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Riccardo Muti (Todd Rosenberg photo)

A recent Gramophone magazine article lists its fifty greatest conductors of all time, and several Chicago Symphony Orchestra titled conductors are prominently featured!

Current music director Riccardo Muti and former music directors Daniel BarenboimRafael 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.

Wishing a very happy seventieth birthday to the extraordinary violinist Gidon Kremer!

Gidon Kremer (Michael Benabib photo)

Gidon Kremer (Michael Benabib photo)

A frequent and favorite soloist in Chicago, the Ravinia Festival, and on tour, Kremer has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on numerous occasions, as follows:

November 26, 28, and 29, 1980, in Orchestra Hall
BERG Violin Concerto
Varujan Kojian, conductor

March 26, 27, and 28, 1992, in Orchestra Hall
SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concerto No. 2 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 129
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

January 13, 14, and 15, 1994, in Orchestra Hall
BERG Violin Concerto
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

August 12, 1994, at the Ravinia Festival
GLASS Violin Concerto
Riccardo Chailly, conductor

May 15, 16, 17, and 20, 1997, in Orchestra Hall
June 4 and 5, 1997, at the Philharmonie in Cologne, Germany
REIMANN Violin Concerto (world premiere)
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

Gidon Kremer (Alberts Linarts photo)

Gidon Kremer (Alberts Linarts photo)

October 21, 22, 23, adn 24, 1998, in Orchestra Hall
KANCHELI Lament (Music of Mourning in Memory of Luigi Nono)
Katharina Kammerloher, mezzo-soprano
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

May 5, 6, and 7, 2005, in Orchestra Hall
SCHNITTKE Concerto grosso No. 6
SCHNITTKE Concerto grosso No. 5
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

Kremer also has performed in Orchestra Hall on several other occasions, as a soloist with the Oslo Philharmonic under Mariss Jansons, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and the Staatskapelle Berlin with Daniel Barenboim. As a chamber musician, he has appeared many times with his ensemble Kremerata Baltica, most recently on February 1, 2017.

Happy, happy birthday!

thomas-at-desk

Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s first music director, died on January 4, 1905. For many years after, the Orchestra would dedicate the first concerts of the new year to his memory, frequently performing works closely associated with their founder. We continue that tradition on this week’s radio broadcast, as Frank Villella, director of the CSO’s Rosenthal Archives, co-hosts a retrospective of works that Thomas introduced to audiences in the United States, both with the Chicago Orchestra and other ensembles.

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BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Recorded by Erato in Orchestra Hall, September 1993

In 1879, the University of Breslau in Poland bestowed upon Johannes Brahms an honorary doctorate, and to show his appreciation, he composed the Academic Festival Overture the following summer. The composer himself led the first public performance at the university in January 1881, and later that year on November 29, Thomas led the U.S. premiere in New York.

Daniel Barenboim, early in his tenure as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ninth music director, recorded Brahms’s complete symphonies, along with the Tragic Overture, Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and the Academic Festival Overture, all for Erato Records.

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WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
Artur Rodzinski, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, December 1947

In the nineteenth century, Thomas was Richard Wagner’s greatest advocate in the United States, both before and after he founded the Chicago Orchestra. During his fourteen seasons as music director, he programmed Wagner’s music on nearly half of his concerts, both in Chicago and with the Orchestra on tour. Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of the Prelude from Tristan and Isolde in New York on February 10, 1866, less than a year after the opera’s first complete performances in Munich; and he also gave the first U.S. performance of the Prelude paired with the Liebestod in Boston on December 6, 1871. Thomas programmed these two works together fifteen times on subscription concerts during his tenure as music director.

