindemith, conductor

April 4 and 5, 1963, Orchestra Hall
SCHUMANN Manfred Overture, Op. 115
REGER Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven, Op. 86
WAGNER Siegfried Idyll
HINDEMITH Sinfonietta in E
Paul Hindemith, conductor

April 6, 1963, Orchestra Hall
SCHUMANN Manfred Overture, Op. 115
REGER Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven, Op. 86
BEETHOVEN Grosse Fuge in B flat Major, Op. 133
HINDEMITH Nobilissima visione
Paul Hindemith, conductor

April 7, 1963, Orchestra Hall (television concert)
HINDEMITH Concert Music for Strings and Brass, Op. 50
BRUCKNER Allegro moderato (first movement) from Symphony No. 7 in E Major
BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Originally broadcast on WGN and currently available on a VAI DVD release.

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Charles Pikler, principal viola (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Charles Pikler, principal viola (Todd Rosenberg photo)

The principal viola chair currently is held by Charles Pikler, who joined the Orchestra as a violinist in 1978; and in 1986, Sir Georg Solti named Pikler principal viola.

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During January and February 1987, Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra embarked on a domestic tour with concerts in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Omaha, Nebraska; Bartlesville, Oklahoma; San Francisco, Costa Mesa, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles, California; Tempe, Arizona; and Austin, Houston, and Dallas, Texas.

Following the Wednesday evening (January 28) concert in Bartlesville, there were two free days before the next concert—an afternoon matinee—on Saturday at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. On Thursday afternoon, the Orchestra flew safely from Tulsa to San Francisco.

However, the majority of the cargo (including instruments, music, and clothing), traveling by trucks, did not arrive as planned. One truck was delayed due to a snowstorm as well as a flat tire, and a second truck was stopped by “agricultural inspectors at the Arizona-California border . . . for a routine check only to discover that the drivers didn’t have their paperwork in order.”

Clockwise from left: Samuel Magad, Solti, John Sharp, and Charles Pikler perform onstage at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall on January 31, 1987

On Saturday afternoon (January 31) in hopes that the cargo would eventually arrive, an impromptu concert was arranged, with members of the Orchestra (who had traveled with their instruments) and Maestro Solti—making his U.S. concert debut as a pianist—performing chamber music. The concert began at about 3:15 p.m. and continued for nearly three hours. The program was as follows:

MOZART Clarinet Quartet in E-flat Major (after K. 380)
John Bruce Yeh, clarinet
Nisanne Graff, violin
Richard Ferrin, viola
John Sharp, cello

SCHUBERT Allegro moderato (first movement) from Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A Minor, D. 821
Charles Pikler, viola
Mary Sauer, piano

MOZART Allegretto (third movement) from Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-flat Major, K. 452
Michael Henoch, oboe
Larry Combs, clarinet
Bruce Grainger, bassoon
Gail Williams, horn
Paul Hersh, piano

MOZART Rondo allegro (third movement) from Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, K. 478
Samuel Magad, violin
Charles Pikler, viola
John Sharp, cello
Sir Georg Solti, piano

By 6:00 p.m. the trucks still had not arrived. Borrowing instruments from the San Francisco Symphony, a local youth orchestra, and a violin shop, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra took the stage in their street clothes, using music borrowed from the SFS’s music library. The original program was to include John Corigliano’s recently composed Clarinet Concerto (with Larry Combs as soloist). But since the only copies of the music for the concerto were still stranded on one of the cargo trucks, Mozart’s Haffner Symphony (no. 35) was performed instead.

The trucks finally arrived around 9:00 p.m. on Saturday night. Solti and the Orchestra were able to rehearse as scheduled on Sunday afternoon and for the evening concert, Haydn’s Symphony no. 103 was replaced by the Corigliano concerto.

Several newspaper accounts documenting the incident are here and here.

Originally scheduled program for January 31, 1987

Originally scheduled program for February 1, 1987

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During Sir Georg Solti’s tenure as music director, more than seventy musicians—several of whom are still members—joined the roster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra:

David Babcock, horn 1969–1971
Edwin Barker, bass 1976–1977
John Bartholomew, viola 1980–
J. Lawrie Bloom, clarinet and bass clarinet 1980–
Ella Braker, violin 1976–2003
Loren Brown, cello 1985–
Catherine Brubaker, viola 1989–
Li-Kuo Chang, viola 1988–
David Chickering, cello 1978–1986
Roger Cline, bass 1973–
Timothy Cobb, bass 1985–1986
Larry Combs, clarinet and E-flat clarinet 1974–2008
Alison Dalton, violin 1987–
Franklyn D’Antonio, violin 1981–1986
Patricia Dash, percussion 1986–
Joseph DiBello, bass 1976–
Louise Dixon, flute 1973–
Fox Fehling, violin 1979–
Jorja Fleezanis, violin 1975–1976
Barbara Fraser, violin 1975–1996
Daniel Gingrich, horn 1976–
Rachel Goldstein, violin 1989–
Rubén González, violin 1986–1996
Bruce Grainger, bassoon 1986–1996
Jerry Grossman, cello 1984–1986
Tom Hall, violin 1970–2006
Laura Hamilton, violin 1985–1986
Erik Harris, bass 1989–1993
Michael Henoch, oboe 1972–
Marilyn Herring, librarian 1982–1997
Russell Hershow, violin 1989–
Richard Hirschl, cello 1989–
Michael Hovnanian, bass 1989–
Thomas Howell, horn 1971–1991
Nisanne Howell, violin 1976–
Albert Igolnikov, violin 1979–
Mihaela Ionescu, violin 1987–
Jacques Israelievitch, violin 1972–1978
Timothy Kent, trumpet 1979–1996
Mark Kraemer, bass 1974–
Melanie Kupchynsky, violin 1989–
Lee Lane, viola 1971–2009–
Stephen Lester, bass 1978–
Kathryn Lukas, flute 1985–1986
Elizabeth Matesky, violin 1972–1973
Blair Milton, violin 1975–
Diane Mues, viola 1987–
Michael Mulcahy, trombone 1990–
Joyce Noh, violin 1979–
Bradley Opland, bass 1984–
Daniel Orbach, viola 1988–
Nancy Park, violin 1984–
Jonathan Pegis, cello 1986–
Paul Phillips, violin 1980–
Charles Pikler, violin and viola 1978–
Gene Pokorny, tuba 1989–
Max Raimi, viola 1984–
James Ross, percussion 1979–
David Sanders, cello 1974–
Ronald Satkiewicz, violin 1979–
Florence Schwartz, violin 1989–
Norman Schweikert, horn 1971–1997
John Sharp, cello 1986–
Sando Shia, violin 1989–
Philip Smith, trumpet 1975–1978
Gregory Smith, clarinet 1983–
Gary Stucka, cello 1986–
Robert Swan, viola 1972–2008
Susan Synnestvedt, violin 1986–
David Taylor, violin 1979–
Charles Vernon, trombone and bass trombone 1986–
George Vosburgh, trumpet 1979–1993
Jennie Wagner, volin 1974–
Gail Williams, horn 1978–1998
Thomas Wright, viola 1981–
John Bruce Yeh, clarinet and E-flat clarinet 1977–

CSO roster - September 1969

CSO roster - June 1991

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A wonderful end to a beautiful tour! The last stop on the CSO’s 2017 West Coast Tour was Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Last night, Maestro Riccardo Muti and the CSO performed Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 and No. 3.  Photos by @toddrphoto. #CSOonTour

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

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