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Vladimir Ashkenazy (Wayne J. Shilkret photo)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family wishes the magnificent pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy a very happy eighty-fifth birthday!

Ashkenazy catapulted onto the world stage in 1955 after winning second prize in the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. He was awarded first prize in both the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels in 1956 and the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1962.

“Pound for pound, he may be the most pyrotechnic pianist in the whole world,” wrote Seymour Raven in the Chicago Tribune, following Ashkenazy’s Orchestra Hall recital debut, presented under the auspices of Allied Arts on October 19, 1958. Seven years later, after his Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut in Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto, Thomas Willis (also in the Tribune) commented, the “volcanic [pianist], whose two previous recitals here marked him as a man to watch, had everything it takes to get the locomotor going full speed and most of the qualities to sustain momentum. The big tone for melodies framed the structure in iron. The bravura technique took in stride the hammering octaves, scales which sweep the keyboard, and arpeggio lightning which galvanizes the Russian bear intermezzo into a furious climax. . . . This combination of work, soloist, and orchestra could lift you right out of your seat more than once.”

During the first tour to Europe in 1971, Ashkenazy joined the Orchestra on the first leg in Edinburgh on September 5, performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20 under Georg Solti. In May 1971 and 1972, he recorded Beethoven’s five piano concertos with the CSO, again with Solti conducting. Recording sessions took place at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and for London Records, the recording was produced by David Harvey and Kenneth Wilkinson was the recording engineer. The set of all five concertos won the 1973 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance—Instrumental Soloist or Soloists (with orchestra).

For nearly fifty years, Vladimir Ashkenazy was a regular visitor to the stage in Orchestra Hall. In January 2020, he announced that he would be retiring from public performance, capping a career that spanned nearly seventy years.

A complete list of his appearances—with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as a piano recitalist, and as a guest conductor with visiting orchestras—is below.

October 28, 29, and 30, 1965, Orchestra Hall
November 1, 1965, Pabst Theater, Milwaukee
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 16
Irwin Hoffman, conductor

March 27, 1967, Pabst Theater, Milwaukee
30 and 31, 1967, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37
Jean Martinon, conductor

July 25, 1968, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
Alfred Wallenstein, conductor

Ashkenazy, Solti, and David Harvey listening to playbacks of Beethoven’s piano concertos in May 1971 at the Krannert Center (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

December 5, 6, and 7, 1968, Orchestra Hall
December 9, 1968, Pabst Theater, Milwaukee
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26
William Steinberg, conductor

October 30, 31, and November 1, 1969, Orchestra Hall
November 3, 1969, Pabst Theater, Milwaukee
MOZART Piano Concerto in D Minor, K. 466
Eliahu Inbal, conductor

July 16, 1970, Ravinia Festival
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 16
István Kertész, conductor

May 7 and 8, 1971, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 (Emperor)
Georg Solti, conductor

July 20, 1971, Ravinia Festival
RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30
István Kertész, conductor

September 5, 1971, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland
MOZART Piano Concerto in D Minor, K. 466
Georg Solti, conductor

May 20, 1972, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

May 21, 1972, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

March 1, 2, and 3, 1973, Orchestra Hall
RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30
Lorin Maazel, conductor

November 7, 8, and 9, 1974, Orchestra Hall
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 5 in G Major, Op. 55
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor

January 18 and 20, 1980, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

Under the auspices of Allied Arts and Symphony Center Presents, Ashkenazy has appeared as piano recitalist, chamber musician, and guest conductor, as follows (*program book not on file; repertoire culled from advertisements and newspaper clippings).

October 19, 1958

October 19, 1958, Orchestra Hall
BRAHMS Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24
CHOPIN Nocturne in B Major, Op. 9, No. 3
CHOPIN Scherzo No. 4 in E Major, Op. 54
LISZT Mephisto Waltz No. 1
RACHMANINOV Variations on a Theme by Corelli, Op. 42
PROKOFIEV Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83

*November 18, 1962, Orchestra Hall
MOZART Sonata No. 9 in D Major, K. 311
PROKOFIEV Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 82
CHOPIN Etudes, Op. 25

*May 16, 1971, Orchestra Hall
HAYDN Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob. XVI:52
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata)
CHOPIN Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58

March 4, 1973, Orchestra Hall
DOHNÁNYI String Quartet No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 33
SHOSTAKOVICH String Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 68
SCHUMANN Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44
Chicago Symphony String Quartet
Victor Aitay, violin
Edgar Muenzer, violin
Milton Preves, viola
Frank Miller, cello