Artur Rodzinski was the Orchestra’s fourth music director for only one season (1947–48). One of his great successes was a concert performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in November 1947, featuring soprano Kirsten Flagstad in her first operatic appearance in the United States since the end of World War II. The legendary Chicago Tribune critic Claudia Cassidy called the performance “the dawn of a new operatic day in Chicago.” A month later, Rodzinski and the Orchestra recorded the Prelude and Liebestod for RCA.

elgar-enigma

ELGAR Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 (Enigma)
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Recorded by London in Medinah Temple, May 1974

Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations with the Chicago Orchestra on January 3, 1902, and it was such a crowd-pleaser that he programmed it a second time later that season. A few years later in April 1907, second music director Frederick Stock invited the composer himself to lead several of his works, including In the South, the first Pomp and Circumstance March, and the Enigma Variations. The Chicago Tribune reported that, “The men of the Orchestra gave him their closest attention and heartiest sympathy yesterday, and the result was a performance of the three compositions which was technically and tonally of highest worth. Sir Edward himself seemed genuinely pleased and his assertion after the concert that the ‘work of the Orchestra surpassed all his fondest expectations’ evidently was the expression of his true feeling.”

Sir Georg Solti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director, recorded the Enigma Variations on May 15, 1974, at Medinah Temple for London Records.

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STRAUSS Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, March 1954

During the summer of 1883, Thomas visited Europe and according to his Memoirs—edited by his widow, Rose Fay Thomas—the conductor, “had met, in Munich, a young and almost unknown composer, one Richard Strauss, who has recently finished writing a symphony. Thomas secured the first movement of the work, and was so much impressed with it that he requested young Strauss to let him have the other movements, promising to bring out the whole work in a concert of the Philharmonic Society.” Thomas kept that promise and in New York in December 1884, he led the world premiere of the Second Symphony in F minor—the first music of Richard Strauss to be performed in the United States. Strauss would later send new scores, and Thomas introduced several works to the United States with the Orchestra, including Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote, along with Ein Heldenleben, first performed in Chicago on March 9, 1900.

Near the end of his first season as sixth music director, Fritz Reiner made his first recordings with the Orchestra for RCA. In Orchestra Hall on March 6, 1954, they recorded Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Ein Heldenleben, with violin solos performed by then-concertmaster John Weicher. Reiner’s CSO recordings of music by Strauss have never been out of print, and in 2013, Sony re-issued Reiner’s complete CSO catalog on RCA, a boxed set of sixty-three CDs.

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TCHAIKOVSKY Final Waltz and Apotheosis from The Nutcracker, Op. 71
Morton Gould, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, January 1966

Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of a suite from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker on October 22, 1892, on the first concert of the Orchestra’s second season. The program note described Tchaikovsky as the “composer, who, in his fifth symphony, has led us into the highest realms of art and stirred our very soul,” and the note described the selections from the ballet as “miniature pictures painted with infinite grace and care,” showing the composer, “in one of his playful and trifling moods.”

Morton Gould, a frequent guest conductor on Popular concerts in the 1960s, recorded selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker at Orchestra Hall on January 31, 1966, for RCA. A six-disc set of Gould’s complete recordings with the Orchestra was released by Sony in February 2016.

In May 2016, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra celebrated 100 years of recording.

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Dress rehearsal for The Marriage of Figaro, February 1992 (George Mott photo)

Dress rehearsal for The Marriage of Figaro, February 1992 (George Mott photo)

During Daniel Barenboim’s first season as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ninth music director, several concerts included music by Mozart to commemorate the bicentennial of the composer’s death. The commemoration culminated in February 1992, with the transformation of Orchestra Hall into an opera house as Barenboim conducted (from memory) performances of the three operas by Mozart with librettos by Lorenzo Da PonteThe Marriage of Figaro, Così fan tutte, and Don Giovanni. Presented semistaged in rotating repertory, the productions featured such leading singers as Lella Cuberli, Joan Rodgers, Cecilia Bartoli, Waltraud Meier, Ferruccio Furlanetto, and Michele Pertusi, with costumes by Oscar de la Renta.

Following The Marriage of Figaro, Wynne Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times called the performance “luxurious in the broadest and best sense. There was the CSO’s sumptuous sound, a fine roster of singers and inventive staging . . . [with] a rich elegance that fit beautifully in the affluent, contemporary stage universe created by directors Christopher and David Alden.” And in the Chicago Tribune, John von Rhein added, “Indeed, hearing Mozart’s scoring as played by the CSO was without question the chief justification for Barenboim’s presenting the Da Ponte works on the subscription series. Seldom in any theater does one hear orchestral sonorities so warmly blended or impeccably balanced, yet with every detail in clear relief.”

