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Current music director Riccardo Muti and former music directors Daniel Barenboim, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, and Sir Georg Solti are squarely included, along with principal guest conductors Claudio Abbado, Pierre Boulez, and Carlo Maria Giulini; principal conductor Bernard Haitink; and Ravinia Festival music directors James Levine and Seiji Ozawa.
According to the article, “A great conductor illuminates music you thought you knew in a way that you couldn’t possibly have imagined.” Indeed.
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.
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.
Claudio Abbado first conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in January 1971, leading three weeks of subscription concerts. For the next twenty years, he was a frequent visitor—both before and after his tenure as second principal guest conductor from 1982 until 1985—also leading the Orchestra in concerts at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. Abbado’s numerous residencies included collaborations with the Chicago Symphony Chorus, recording sessions, and performances with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.
On May 24, 25, and 27, 1984, Abbado led the Orchestra’s first performances of Berg’s landmark opera, Wozzeck. The principal cast included Benjamin Luxon in the title role, Hildegard Behrens as Marie, Alexander Malta as the Doctor, Jacque Trussel as the Drum Major, and Gerhard Unger as the Captain. Members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus were prepared by associate director James Winfield, members of the Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus were prepared by Doreen Rao, and the concert staging was directed by Robert Goldschlager.
“Sung by an extraordinary cast and played with surpassing beauty and intensity by the Orchestra, this first CSO performance of the Berg masterpiece served as a resoundingly successful climax to the season,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “In a wondrous score that shifts between Straussian contrapuntal complexity and a translucence of texture worthy of Debussy, Abbado was masterful. His limning of detail was extraordinary, and he never stressed the agonized lyricism at the expense of passion or intensity. Given orchestral playing of power, shimmer, and clarity, Berg’s tight formal structures supported a vocal performance of shattering dramatic impact.”
“Claudio Abbado, who conducted without a score (an achievement appreciated by all who have studied this music) took advantage of the simple setting to permit the work to develop with symphonic continuity, one scene flowing directly into another, and the cumulative effect was tremendous,” raved Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times. “There are occasions when despite our rich diet of superlative music, you say to yourself, ‘This is a historic moment. People will be talking about this for years to come.’ And they will. Abbado and the CSO, in all their years of association, have never done anything finer or more important.”
This article also appears here.
The commercial recording legacy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—under second music director Frederick Stock—began on May 1, 1916. For the Columbia Graphophone Company (at an undocumented location in Chicago), they recorded Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre; and Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies, Heart Wounds and The Last Spring.
Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and Grieg’s The Last Spring were each on the first 80-rpm disc issued in October 1916, and a Columbia Records sales brochure raved, “The deepest glories vibrant in such a familiar composition as Mendelssohn’s Wedding March are unguessed until interpreted by such an orchestra as this. From the first trumpet fanfare to the great central crescendo is very joy and glory articulate! . . . There can be no pleasure beyond enjoying such music as the Chicago Symphony here brings to every music-loving home.”
To commemorate this legacy, this collage of record and CD labels is on display in the first floor of Symphony Center’s Rotunda through the end of the Orchestra’s current—the 125th—season. Details of all of the recordings included are below (all recordings were made at Orchestra Hall unless otherwise noted).
Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 11, 1942, performing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with George Szell conducting. On July 22 and 24, Schanbel and the Orchestra recorded the Fourth along with Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto at Orchestra Hall for Victor Records. Frederick Stock conducted these, his last, recording sessions with the Orchestra; he died a few short months later on October 20.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave the U.S. premiere of Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite under the baton of the composer on December 6, 1918. On March 16, 1945, third music director Désiré Defauw recorded the work for RCA.
Fourth music director Artur Rodzinski led the Orchestra in a complete performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde—with Set Svanholm and Kirsten Flagstad in the title roles—at the Civic Opera House on November 16, 1947. A month later on December 14, he led the Orchestra in recording sessions for the Prelude and Liebestod at Orchestra Hall.