*February 17, 1974, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 3 in C Major, Op. 2, No. 3
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109
CHOPIN Fantasy in F Minor, Op. 49
CHOPIN Impromptu in F-sharp Major, Op. 36
CHOPIN Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52
CHOPIN Scherzo in E Major, Op. 54

Vladimir Ashkenazy (Wayne J. Shilkret photo)

*March 20, 1977, Orchestra Hall
SCRIABIN Sonata No. 2 in G-sharp Minor, Op. 19
SCRIABIN Two Poems, Op. 32
SCRIABIN Sonata No. 7, Op. 64 (White Mass)
SCRIABIN Sonata No. 10, Op. 70
SCRIABIN Four Pieces, Op. 56
RACHMANINOV Études-Tableaux, nos. 2 (Allegro in C major), 6 (Allegro con fuoco in E-flat major), 7 (Moderato in G minor), and 3 (Grave in C minor)
RACHMANINOV Selections from Ten Preludes, Op. 23 and Thirteen Preludes, Op. 32

*January 21, 1979, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 16 in G Major, Op. 31, No. 1
SCHUMANN Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6
CHOPIN Fantasy in F Minor, Op. 49
CHOPIN Ballade in A-flat
CHOPIN Nocturne in F-sharp Minor, Op. 48, No. 2
CHOPIN Scherzo in C-sharp Minor

*February 20, 1981, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111
CHOPIN Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58
CHOPIN Nocturne in D-flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2

*March 20, 1983, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109
SCHUBERT Klavierstücke No. 1 in E-flat Minor and No. 2 in E-flat Major, D. 946
SCHUBERT Fantasy in C Major, D. 760 (Wanderer)

*April 29, 1984, Orchestra Hall
SCHUBERT Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960
SCHUMANN Papillons, Op. 2
SCHUMANN Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13

December 9, 1990, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111
BRAHMS Klavierstücke, Op. 119
BRAHMS Variations on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24

Vladimir Ashkenazy (Ben Ealovega photo for Decca)

November 15, 1992, Orchestra Hall
MENDELSSOHN Selections from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 61
BAX Tintagel
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, Op. 93
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

November 10, 1997, Orchestra Hall
KODÁLY Dances of Galánta
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Christian Tetzlaff, violin
BRAHMS Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin

March 31, 2000, Orchestra Hall
JANÁČEK Suite from The Cunning Little Vixen
DVOŘÁK Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53
Kurt Nikkanen, violin
PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100
Czech Philharmonic

March 7, 2003, Orchestra Hall
SHOSTAKOVICH/Barshai Chamber Symphony for Strings in C Minor, Op. 110a
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, Op. 10
Lukáš Vondráček, piano
DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70
Czech Philharmonic

Happy, happy birthday!

This article also appears here.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—according to Frederick Stock, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s second music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies—is “dedicated to all Mankind. Embracing all phases of human emotion, monumental in scope and outline, colossal in its intellectual grasp and emotional eloquence, the Ninth stands today as the greatest of all symphonies.”

First page detail of a choral score, edited by Arthur Mees, the Orchestra’s first assistant conductor

Stock continues: “The Ninth is unquestionably the greatest of all symphonies not only because it is the final résumé of all of Beethoven’s achievements, colossal as they are even without the Ninth, but also because it voices the message of one who had risen beyond himself, beyond the world and the time in which he lived. The Ninth is Beethoven, the psychic and spiritual significance of his life.

“In the first movement we find the bitter struggle he waged against life’s adversities, his failing health, his deafness, his loneliness. The Scherzo depicts the quest for worldly joy; the third movement, melancholy reflection, longing—resignation. The last movement, the ‘Ode to Joy,’ is dedicated to all Mankind.”

“There’s something astonishing about a deaf composer choosing to open a symphony with music that reveals, like no other music before it, the very essence of sound emerging from silence,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “The famous pianissimo opening—sixteen measures with no secure sense of key or rhythm—does not so much depict the journey from darkness to light, or from chaos to order, as the birth of sound itself or the creation of a musical idea. It is as if the challenges of Beethoven’s daily existence—the struggle to compose music, his difficulty in communicating, the frustration of remembering what it was like to hear—have been made real in a single page of music.”

Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on December 16 and 17, 1892, at the Auditorium Theatre. The soloists were Minnie Fish, Minna Brentano, Charles A. Knorr, and George E. Holmes, along with the Apollo Chorus (prepared by William L. Tomlins).

1961 recording (RCA)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Orchestra’s first recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on May 1 and 2, 1961, in Orchestra Hall. Phyllis Curtin, Florence Kopleff, John McCollum, and Donald Gramm were the soloists, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer.

1972 recording (London)

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Ninth Symphony was recorded at the Krannert Center at the University of Illinois in Urbana on May 15 and 16, and June 26, 1972. Pilar Lorengar, Yvonne Minton, Stuart Burrows, and Martti Talvela were the soloists, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis. David Harvey was the recording producer, and Gordon Parry, Kenneth Wilkinson, and Peter van Biene were the balance engineers.

1986 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Ninth Symphony was recorded in Medinah Temple on September 29 and 30, 1986. Michael Haas was the recording producer, John Pellowe the balance engineer, and Neil Hutchinson the tape editor. Jessye Norman, Reinhild Runkel, Robert Schunk, and Hans Sotin were soloists, and Margaret Hillis prepared the Chorus. The release won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

On September 18, 20, 21, and 23, 2014, Riccardo Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Orchestra Hall. Camilla Nylund, Ekaterina Gubanova, Matthew Polenzani (September 18), William Burden (September 20, 21, and 23), and Eric Owens were the soloists, and the Chorus was prepared by Duain Wolfe. The performance on September 18 was recorded for YouTube and is available in the link below.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on February 24, 25, 26, and 27, 2022.

This article also appears here.

We have just heard news of the death of the wonderful Irish soprano Heather Harper, as reported in The Guardian. She was 88.

Harper appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of notable occasions, as listed below (all appearances are subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, unless otherwise noted):

April 3, 4, and 5, 1969
MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
Georg Solti, conductor
Helen Watts, contralto
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

December 11 and 12, 1969
HAYDN The Creation
Georg Solti, conductor
Stuart Burrows, tenor
Giorgio Tozzi, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

August 30, 31 & September 1, 1971 (recording sessions at the Sofiensaal in Vienna)
MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
Georg Solti, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano
Arleen Augér, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Helen Watts, contralto
René Kollo, tenor
John Shirley-Quirk, bass-baritone
Martti Talvela, bass
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Norbert Balatsch, chorus master
Singverein Chorus
Helmut Froschauer, chorus master
Vienna Boys’ Choir
David Harvey produced the recording, and Gordon Parry and Kenneth Wilkinson were the engineers for London Records. The recording won the 1972 Grammy Award for Album of the Year—Classical, Best Choral Performance—Classical (other than opera), and Best Engineered Recording—Classical from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Mahler's Symphony no. 8 in E-flat Major, recorded in Vienna in 1971

Mahler’s Symphony no. 8 in E-flat Major, recorded in Vienna in 1971

March 30, 31, and April 1, 1972
HANDEL Jephtha
Margaret Hillis, conductor
Helen Watts, contralto
Richard Lewis, tenor
Robert Johnson, tenor
Barry McDaniel, baritone
Boris Carmeli, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

October 12, 13, and 14, 1972
VIVALDI Gloria
ROSSINI Stabat mater
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Julia Hamari, mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti, tenor
Raffaele Arié, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

March 7, 8, and 9, 1974
TIPPETT Symphony No. 3
Sir Michael Tippett, conductor

April 12 and 13, 1974
BACH Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Helen Watts, contralto
Jerry Jennings, tenor
Mallory Walker, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Philip Booth, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

Wishing a very happy eightieth birthday to the fantastic Australian mezzo-soprano, Yvonne Minton!

Minton has appeared as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of notable occasions—in concert and on recording—between 1970 and 1981, indicated below:

April 2 and 3, 1970, Orchestra Hall
MAHLER Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Georg Solti, conductor
Recorded by London Records on April 1 and 7, 1970, in Orchestra Hall. The recording was produced by David Harvey; Gordon Parry and James Lock were the balance engineers.

April 1 and 7, 1970 (recording sessions only, no public performances)
MAHLER Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (“Das irdische Leben,” “Verlorne Müh’,” “Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen,” and “Rheinlegendchen”)
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Georg Solti, conductor
Recorded by London Records in Orchestra Hall. The recording was produced by David Harvey; Gordon Parry and James Lock were the balance engineers.