This article also appears here.

Johan Botha, Tenor

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the death of tenor Johan Botha, who died earlier today in Vienna at the age of 51 following a long illness.

A remarkably versatile singer, Botha was known for a vast number of roles in works by Beethoven, Puccini, Strauss, Verdi, and Wagner, among others. During his nearly thirty-year career, he appeared regularly on many of the world’s opera stages, including La Scala; the Royal Opera House Covent Garden; the Metropolitan Opera; the Vienna Staatsoper, where he made his home; and Lyric Opera of Chicago, where he most recently appeared in Wagner’s Tannhäuser in 2015.

Born on August 19, 1965, in the northern South African city of Rustenburg, Botha studied at the Technical College Pretoria. He made his debut as Max in Weber’s Der Freischütz at the Staatstheater Roodepoort in 1989, and the following year traveled to Germany, where he sang with the Bayreuth Festival Chorus before making his debut as Gustavus in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera in Kaiserslautern. Botha made his United States debut in 1994, as Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina; and he first appeared with Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1998, as Enzo in Ponchielli’s La gioconda.

He is survived by his wife and two sons.

Botha appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on two occasions, as follows:

September 13, 1996 (Royal Albert Hall, London)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Deborah Voigt, soprano
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
Johan Botha, tenor
René Pape, bass
BBC Singers
London Voices
Terry Edwards, director

April 24, 26, and 28, 2001 (Orchestra Hall)
VERDI Requiem
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Margaret Jane Wray, soprano (April 24)
Deborah Voigt, soprano (April 26 and 28)
Violeta Urmana, mezzo-soprano
Johan Botha, tenor
René Pape, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director

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.

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Sir Georg Solti acknowledges Witold Lutosławski following the premiere of his Third Symphony on September 29, 1983 (Terry’s photo)

To open the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ninety-third season on September 29, 1983, Sir Georg Solti led the world premiere of Witold Lutosławski’s Symphony no. 3. The work had been commissioned by the Orchestra and was made possible by a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. John C. Stetson.

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Detail of the opening bars of Lutosławski’s Third Symphony

The composer was in Chicago for the premiere and contributed to the program notes: “I began sketching my Third Symphony as early as in 1972. In the following years I composed the main movement, but subsequently I discarded it completely. It took several years for the idea to become mature and it was only in January 1983 that the whole score finally was ready. . . . When composing the symphony, I had constantly in mind the magnificent sound of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, whose recordings are still in my working room. It was a tremendous stimulus for my imagination. But on the other hand, the weight of responsibility when writing a work for such an extraordinary ensemble made me especially exacting towards myself. That is probably why the work on the symphony cost me such a long time.”

The symphony was recorded for radio broadcast on WFMT, and the recording was later released on Chicago Symphony Orchestra: The First 100 Years, issued during the centennial season in 1991. Daniel Barenboim and the Orchestra also recorded it live in concert in October 1992 for Erato Records.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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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.

Muenzer, Edgar1

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family notes with sorrow the passing of Edgar Muenzer, a member of the violin section from 1956 until 2003. He died on July 22, 2016, at the age of 88, following a long illness.

Music was long the lifeblood of the Muenzer family. Edgar’s father, Hans, was concertmaster of the Chicago Theater Orchestra, the WGN Symphonietta, and head of the string department at the University of Iowa; his mother, Esther Payne, was a concert pianist and teacher. His brother Albert was professor of violin at the University of Houston and served as concertmaster of the Houston Grand Opera until his retirement; and his sister, Louise Bruyn, pursued modern dance and taught in Boston.

An alumnus of Lane Technical High School in Chicago and the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Muenzer was a musician in the U.S. Air Force for nearly a decade. Following his military service, he was appointed by Fritz Reiner to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s second violin section in March 1956, moving to the first violin section in October of that year. In addition to previous solo work with orchestras and in recital, Muenzer was an active chamber musician as a member of the Chadamin Trio and the Chicago Symphony String Quartet. He was professor of violin at Northwestern University from 1970 until 1988 and concertmaster of the Northbrook Symphony Orchestra from 1988 until 1994.

