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Wishing the happiest of birthdays to conductor Herbert Blomstedt, celebrating his ninetieth today!

Over the past thirty years, Maestro Blomstedt has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on several occasions:

January 7, 9, 9, and 12, 1988
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503
Ivan Moravec, piano
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 6 in A Major

February 22, 23, 24, and 27, 1990
HADYN Symphony No. 86 in D Major
LADERMAN Cello Concerto (world premiere)
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
DVORÁK Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70

January 24, 25, 26, and 29, 1991
SIBELIUS The Swan of Tuonela from Four Legends of the Kalevala, Op. 22
Grover Schiltz, english horn
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
Rubén González, violin
NIELSEN Symphony No. 3, Op. 27 (Sinfonia espansiva)
Jane Green, soprano
William Diana, baritone

Herbert Blomstedt (Martin Lengemann photo)

March 5, 6, 7, and 11, 1998
MENDELSSOHN The Hebrides Overture, Op. 26
DUTILLEUX Tout un monde lointain . . .
Lynn Harrell, cello
DVORÁK Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88

June 21, 22, 23, and 24, 2007
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Annalena Persson, soprano
Ingeborg Danz, contralto
Robert Künzli, tenor
Matthias Goerne, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, chorus director

Blomstedt’s colleagues at the Berlin Philharmonic have just posted this delightful tribute (added on July 14, 2017):

Happy, happy birthday!

Herbert Blomstedt appears with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on March 1, 2, and 3, 2018, leading Mozart’s Symphony no. 39 and Beethoven’s Symphony no. 3.

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Orchestra Hall, October 10, 2013 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Orchestra Hall, October 10, 2013 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

To celebrate Giuseppe Verdi’s 200th birthday on October 10, 2013, Riccardo Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe)—along with soloists Tatiana Serjan, Daniela Barcellona, Mario Zeffiri, and Ildar Abdrazakov—in Verdi’s Requiem at Orchestra Hall. The concert capped off a celebration that was comprised of several performances of Verdi’s music, including concert performances of his opera Macbeth.

The video of the Requiem was projected into Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion and Benito Juarez Community Academy in Chicago, as well as streamed live across the Internet via numerous collaborating websites and the Orchestra’s Facebook page.

“All great performances of the Verdi Requiem carry a sense of occasion, and Thursday’s carried a sense of truly momentous occasion,” praised John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “Muti understands the importance of respecting Verdi’s markings in regard to tempo, dynamics, and expression, and he also knows the importance of breathing with the singers and instrumentalists. His wholehearted dedication carried over to every musician under his command.” In The New York Times, Vivien Schweitzer added, “Alluring dynamic contrasts and shadings rendered the performance exciting and moving by turns, with impeccable playing from the Orchestra and exemplary singing by the Chicago Symphony Chorus.”

Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, October 10, 2013 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, October 10, 2013 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

More than 3,000 people viewed the concert in Millennium Park, reported Mark Caro in the Chicago Tribune. According to one patron, “You get to see the city in the evening, you’re near the lake, the music is beautiful, and we love Muti and think he’s done a beautiful job with the CSO.”

The following year, to open the 124th season on September 18, 2014, Riccardo Muti led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists Camilla Nylund, Ekaterina Gubanova, Matthew Polenzani, and Eric Owens in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Orchestra Hall. Also video recorded, the performance was made available for free streaming on the Orchestra’s website.

This article also appears here. Videos of Verdi’s Requiem and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony are available here and 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 and soloists (standing) Herbert Lippert, Karita Mattila, Ben Heppner, and Alan Opie; (seated) José van Dam, Iris Vermillion, and René Pape (Jim Steere photo)

Sir Georg Solti and soloists (standing) Herbert Lippert, Karita Mattila, Ben Heppner, and Alan Opie; (seated) José van Dam, Iris Vermillion, and René Pape (Jim Steere photo)

In September 1995, Sir Georg Solti led three concert performances of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Orchestra Hall. The performances were split: the first two acts on one concert and the third act on a separate concert over the course of two open dress rehearsals and four concerts. Principal soloists included Karita Mattila, Iris Vermillion, Ben Heppner, Herbert Lippert, José van Dam, Alan Opie, and René Pape, along with the Chicago Symphony Chorus prepared by Duain Wolfe.