May 4, 5, and 6, 1972, Orchestra Hall
MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
René Kollo, tenor
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Recorded by London Records on May 8 and 9, 1972, at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The recording was produced by David Harvey; Kenneth Wilkinson and Gordon Parry were the balance engineers.

May 12 and 13, 1972, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Pilar Lorengar, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Stuart Burrows, tenor
Martti Talvela, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Recorded by London Records on May 15, 16, and 26, 1972, at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The recording was produced by David Harvey; Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers. This recording was ultimately released as part of a set of Beethoven’s complete symphonies (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

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

May 5, 6, and 7, 1977, Orchestra Hall
May 13, 1977, Carnegie Hall
BEETHOVEN Missa solemnis in D Major, Op. 123
Lucia Popp, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Mallory Walker, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
The work was recorded in Chicago’s Medinah Temple on May 16, 17, and 18, 1977. For London Records, Ray Minshull was the producer and Kenneth Wilkinson, John Dunkerley, and Michael Mailes were the engineers. The recording won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance, Classical (other than opera) from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

March 26, 27, and 28, 1981, Orchestra Hall
BRUCKNER Te Deum
Jessye Norman, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
David Rendall, tenor
Samuel Ramey, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
The work was recorded in Orchestra Hall on March 28, 1981. For Deutsche Grammophon, Steven Paul was the executive producer, Werner Mayer the recording producer, and Klaus Scheibe was the balance engineer and editor. 

Happy, happy birthday!

Frederick Stock and the Theodore Thomas Orchestra (as we were then called) first introduced the music of Gustav Mahler to Chicago audiences on March 22 and 23, 1907, performing the composer’s Fifth Symphony. Reviews were, shall we say, mixed.

As written about here this past October, “Ugly symphony is well played: Thomas Orchestra shows director Mahler of Vienna writes bad music,” proclaimed the headline of Millar Ular’s review in the Examiner. He continued that rather than title the symphony “The Giant,” it might be better titled “The Octopus” due to its ugliness, “The Dachshund” due to its length, or “Chaos” due to its purported lack of form. A writer in the Chicago Journal agreed, calling the symphony a “long and tedious work,” and most of the public agreed, as “before it was done, fully half the audience had fled.”

Undaunted, Stock programmed Mahler’s First in November 1914, the Fourth in March 1916, and three performances of the massive Eighth—with just under one thousand performers onstage at the Auditorium Theatre—in April 1917.

Cover of one of two first edition Symphony no. 7 scores in the Rosenthal Archives collection

Detail from the cover of one of two first editions of Mahler’s Symphony no. 7 from the Rosenthal Archives collection.

According to Phillip Huscher’s program note, “Stock heard Mahler’s Seventh Symphony for the first time in Amsterdam in 1920. He got a copy of the score in Paris and programmed the work for the penultimate concert of the 1920–21 season in Chicago. Perhaps fearing that the Chicago public would not share his enthusiasm for the Seventh Symphony, Stock announced that he had cut out eleven minutes of music, paring the playing time down to one hour and four minutes.”

For April 15 & 16, 1921, Stock had programmed Smetana’s Overture to Libussa followed by the Mahler (the original program note is here); the second half of the program consisted of a single work, Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with American violinist Amy Neill.

The April 15 performance was the symphony’s first in the U.S., and the Chicago Evening Post reported that “the orchestra played with astonishing virtuosity. There was nothing Mahler could write which they could not play, as they demonstrated to full satisfaction. At the close of the symphony there was a great demonstration for Mr. Stock, in which he had all the players rise and join.”

Headline for Herman Devries review in the Sunday, April 17, 1921, Chicago American

Headline for Herman Devries’s review in the Sunday, April 17, 1921, Chicago American

And Herman Devries in the American reported: “We were prepared to hear something out of the ordinary, for nothing banal, commonplace, cheap, or artificial could emanate from a brain that produced the marvelous Symphony of a Thousand presented by Mr. Stock at the memorable Spring Festival in the Auditorium [in April 1917]. With the first bars of the orchestral score yesterday, one might have imitated Schubert’s famous phrase and said, ‘Hats off! A genius!’

“The entire symphony, which for due understanding and assimilation of its beauty and richness requires far more than a single hearing, is so evidently a work of supreme and dominating intelligence that it seems presumptuous, importunate, for me to attempt any criticism. Mahler’s name today is being mentioned as a sort of twentieth-century reflection of the Beethoven a century ago.