For Mercury Records, fifth music director Rafael Kubelík led the Orchestra’s first recording of Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on April 23 and 24, 1951. Principal trumpet Adolph Herseth performed the opening fanfare.
On March 6, 1954, sixth music director Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra recorded together for the first time: Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Ein Heldenleben for RCA. (Reiner’s complete CSO catalog recently was re-released by RCA.)
At the third annual Grammy awards ceremony on April 12, 1961, the Orchestra’s recording of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta received the award for Best Classical Performance–Orchestra. Reiner had conducted the RCA release. That same evening, the Orchestra’s recording of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto—also on RCA and with Erich Leinsdorf conducting—earned the award for Best Classical Performance–Concerto or Instrumental Soloist for Sviatoslav Richter. These were the first two Grammy awards earned for recordings by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Reiner led the Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by its founder Margaret Hillis), and mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias in Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky for RCA—the first recording collaboration with the Orchestra and the Chorus—on March 7, 1959, at Orchestra Hall.
Two years after winning the prestigious 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Van Cliburn made his first recording with the Orchestra on April 16, 1960: Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Reiner conducting for RCA. (A complete list of Cliburn’s appearances and recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra can be found here.)
On March 19, 1966, seventh music director Jean Martinon led the Orchestra in recording sessions for Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra for RCA. Featured soloists were CSO principals Clark Brody (clarinet), Willard Elliot (bassoon), Donald Peck (flute), Dale Clevenger (horn, in his first week on the job), Ray Still (oboe), Adolph Herseth (trumpet), Donald Koss (timpani), and Jay Friedman (trombone). (Martinon’s complete CSO catalog recently was re-released by RCA.)
Benny Goodman recorded Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto with the Orchestra on June 18, 1966, for RCA. Morton Gould conducted. (Gould’s complete CSO catalog recently was re-released by RCA.)
The Orchestra made its second recording of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade on June 30 and July 1, 1969, at Medinah Temple for Angel. Seiji Ozawa, the Ravinia Festival’s first music director, conducted and concertmaster Victor Aitay was violin soloist.
During eighth music director Georg Solti‘s first season as music director, the Orchestra performed Mahler’s Fifth Symphony at Carnegie Hall on January 9, 1970, and were called back for twelve curtain calls. Beginning on March 26 at Medinah Temple, Solti and the Orchestra committed their performance to disc—their first recording together—for London Records.
Daniel Barenboim, who would later become ninth music director, made his first recording with the Orchestra on November 11, 1970, at Medinah Temple. For Angel, he led sessions for Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with his wife Jacqueline du Pré as soloist. (A summary of du Pré’s association with the Orchestra is here.)
Before the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed the first concert of its first tour to Europe in 1971, Solti led recording sessions for Mahler’s Eighth Symphony at the Sofiensaal in Vienna on August 30, 31, and September 1. Soloists included Heather Harper, Lucia Popp (more about Popp’s performances with the Orchestra is here), Arleen Augér, Yvonne Minton, Helen Watts, René Kollo, John Shirley-Quirk, and Martti Talvela. The recording won three 1972 Grammy awards for Album of the Year–Classical, Best Choral Performance–Classical (other than opera) (for the Chorus of the Vienna State Opera, Singverein Chorus, and Vienna Boys’ Choir), and Best Engineered Recording–Classical.
On December 13, 1977, Barenboim and the Orchestra recorded Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony for Deutsche Grammophon, part of a complete cycle of the composer’s symphonies that also included the Te Deum, Helgoland, and Psalm 150.
Following concerts in Orchestra Hall and Carnegie Hall, Solti led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (including Hildegard Behrens as Leonore and Peter Hofmann as Florestan) and in recording sessions for Beethoven’s Fidelio—”the first digitally recorded opera to be released,” according to Gramophone—at Medinah Temple on May 21, 22, 23, and 24, 1979.
Second music director of the Ravinia Festival, James Levine led the Orchestra, Chorus, Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus, and soloists (June Anderson, Phillip Creech, and Bernd Weikl) in sessions for Orff’s Carmina burana on July 9 and 10, 1984, for Deutsche Grammophon. The recording was awarded the 1986 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance (other than opera).