“Last weekend you could call the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, without fear of contradiction, the best and most prestigious Wagnerian pit band in the world of opera,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “Even as Solti blockbusters go, [these concerts] were an extraordinary experience—painstakingly prepared and powerfully executed. . . . It would be no exaggeration to call this a milestone in Solti’s Wagnerian career to rank with his historic recording of the Ring.”

WAGNER Die Meistersinger

The subsequent London Records release won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. The award marked Solti’s thirty-first Grammy, more than any other recording artist in any genre. He received seven awards in addition to his twenty-four awards with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Solti and producer John Culshaw also received the first NARAS Trustees’ Award in 1967 for their “efforts, ingenuity, and artistic contributions” in connection with the first complete recording of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen with the Vienna Philharmonic. Solti also received the Academy’s 1995 Lifetime Achievement Award.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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On May 5, 2008, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association president Deborah Rutter Card announced that Riccardo Muti would become the Orchestra’s tenth music director, beginning with the 2010–11 season.

Barbara Frittoli sings the final "Libera me" with Riccardo Muti leading the Orchestra and Chorus on January 16, 2009 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Barbara Frittoli sings the final “Libera me” with Riccardo Muti leading the Orchestra and Chorus on January 16, 2009 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Muti’s first appearances as music director designate were on January 15, 16, and 17, 2009, in Verdi’s Requiem. Soloists were Barbara Frittoli, Olga Borodina, Mario Zeffiri, and Ildar Abdrazakov, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by chorus director Duain Wolfe.

“From the moment he walked out onto the stage of Orchestra Hall until the last notes of the Verdi sounded just over ninety minutes later, Muti showed us the summary of nearly every possible positive quality a great conductor can possess,” wrote Andrew Patner in the Chicago Sun-Times. “The CSO played on the edge of its collective seat throughout. . . . When has the CSO Chorus sounded like this? Not since founder Margaret Hillis at her peak. Some 170 voices singing as one, powered from the bottom ranges, standing and delivering on cue with equal parts passion and precision, and investing the softest passages with the greatest musicality.”

CSOR Verdi Requiem

Regarding the subsequent release of the Requiem on CSO Resound, Robert Levine for classicstoday.com wrote, “Muti still brings Toscanini to mind more than any other conductor, but he is more pliable in this performance than that other great Italian maestro or his earlier self. The Chorus, like the Orchestra, moves from fortissimo to pianissimo on a dime; their singing is effortless, precise, and filled with attention to the text. The quieter, spiritual sections are remarkable for their aura of stillness and meditation and their outbursts thrill and terrify. It’s breathtaking.”

On February 13, 2011, the recording received Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

This article also appears here.

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Pierre Boulez leads the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists at the Berlin Philharmonie on April 1, 1999

Pierre Boulez leads the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists at the Berlin Philharmonie on April 1, 1999

At the Berlin Philharmonie on April 1, 1999—following two performances at Orchestra Hall on March 24 and 26—Pierre Boulez led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron. “The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the equally formidable Chicago Symphony Chorus (appearing for the first time in Germany), Chris Merritt and David Pittmann-Jennings [in the title roles], chorus director Duain Wolfe, and, on top of it, a relaxed yet excited Pierre Boulez . . . led the ensemble effortlessly through the work,” praised Manuel Brug in Die Welt. The Orchestra “played the sometimes harsh notes without any brash force in beauty, glimmer, and warmth as if it were a score by Strauss. . . . The difficulty was handled like a walk in the park, especially with the almost perfect pronunciation of the Chorus, with magnificent presence.”

“The concert of the century!” proclaimed Klaus Geitel in the Berliner Morgenpost. “Under the truly magnificent leadership of Pierre Boulez, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its affiliated phenomenal chorus performed Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron: the ‘old testament’ of new music. . . . One should not expect to hear Schoenberg’s most demanding piece in comparable perfection ever again.”

Moses und Aron

The Orchestra and Chorus, under the direction of Sir Georg Solti, had performed Schoenberg’s opera twice previously at Orchestra Hall: on November 11, 12, and 13, 1971 (also with a run-out to Carnegie Hall on November 20), and again on April 19 and 21, 1984. Later that month, the opera was recorded at Orchestra Hall for London Records.