Serving under four music directors—Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim—Muenzer retired from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2003 after forty-seven years. In his retirement, he was a longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association, serving for many years on the board of directors.

Muenzer, Edgar2

In 1994, Muenzer and his wife Nancy founded the Park Ridge Civic Orchestra. For nearly twenty years, he was music director, growing the ensemble into one of Illinois’s finest professional orchestras and featuring soloists that included CSO concertmasters Samuel Magad and Robert Chen, violinist Rachel Barton Pine, CSO principal cello John Sharp, CSO principal trumpet Adolph Herseth, and baritone William Warfield, among many others. Under Muenzer’s leadership, the ensemble received numerous awards, including Orchestra of the Year from the Illinois Council of Orchestras in 2000 and the Governor’s Hometown Award in 1998. In 2002, Muenzer won the Illinois Council of Orchestras’ Conductor of the Year Award, and in 2004, he and Nancy received a Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award. Following his retirement in March 2013, he passed the baton to his son Victor and became music director emeritus.

Edgar Muenzer is survived by his beloved wife, Nancy; three sons Victor, Peter, and James; and grandchildren Gregory and Gabriel. Services have been held.

Upon his retirement, Muenzer recalled one of his early experiences in the Orchestra: “One of my most memorable performances was shortly after I joined the Orchestra. We did a staged version of Richard Strauss’s Elektra, with Fritz Reiner conducting. It was as if I hit the ceiling, it was such a wonderful experience—not only to be able to play that music, but to hear it, right in the orchestra. That was the first of many high points, experiences that I will never forget.”

An obituary was posted by the Chicago Tribune on July 25, 2016.

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Illustration by Pam Rossi

Illustration by Pam Rossi

After more than three years of planning, building, testing, and fine-tuning, Symphony Center—a $120 million project that included a facility expansion and extensive renovation of Orchestra Hall—opened its doors on October 4, 1997, with an opening night gala concert.

Led by acousticians Kirkegaard Associates and architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the project encompassed additions and improvements to Orchestra Hall, including raising the roof line for increased sound reverberation, replacing plaster walls, decreasing the width and increasing the depth of the stage, adding an extensive riser system, replacing all seats and adding terrace seating behind the stage, installing an acoustic canopy (to improve onstage ensemble conditions and sound reflection to the audience), and increasing patron amenity spaces. In addition, the project included new administrative offices in the former Chapin & Gore building; Buntrock Hall, a multipurpose rehearsal and performance space; renovation of a private club (formerly the home of the Cliff Dwellers); and a multistory arcade and rotunda. The following year brought the opening of a new restaurant (originally Rhapsody and now tesori) and an education center.

Natyakalalayam Dance Company performing in Symphony Center’s rotunda on October 5, 1997 (Jeff Meacham photo)

Natyakalalayam Dance Company performing in Symphony Center’s rotunda on October 5, 1997 (Jeff Meacham photo)

Launching a three-week inaugural festival, the October 4 gala concert was conducted by Daniel Barenboim and included excerpts from Verdi’s Otello with Soile Isokoski and Plácido Domingo, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 27 (with Barenboim conducting from the keyboard), Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with William Warfield, and Bruckner’s Te Deum with the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Midnight marked the beginning of the first Day of Music: twenty-four hours of free, live performances of music across all genres in multiple Symphony Center venues, attended by more than 20,000 people.

October 22, 1997 (Jim Steere photo)

October 22, 1997 (Jim Steere photo)

Sadly, the many celebrations were bittersweet. Music director laureate Sir Georg Solti—who, during the festival would have celebrated not only his eighty-fifth birthday but also his 1,000th concert with the Orchestra—had unexpectedly died on September 5, 1997. A special, free memorial concert was added on October 22 that included 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. A celebration concert was given on October 25, with Daniel Barenboim conducting Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto (from the keyboard) and the Seventh Symphony.

This article also appears here.

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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Maestro Muti and the CSO receive a warm welcome from a sold-out show at @wheatoncollegeil's Edman Memorial Chapel. In the their first performance at the venue together, the program included works by Rossini, Beethoven, Schumann and CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence @samuelcarladams. Photo by @toddrphoto.

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