At the end of a subscription concert at Orchestra Hall on January 23, 1986, Solti led the Orchestra and Chorus in a spirited encore of the Chicago Bears‘ fight song “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” in anticipation of the team’s Super Bowl victory. The day after the game, the work was recorded by London Records.
Solti led recording sessions at Medinah Temple for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—the second time he and the Orchestra and Chorus had recorded the work—on September 28, 30, and October 7, 1986, for London. Soloists were Jessye Norman, Reinhild Runkel, Robert Schunk, and Hans Sotin. The release was awarded the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.
Claudio Abbado, second principal guest conductor, led the Orchestra in Brahms’s Double Concerto with Isaac Stern and Yo-Yo Ma (future Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant) as soloists on November 7 and 8, 1986, for CBS Records.
Closing the 97th season in June 1988, Leonard Bernstein led the Orchestra in performances of Shostakovich’s First and Seventh symphonies. Recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon, the release received the 1990 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.
On March 15, 16, and 17, 1990, Barenboim led the world premiere performances of composer-in-residence John Corigliano’s Symphony no. 1, commissioned for the Orchestra. The live recording—Barenboim and the Orchestra’s first on the Erato label—was awarded two 1991 Grammy awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Contemporary Composition.
The recording of Bartók’s The Wooden Prince and Cantata profana led by Pierre Boulez for Deutsche Grammophon—recorded on December 19, 20, and 21, 1991—was awarded four 1993 Grammy awards: Best Classical Album, Best Orchestral Performance, Best Performance of a Choral Work, and Best Engineered Recording–Classical. (A complete list of Boulez’s recordings with the Orchestra is here and his complete Grammy awards are here.)
Between 1993 and 1996, Levine led the Orchestra and Chorus in recording sessions at Medinah Temple for Disney‘s feature film Fantasia 2000. The movie was released on January 1, 2000.
Shortly after being named the Orchestra’s third principal guest conductor, Boulez led sessions for Varèse’s Amériques, Arcana, Déserts, and Ionisation in December 1995 and 1996. The Deutsche Grammophon release was awarded the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.
In May 1997 at Medinah Temple, the Orchestra recorded Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and The Three-Cornered Hat for Teldec. For Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Barenboim was piano soloist and Plácido Domingo conducted; for The Three-Cornered Hat, Jennifer Larmore was mezzo-soprano soloist and Barenboim conducted.
A former Youth Auditions winner and member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Rachel Barton recorded Brahms’s and Joachim’s violin concertos for Cedille Records on July 2 and 3, 2002. Carlos Kalmar conducted.
In his first concerts as principal conductor on October 19, 20, and 21, 2006, Bernard Haitink led the Orchestra, women of the Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe), the Chicago Children’s Choir, and mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung in Mahler’s Third Symphony. The work is recorded as the inaugural release on CSO Resound.
In May 2008, Haitink and the Orchestra recorded Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony for CSO Resound. The release was awarded the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.
Boulez led the Orchestra in Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, Symphony in Three Movements, and Four Studies in February and March 2009 for CSO Resound. Soloists in the Pulcinella were Roxana Constantinescu, Nicholas Phan, and Kyle Ketelsen.
On January 15, 16, and 17, 2009, Riccardo Muti—in his first concerts as music director designate—led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (Barbara Frittoli, Olga Borodina, Mario Zeffiri, and Ildar Abdrazakov) in Verdi’s Requiem. The subsequent CSO Resound recording was awarded 2010 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance.
Following his first concert as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s tenth music director (for more than 25,000 people in Millennium Park) in September 2010, Muti led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (Gérard Depardieu, Mario Zeffiri, and Kyle Ketelsen) in Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Lélio. The two-disc set was released on CSO Resound in September 2015.
On April 7, 9, and 12, 2011, Muti led concert performances—recorded by CSO Resound—of Verdi’s Otello at Orchestra Hall. Along with the Orchestra, Chorus, and Chicago Children’s Chorus, soloists included Aleksandrs Antonenko in the title role, Krassimira Stoyanova as Desdemona, and Carlo Guelfi as Iago.