“His conception is of gigantic orchestral proportions. He knew the orchestra and played upon it as upon a mighty instrument. And this mighty vision, a vision too great, too immense for the mere span of human intellect, seems to crave reflection in his writing. . . . We devoutly hope for many more opportunities to hear this master work, for [it] demands absolute mental concentration, and one performance is simply a foretaste.”

Following that first performance, Frederick Stock, summing it up better than anyone, was reported as saying, “Mahler is one of the coming composers and the musical world is just beginning to understand him.”

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has recorded Mahler’s Seventh Symphony on three occasions. Georg Solti led recording sessions on May 12, 13, and 14, 1971, at the Krannert Center at the University of Illinois. For London, David Harvey was the recording producer, and the balance engineers were Gordon Parry, Kenneth Wilkinson, and Peter van Biene. The release won the 1972 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance–Orchestra from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences

James Levine and the Orchestra recorded the symphony in Medinah Temple on July 14 and 15, 1980, for RCA. Thomas Z. Shepard and Jay David Saks were the producers, Paul Goodman the recording engineer, and Bruce Rothaar, Thomas Stockham, Sydney Davis, Dennis Mecham, and Richard Feldman were the engineers. The release won 1982 Grammy Awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Classical Engineered Recording.

On January 30, 31, February 1, and 4, 1984, Claudio Abbado led the Orchestra in sessions for Mahler’s Seventh Symphony in Orchestra Hall. For Deutsche Grammophon, Rainer Brock was the producer and recording supervisor and Karl-August Naegler was the recording engineer.

Bernard Haitink leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s Seventh Symphony on April 9, 10, 11, and 14, 2015, at Symphony Center.

Lucia-Popp

On November 12, 2014, we celebrate the seventy-fifth birthday of the extraordinary Slovak soprano Lucia Popp, a favorite soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra between 1970 and 1984.

According to Sir Georg Solti, one of her frequent collaborators in Chicago and at Covent Garden, “To my mind, there will never be a Sophie (in Der Rosenkavalier) or a Susanna (in The Marriage of Figaro) to equal hers.” Popp’s career was tragically cut short and she succumbed to brain cancer in 1993, only days after her fifty-fourth birthday.

Popp appeared and recorded with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of notable occasions. Her complete performance history and discography is listed below:

March 12, 14 & 16, 1970, at Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Fidelio, Op. 72
Georg Solti, conductor
Anja Silja, soprano
Lucia Popp, soprano
Jess Thomas, tenor
Frank Porretta, tenor
Herbert Fliether, baritone
Kurt Boehme, bass
Thomas Paul, bass
William Wahman, tenor
Gary Kendall, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, chorus director

August 30, 31 & September 1, 1971, at Sofiensaal in Vienna (recording sessions only, no public performances)
MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
Georg Solti, conductor
Heather Harper, soprano
Lucia Popp, soprano
Arleen Augér, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Helen Watts, contralto
René Kollo, tenor
John Shirley-Quirk, bass-baritone
Martti Talvela, bass
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Norbert Balatsch, chorus master
Singverein Chorus
Helmut Froschauer, chorus master
Vienna Boys’ Choir
David Harvey produced the recording, and Gordon Parry and Kenneth Wilkinson were the engineers for London Records. The recording won the 1972 Grammy Award for Album of the Year—Classical, Best Choral Performance—Classical (other than opera), and Best Engineered Recording—Classical from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

May 5, 6 & 7, 1977, at Orchestra Hall
May 13, 1977, at Carnegie Hall
BEETHOVEN Missa solemnis in D Major, Op. 123
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Victor Aitay, violin
Lucia Popp, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Mallory Walker, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Following the Carnegie Hall performance, the work was recorded for London Records with multiple sessions in Chicago’s Medinah Temple. Ray Minshull was the producer and Kenneth Wilkinson, John Dunkerley, and Michael Mailes were the engineers. The recording won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance, Classical (other than opera) from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Lucia Popp in Strauss's Four Last Songs at Orchestra Hall in October 1977. Sir Georg Solti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Lucia Popp in Strauss’s Four Last Songs at Orchestra Hall in October 1977. Sir Georg Solti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

October 17 & 19, 1977, at Orchestra Hall
STRAUSS Four Last Songs
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano
These performances originally were recorded by Unitel for television broadcast and recently were commercially released on the four-DVD set Sir Georg Solti: The Maestro.