In Gramophone, Arnold Whittall observed that Solti’s “faith in Schoenberg’s most ambitious dramatic project remains undimmed and he believes that, with increasing familiarity, the music becomes ‘clearer, less complicated, and more expressive and romantic’ . . . [explaining the] abiding fascination of Schoenberg’s last attempt to bring a great philosophical issue to dramatic life.” The recording won the 1985 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

MENDELSSOHN Wedding MarchThe 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.”

Recording_Centennial_Rotunda_Display_102.75x60

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).

BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4-2Austrian 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, Schnabel 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.

PROKOFIEV Scythian Suite-2 WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod-2The 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.

STRAUSS Ein HeldenlebenMUSSORGSKY Pictures at an ExhibitionFor 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.)

BARTOK Music for Strings, Percussion, and CelestaBRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 2At 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.

SCHUMANN Piano ConcertoPROKOFIEV Alexander NevskyReiner 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.)

MARTIN Concerto for Seven WindsOn 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.)

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 6-2NIELSEN Clarinet Concerto-2Benny 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.)

At Medinah Temple on February 20 and 21, 1968, Leopold Stokowski and the Orchestra recorded Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 6  for RCA.

BERLIOZ Romeo and Juliet-2RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Sheherazade-2Carlo Maria Giulini—the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first principal guest conductor—recorded selections from Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet for Angel on October 13 and 14, 1969, at Medinah Temple.

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.

DVORAK Cello Concerto-2MAHLER Symphony no. 5During 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.)

MAHLER Symphony No. 8-2Before 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 HarperLucia Popp (more about Popp’s performances with the Orchestra is here), Arleen AugérYvonne MintonHelen WattsRené KolloJohn 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 OperaSingverein Chorus, and Vienna Boys’ Choir), and Best Engineered Recording–Classical.

BEETHOVEN Fidelio BRUCKNER Symphony No. 6-2On 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.

ORFF Carmina Burana DOWNS Bear Down, Chicago BearsSecond 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.

BRAHMS Double Concerto-2BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9-2Solti 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.

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 7CORIGLIANO Symphony No. 1Closing 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.

Fantasia 2000BARTOK The Wooden PrinceThe 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.

VARESE Amerique etcFALLA Gardens of SpainShortly 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.

MAHLER Symphony no. 3BRAHMS Violin ConcertoA 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.

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 4CSOR_SP_booklet_rainbow_nobox.inddIn 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.

BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastiqueVR_booklet_CSOR_901_1008.inddOn January 15, 16, and 17, 2009, Riccardo Muti—in his first concerts as music director designate—led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (Barbara FrittoliOlga 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.

VERDI OtelloBates and ClyneOn 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.

LincolnFor 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!

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (Michael Wilson photo)

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (Michael Wilson photo)

This week we mark the tenth anniversary of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson‘s last appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, as mezzo-soprano soloist in Mahler’s Symphony no. 2 in March 2006.

Michael Tilson Thomas, who conducted those performances, remembers his friend and colleague: “None of us suspected that the Mahler 2 concerts would be Lorraine’s last performances. She was in great spirits and very engaged in the wonder of the whole experience. In between the performances I was playing piano for her in rehearsals of Mahler’s Rückert Lieder which we were to record only a few weeks later. One day we found a precious half hour of free time in the hall and played through the entire piece on stage. No one was present, but the performance that she gave in that empty hall was one of total commitment. It was beyond beautiful. It was confessional in a way that was overwhelming and somehow made me concerned for her. She was giving absolutely everything. After we went through the cycle we talked a bit about the song Liebst du um Schönheit? (Do you love beauty?). She was still finding her way with the song, which speaks so simply, so confessionally about love. I suggested that she think less about the process of singing it. She said, ‘Thank you Michael. I’ve got it. I’ll just feel it. I’ll just be it.’ She sang it again. It was a miracle. That miracle was what Lorraine was all about.”