In February 2012, Muti led world premieres by the Orchestra’s Mead Composers-in-Residence: Anna Clyne’s Night Ferry and Mason Bates’s Alternative Energy. Both works were recorded for CSO Resound and released as digital downloads.
For Sony Classical, composer John Williams led the Orchestra and Chorus in recording sessions at Orchestra Hall for his soundtrack for the motion picture Lincoln. Director Steven Spielberg was on hand to supervise.
Cheers to the next 100!
According to Phillip Huscher, “Pierre Boulez composed the original Notations for piano in 1945, when the twenty-year-old composer was still a student of Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory. Boulez wrote twelve pieces, each twelve measures long (the number was central to the manifesto of the time). These Notations are concise, highly polished studies, each a precise and taut exploration of a single musical idea. Although Boulez quickly put them aside and moved on to greater challenges, they are among the works with which he opened a new chapter in the history of music.”
Boulez orchestrated the first four Notations in 1977 and 1978, and these versions were premiered by the Orchestre de Paris in 1980 with Daniel Barenboim conducting. Claudio Abbado led the Chicago Symphony’s first performances in October 1984, and Boulez himself conducted them with the Orchestra in October 1987. Near the end of the centennial season, music director designate Daniel Barenboim first led the Chicago Symphony in the four Notations in April 1991, and shortly thereafter, a second set of four orchestrations was commissioned for the Orchestra by the Edward F. Schmidt Family Commissioning Fund.
Boulez completed the first of these in 1997, and on January 14, 1999, the Orchestra gave the world premiere of Notations VII. Barenboim conducted the eight-minute work, followed by Pierre Boulez giving a brief discussion on his compositional process that included Barenboim performing the original piano version. Barenboim then conducted the work a second time. “What was abrupt in 1945 is now languorous; what was crude is now done with a lifetime’s experience and expertise; what was simple is fantastically embellished, even submerged,” wrote Paul Griffiths in The New York Times. “Boulez suggested the metaphor of long-buried grain sprouting, but one might rather think of an oyster making a pearl. As if irritated by the original piano piece, the composer has given it a sumptuous, dense, and opalescent coating, not only expanding it but also, in a way, withdrawing its shock. . . . The violent new influences of 1945 are, in the recomposition, being wiped away.”
Following the premiere, Barenboim led numerous performances of the five Notations in Chicago as well as on tour in Carnegie Hall, Berlin, Cologne, and Lucerne, and he included them during his farewell concerts as music director in June 2006. No. VII was recorded by Teldec in 2000.
This article also appears here.
Nineteen-year-old Isaac Stern first appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on January 11 and 12, 1940. Frederick Stock conducted an all-Sibelius program, and Stern was soloist in the Violin Concerto.
According to the Chicago Daily News, “Dr. Frederick Stock had been invited to conduct the Sibelius concert with the Helsingfors Orchestra [arranged when Stock visited Sibelius in Finland the previous summer] as a special feature of the Olympic Games.* But Finland has had to abandon peacetime pursuits and now Isaac can thank the Russian regime for both his American citizenship and the chance to play the Sibelius D minor concerto with one of the world’s great orchestras.”
“True to the topsy-turvy condition of the world we live in, while the Finns are playing havoc with the Russians, at home a Russian-born violinist, young Isaac Stern, was the sensation of Mr. Stock’s memorable Sibelius concert at Orchestra Hall last night,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Journal of Commerce. “[Stern] has a commanding and comprehensive technique, a bold and beautiful tone never blatant and he has an urgent intensity of projection that seems to start in his firmly planted heels and flow like fire into the hands that make his music. . . . Stock’s accompaniment was brilliant in the perceptive richness that makes so many soloists prefer him to any other conductor.”