October 27 & 28, 1977, at Orchestra Hall
October 31, 1977, at Carnegie Hall
MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
Sir Georg Solti, conductor (October 27 & 28)
Margaret Hillis, conductor (October 31)
Christiane Eda-Pierre, soprano
Lucia Popp, soprano
Barbara Hendricks, soprano
Jan DeGaetani, mezzo-soprano
Helen Watts, contralto
Kenneth Riegel, tenor
William Walker, baritone
Donald Gramm, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

November 1 & 2, 1977, at Carnegie Hall
STRAUSS Four Last Songs
Henry Mazer, conductor (November 1)
Sir Georg Solti, conductor (November 2)
Lucia Popp, soprano

December 13, 14, 15 & 16, 1978, at Orchestra Hall
MOZART Mass in C Minor, K. 427
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano
Maria Venuti, soprano
Daniel Nelson, tenor
Samuel Jones, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

March 13, 14, & 15, 1980, at Orchestra Hall
MOZART Mass in C Major, K. 317 (Coronation)
Rafael Kubelík, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano
Mira Zakai, mezzo-soprano
Alexander Oliver, tenor
Malcolm King, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Originally recorded by WFMT for radio broadcast, this was released on the CSO’s From the Archives, vol. 13 (Chicago Symphony Chorus: A Fortieth Anniversary Celebration).

October 21, 22, 23 & 24, 1981, at Orchestra Hall
MOZART Nehmt meinen Dank, K. 383
MOZART Ah, lo previdi, K. 272
Leonard Slatkin, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano

December 7, 1981, at Orchestra Hall (special concert dedicating the newly installed Möller pipe organ)
HAYDN Benedictus from Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo, Hob. XXII, No. 7
HANDEL “But oh! what art can teach” and “Orpheus could lead the savage race” from Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day
Leonard Slatkin, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano
Frederick Swann, organ

March 15, 16 & 17, 1984, at Orchestra Hall
March 19, 1984, at Uihlein Hall, Performing Arts Center in Milwaukee
MAHLER Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Giuseppe Sinopoli, conductor
Lucia Popp, soprano
Walton Grönroos, baritone

A marvelous tribute to Lucia Popp by Louise T. Guinther appears in the November 2014 issue of Opera News.

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On August 26, 1971, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra departed for Vienna, embarking on the first leg of the first European tour. On August 29, Solti met the musicians at the Wiener Konzerthaus for their first tour rehearsal together, and the next day—before the Orchestra had performed their first tour concert—they began recording Mahler’s monumental Eighth Symphony.

There were four recording sessions at the Sofiensaal in Vienna: one each on August 30 and September 1, and two on August 31. (The first concert of the tour was given on September 4 in Edinburgh.)

A page from the Orchestra’s schedule book from August 30, 1971

The all-star cast was as follows:

Heather Harper, soprano
Lucia Popp, soprano
Arleen Augér, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Helen Watts, contralto
René Kollo, tenor
John Shirley-Quirk, baritone
Martti Talvela, bass
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Norbert Balatsch, chorus master
Singverein Chorus
Helmut Froschauer, chorus master
Vienna Boys’ Choir

Edward Greenfield‘s review in Gramophone magazine raved: “Now at last Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand can be heard on record at something approaching its full, expansive stature. Here is a version from Solti which far more clearly than any previous one conveys the feeling of a great occasion. Just as a great performance, live in the concert-hall, takes off and soars from the very start, so the impact of the great opening on ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’ tingles here with electricity. There was something of that charismatic quality in the recording of Bernstein with the LSO, but with superb atmospheric recording and a sense of space more than in rival versions, not to mention playing from the Chicago orchestra that shows up all rivals in precision of ensemble, Solti’s performance sets standards beyond anything we have known before. . . .

Members of the Vienna Boys’ Choir during a recording session

“Solti, characteristically, refuses to accept half measures. This is as near a live performance as the dynamic Solti can make it. At times the sheer physical impact makes one gasp for breath, and I found myself at the thunderous end of the first movement shouting out in joyous sympathy, so overwhelming is the build-up of tension. Maybe this is not a record which one will be able to cope with emotionally in frequent repetition, but to my mind it justifies Mahler’s great scheme in emotional as well as intellectual terms to a degree unknown on record before . . . No doubt one day the achievement of this first really great recording of Mahler’s Eighth will be surpassed, but in the meantime I can only urge all Mahlerians—and others too—to share the great experience which Solti and his collaborators offer.”

Solti with concertmaster Sidney Weiss

David Harvey produced the recording, and Gordon Parry and Kenneth Wilkinson were the engineers for London Records. The recording won the 1972 Grammy Award for Album of the Year—Classical, Best Choral Performance—Classical (other than opera), and Best Engineered Recording—Classical from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

____________________________________________________

Solti and Margaret Hillis show off their 1986 Grammy Awards for Liszt’s Faust Symphony and Orff’s Carmina burana.

Sir Georg Solti won thirty-one Grammy Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences—more than any other recording artist. Twenty-four of those awards were with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. In addition, Solti and producer John Culshaw received the first NARAS Trustees’ Award in 1967 for their “efforts, ingenuity, and artistic contributions” in connection with the first complete recording of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen with the Vienna Philharmonic. Sir Georg also received the Academy’s 1995 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Alison Krauss and Quincy Jones tie for the number two slot with twenty-seven awards each, and Pierre Boulez—CSO conductor emeritus and former principal guest conductor—is number three, with twenty-six Grammy Awards, including eight with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Following is a complete list of Sir Georg Solti’s Grammy Awards.*

1962
Best Opera Recording (1)
VERDI Aida
Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, Rita Gorr, Jon Vickers, Robert Merrill, Giorgio Tozzi
Rome Opera House Orchestra and Chorus
RCA

1966
Best Opera Recording (2)
WAGNER Die Walküre
Georg Solti, conductor
Birgit Nilsson, Régine Crespin, Christa Ludwig, James King, Hans Hotter, Gottlob Frick
Vienna Philharmonic
London

1972
Album of the Year—Classical (3)
Best Choral Performance—Classical (other than opera) (4)
MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
Georg Solti, conductor
Heather Harper, Lucia Popp, Arleen Augér, Yvonne Minton, Helen Watts, René Kollo, John Shirley-Quirk, Martti Talvela
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Singverein Chorus
Vienna Boys’ Choir
Norbert Balatsch and Helmut Froschauer, chorus masters
David Harvey, producer
London

1972
Best Classical Performance—Orchestra (5)
MAHLER Symphony No. 7 in E Minor
Georg Solti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
London

1974
Album of the Year—Classical (6)
Best Classical Performance—Orchestra (7)
BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
David Harvey, producer
London

1974
Best Opera Recording (8)
PUCCINI La bohème
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Montserrat Caballé, Judith Blegen, Plácido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes, Vicente Sardinero, Ruggero Raimondi
London Philharmonic Orchestra
John Alldis Choir
Wandsworth School Boys’ Choir
RCA

1975
Album of the Year—Classical (9)
Beethoven’s Complete Symphonies
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 in E flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 4 in B flat Major, Op. 60
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (Pastoral)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
BEETHOVEN Overture to Egmont, Op. 84
BEETHOVEN Overture to Coriolan, Op. 62
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Pilar Lorengar, Yvonne Minton, Stuart Burrows, Martti Talvela
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Ray Minshull and David Harvey, producers
London

1976
Best Classical Orchestral Performance (10)
STRAUSS Also sprach Zarathustra
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Ray Minshull, producer
London

1977
Best Choral Performance (other than opera) (11)
VERDI Requiem
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, Janet Baker, Veriano Luchetti, José van Dam
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
RCA

1978
Best Choral Performance, Classical (other than opera) (12)
BEETHOVEN Missa solemnis in D Major, Op. 123
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Lucia Popp, Yvonne Minton, Mallory Walker, Gwynne Howell
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
London

1979
Best Classical Album (13)
Best Classical Orchestral Recording (14)
Brahms’s Complete Symphonies
BRAHMS Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
BRAHMS Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73
BRAHMS Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90
BRAHMS Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98
BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
BRAHMS Tragic Overture, Op. 81
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
James Mallinson, producer
London

1979
Best Choral Performance, Classical (other than opera) (15)
BRAHMS Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Kiri Te Kanawa, Bernd Weikl
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
London

1980
Best Classical Orchestral Recording (16)
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 6 in A Major
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Ray Minshull, producer
London

1981
Best Classical Album (17)
Best Classical Orchestral Recording (18)
MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Isobel Buchanan, Mira Zakai
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
James Mallinson, producer
London

1982
Best Choral Performance (other than opera) (19)
BERLIOZ La Damnation de Faust, Op. 24
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Frederica von Stade, Kenneth Riegel, José van Dam, Malcolm King
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director
London