Over the course of the next fifty-two years, Stern was one of the Orchestra’s most frequent guests at Orchestra Hall, the Ravinia Festival, and at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, performing under six music directors (Stock, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim) and a variety of guest conductors, including Fritz Busch, Andrew Davis, Carlo Maria Giulini, Otto Klemperer, Josef Krips, Pierre Monteux, Eugene Ormandy, Seiji Ozawa, and Leonard Slatkin. In 1986, Stern and Yo-Yo Ma recorded Brahms’s Concerto for Violin and Cello with Claudio Abbado for CBS.
*On July 16, 1938, a year after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, it was announced that the 1940 Summer Olympics would not be held in Tokyo, as originally scheduled. The International Olympic Committee then awarded the games to Helsinki, the runner-up city in the original bidding process. However, following the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939, the Olympic Games were indefinitely suspended and did not resume until 1948.
This article also appears here.
Wishing a very happy sixtieth birthday to Yo-Yo Ma, a great friend and frequent collaborator with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra!
Yo-Yo Ma made his debut with the Orchestra on December 13, 1979, at Orchestra Hall in Kabelevsky’s Cello Concerto with Leonard Slatkin conducting; and he first appeared at the Ravinia Festival on July 1, 1982, in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major with Charles Dutoit conducting. With the Orchestra, he has recorded Bloch’s Schelomo (with Miguel Harth-Bedoya) Brahms’s Double Concerto (twice: with Isaac Stern and Claudio Abbado, and later with Itzhak Perlman and Daniel Barenboim), and Williams’s Suite from Memoirs of a Geisha with the composer conducting. Ma has been one of Orchestra Hall’s most frequent guest artists, performing not only as a soloist with the Orchestra but also as a chamber musician in a wide variety of ensembles.
Happy, happy birthday!
That first performance of the symphony (sandwiched between Handel’s Concerto grosso, op. 6, no. 2 and Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Josef Hofmann) on November 6, 1914, left Ronald Webster of the Chicago Daily Tribune a bit puzzled: “The Mahler symphony is less important but more interesting to talk about because it is strictly earthy. There is a suggestion in the program notes that Mahler was not wholly serious in this symphony. It was obvious yesterday that he was not serious at all. Even the finale is not serious, though it is tiresome, being too long. But it is the quality of the humor which is likely to cause people to turn up their noses. The humor is a little coarse, definitely ironical, of a barnyard kind and healthy. Mahler is himself partly to blame for such ideas about him. Definite conceptions such as his (though he may not have been serious about them either) are death to all mystic attitude toward this work. . . . He suggests that the first movement is nature’s awakening at early morning. One suspects that Mahler included in nature the cows and chickens as well as the cuckoo and the dewy grass.” The complete review is here.
Despite that critic’s early apprehensions, the symphony soon became a staple in the Orchestra’s repertoire and has been led—at Orchestra Hall, the Ravinia Festival, and on tour—by a vast array of conductors, including: Roberto Abbado, Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, James Conlon, Christoph von Dohnányi, Gustavo Dudamel, Christoph Eschenbach, Adam Fischer, Carlo Maria Giulini, Bernard Haitink, Irwin Hoffman, Paul Kletzki, Kirill Kondrashin, Rafael Kubelík, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Igor Markevitch, Henry Mazer, Eugene Ormandy, Seiji Ozawa, George Schick, Leonard Slatkin, Sir Georg Solti, William Steinberg, Klaus Tennstedt, Michael Tilson Thomas, Edo de Waart, Bruno Walter, and Jaap van Zweden.
And the Orchestra has recorded the work six times, as follows:
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Recorded by Angel at Medinah Temple in March 1971
Christopher Bishop, producer
Carson Taylor, engineer
Giulini’s recording won the 1971 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance—Orchestra from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Claudio Abbado, conductor
Recorded by Deutsche Grammophon at Orchestra Hall in February 1981
Rainer Brock, producer
Karl-August Naegler, engineer
Klaus Tennstedt, conductor
Recorded by EMI at Orchestra Hall in May and June 1990
John Fraser, producer
Michael Sheady, engineer
Bernard Haitink, conductor
Recorded by CSO Resound at Orchestra Hall in May 2008
James Mallinson, producer
Christopher Willis, engineer
For more information on Muti’s performances of Mahler’s First this week, please visit the CSO’s website.
Orchestral and chamber musician, soloist with countless ensembles, and lifelong teacher and coach Ray Still—a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s oboe section for forty years, serving as principal for thirty-nine years—died peacefully on March 12, 2014, surrounded by family in Woodstock, Vermont. He was 94.
Born on March 12, 1920, in Elwood, Indiana, Still began playing clarinet as a teenager. During the Great Depression, his family moved to California, where he was able to regularly hear performances of the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a volunteer usher. After hearing the masterful technique and elegant phrasing of Henri de Busscher—principal oboe in Los Angeles from 1920 until 1948—Still switched to the oboe.
Still graduated from Los Angeles High School and at the age of nineteen joined the Kansas City Philharmonic as second oboe in 1939, where he was a member until 1941 (and also where he met and married Mary Powell Brock in 1940). For the next two years, he studied electrical engineering, served in the reserve US Army Signal Corps, and worked nights at the Douglas Aircraft factory. During the height of World War II, Still joined the US Army in September 1943 and served until June of 1946.
Immediately following his honorable discharge from the Army, Still enrolled at the Juilliard School where he studied with Robert Bloom. The following year in 1947, he began a two-year tenure as principal oboe with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of William Steinberg. Beginning in 1949, Still was principal oboe of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for four years.
In the fall of 1953, Still auditioned for Fritz Reiner, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s recently named music director. Reiner invited him to be the Orchestra’s second-chair oboe and the following year promoted him to the principal position. Still would serve the Orchestra in that capacity—under music directors Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim—until his retirement in 1993.
Still appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as soloist on countless occasions, including the Orchestra’s first performances of works for solo oboe by Albinoni, Bach, Barber, Mozart, Richard Strauss, and Telemann. His extensive discography includes Bach’s Wedding Cantata on RCA with Kathleen Battle as soloist and James Levine conducting, and Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C minor on Deutsche Grammophon with Claudio Abbado conducting.
Still performed with numerous other ensembles including the Juilliard, Vermeer, and Fine Arts string quartets; he recorded with Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, and Lynn Harrell; and regularly appeared at many music festivals, including those at Aspen, Stratford, and Marlboro, among others.
A tireless educator, Still taught at the Peabody Institute from 1949 until 1953, Roosevelt University from 1954 until 1957, and at Northwestern University for forty-three years until 2003. Throughout his tenure with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he coached members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. At the invitation of Seiji Ozawa, he spent the summers of 1968 and 1970 as a visiting member of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in Tokyo, where he held coaching sessions for the wind section, conducted chamber music classes, and lectured at Toho University.
Following his retirement from Northwestern, he moved to Annapolis, Maryland—where he continued to give master classes and lessons—with his beloved wife Mary and son James to live near his daughter Susan. In 2013, he moved to Saxtons River and later Woodstock, Vermont, where he lived near Susan, his granddaughter Madeline, and her two daughters.
Still is survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Mimi and Kent Dixon of Springfield, Ohio; his son and daughter-in-law, Tom and Sally Still of Big Timber, Montana; his daughter and son-in-law, Susan Still and Peter Bergstrom of Saxtons River, Vermont; six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death in 2012 by his wife of almost 72 years, Mary Brock Still, and his son James Still.
Services will be private and details for a memorial in Chicago are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Institute for Learning, Access, and Training at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
When interviewed for an article in the Chicago Tribune in 1988, Still was asked why he thought the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was the world’s greatest. His reply: “It’s like a great baseball team. We have a blend of youth and experience, and they work very well together. A lot of orchestras have this. The thing that makes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra very unusual is the tremendous—I hate to use the word—discipline. There is a certain pride, and I think it goes back to the days of Theodore Thomas, the founder. There is something about the tradition of this Orchestra and the level the main body of musicians has come to expect of itself. There’s just a longer line of tradition.”
More information can be found at www.raystill.com.