1983
Best Classical Album (20)
Best Classical Orchestral Recording (21)
MAHLER Symphony No. 9 in D Major
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
James Mallinson, producer
London

1983
Best Opera Recording (22)
MOZART Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Kiri Te Kanawa, Lucia Popp, Frederica von Stade, Samuel Ramey, Thomas Allen, Kurt Moll
London Philharmonic Orchestra
London Opera Chorus
Christopher Raeburn, producer
London
This recording actually tied with the soundtrack for Verdi’s La traviata with James Levine conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; principal soloists Teresa Stratas, Plácido Domingo, and Cornell MacNeil.

1983
Best Choral Performance (other than opera) (23)
HAYDN The Creation
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Norma Burrowes, Sylvia Greenberg, Rüdiger Wohlers, James Morris, Siegmund Nimsgern
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
London

1985
Best Opera Recording (24)
SCHOENBERG Moses und Aron
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Franz Mazura, Philip Langridge
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
James Mallinson, producer
London

1986
Best Classical Orchestral Recording (25)
LISZT A Faust Symphony
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Siegfried Jerusalem
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Michael Haas, producer
London

1987
Best Orchestral Recording (26)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Jessye Norman, Reinhild Runkel, Robert Schunk, Hans Sotin
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Michael Haas, producer
London

1988
Best Opera Recording (27)
WAGNER Lohengrin
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Jessye Norman, Eva Randová, Plácido Domingo, Siegmund Nimsgern, Hans Sotin, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Vienna Philharmonic
Vienna State Opera Chorus
Christopher Raeburn, producer
London

1988
Best Chamber Music Performance (28)
BARTÓK Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion
Sir Georg Solti and Murray Perahia, pianos
Evelyn Glennie and David Corkhill, percussion
CBS

1991
Best Performance of a Choral Work (29)
BACH Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Felicity Lott, Anne Sofie von Otter, Hans Peter Blochwitz, William Shimell, Gwynne Howell
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
London

1992
Best Opera Recording (30)
STRAUSS Die Frau ohne Schatten
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Hildegard Behrens, Júlia Várady, Sumi Jo, Reinhild Runkel, Plácido Domingo, José van Dam
Vienna Philharmonic
Vienna State Opera Chorus
Vienna Boys’ Choir
Christopher Raeburn, Morten Winding, and Stephen Trainor, producers

1997
Best Opera Recording (31)
WAGNER Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Karita Mattila, Iris Vermillion, Ben Heppner, Herbert Lippert, José van Dam, Alan Opie, René Pape
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director
Michael Woolcock, producer

*A database of former Grammy Award winners can be found here; category titles have changed over the years. For opera recordings, only principal soloists are listed.

____________________________________________________


Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Medinah Temple
May 1974

Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Medinah Temple
May 1974

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica)
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Medinah Temple
November 1973 and May 1974

Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Medinah Temple
May 1974

A recording session for Beethoven's Fifth or Eighth Symphony at Medinah Temple in November 1973.


Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Medinah Temple
November 1973

Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (Pastoral)
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria
September 1974

Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria
September 1974

Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Medinah Temple
November 1973

Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Pilar Lorengar, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Stuart Burrows, tenor
Martti Talvela, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
David Harvey, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock, engineers
Recorded at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
May and June 1972

Margaret Hillis and Solti listen to playbacks of the Ninth Symphony at the Krannert Center in May 1972.

____________________________________________________

Shortly after the triumphant concerts in Carnegie Hall in January 1970, in late March and early April London Records set up shop in Chicago’s Medinah Temple for a series of recording sessions. For London, David Harvey was the producer and Gordon Parry was the sound engineer.


Beginning on March 26, 1970, Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra began recording Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, their first recording together. Those first sessions also included Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, along with the Songs of a Wayfarer and selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn with Yvonne Minton as soloist.

The mood during the third week of recording was captured by Thomas Willis in an article for the Chicago Tribune: “Measure by measure [Solti] delivered a rapid fire barrage of corrections and changes. The staff from London Decca moved at a lope, adjusting equipment, whispering instructions, holding hurried conferences, in the hall. Then Mr. Harvey’s modulated British: ‘One minute please. Take 3.’ The music flowed around the empty seats and filled the cavernous space.” (The complete article is here, courtesy of Proquest via the Chicago Public Library.)

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Theodore Thomas

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