On April 22, 23, and 24, 1999, she made her debut as soloist (as Lorraine Hunt) with the Orchestra in the world premiere of John Harbison‘s Four Psalms, led by Christoph Eschenbach. Lisa Saffer, Frank Kelley, and James Maddalena also were soloists, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by Duain Wolfe.

In the Chicago Tribune, John von Rhein praised her “deep expressivity,” and in the Chicago Sun-Times, Wynne Delacoma added that Harbison’s opening prelude—a Hebrew prayer for mezzo-soprano—was “a masterstroke. Making her CSO debut, Hunt was an immediately galvanizing presence. Her voice was powerful and expressive, with gleaming high notes and a dusky, impassioned lower register. Lingering over her final lines, endlessly decorating each syllable as she implored God to transform her dreams, she seemed reluctant to end her conversation with the Lord.”

March 7, 2006

March 7, 2006 (David Robertson replaced James Levine and the program remained unchanged)

Hunt Lieberson—she married composer Peter Lieberson later in 1999—returned to Orchestra Hall on March 7, 2006, as soloist in her husband’s Neruda Songs with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. David Robertson conducted. (Robertson replaced James Levine, who had been injured in an onstage fall during the previous week.)

“The other happy development was the presence of acclaimed mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. She has dropped out of several announced engagements in recent seasons, reportedly due to health issues. That she was on hand as scheduled as soloist in the lush Neruda Songs, written for her by her husband Peter Lieberson, was a kind of musical bonus,” wrote Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times. “Hunt Lieberson is a singer who inhabits the music rather than merely singing it, and her anguish in Sonnet XLV, whose first line reads, ‘Don’t go far off, not even for a day,’ was wrenching. In the final poem, a serene meditation on death, the glowing richness of her seductive mezzo created a sense of profound peace.”

Lieberson's Neruda Songs (Nonesuch release)

Lieberson’s Neruda Songs (Nonesuch release)

“Lieberson’s orchestral song cycle, a setting of five poems by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, deals with different facets of love: simple adoration, the joy and mystery of nature, the terror of separation, the struggle between yearning and contentment,” added von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “The composer wrote the cycle as an extended love letter to his wife, who sang them affectingly. It is a haunting, exquisitely crafted piece, mostly quiet and reflective, with luminous vocal lines that nestle in the delicate orchestration as one does in the arms of one’s beloved. Hunt Lieberson once more proved why she is America’s most indispensable classical singer. Her voice rose from a smoky sigh to an ecstatic peal in an instant; she didn’t just sing these poignant songs, she became them.”

(Hunt Lieberson had recorded the songs live with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Levine in November 2005. The subsequent release on Nonesuch earned a 2007 Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Performance.)

March 16, 17, and 18, 2006

March 16, 17, and 18, 2006

The following week, Hunt Lieberson shared the stage with soprano Celena Shafer and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe) on March 16, 17, and 18, 2006, in Mahler’s Symphony no. 2. Tilson Thomas conducted. (You can listen to her performance of the Urlicht here.)

In the Chicago Tribune, von Rhein wrote, “Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s entry in the Urlicht was so soft, so gentle, as to hold the audience at rapt attention. The mezzo-soprano sang as if utterly transfixed, appropriately so to suggest the simple voice of a child who believes she’s in heaven.” And in the Chicago Sun-Times, Delacoma added, “Floating on the air with the warmth of a low, vibrant cello, her opening solo was full of sympathy at humankind’s grief. Like a wise mother comforting an inconsolable child, her voice was soft but firm, never denying the pain of death but holding out the hope of resurrection.”

Less than four months later, Hunt Lieberson lost her battle with breast cancer on July 3, 2006, at the age of 52. Her appearances in Chicago in March were her last public performances.

Countless tributes—including Alex Ross in The New Yorker, Lloyd Schwartz on NPR, and Marc Geelhoed in Slate, among many others—were published. Peter Sellars, one of her most frequent collaborators, described her singing: “Her voice [fills] the room and you don’t know where it’s coming from. . . . It can be piercing and shocking in its intensity, and then this incredible balm of compassion and tenderness, of generosity that is poured out of her voice like a kind of liquid that is there to heal.”

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On a personal note . . .

I was lucky not only to be in the audience when Hunt Lieberson sang her husband’s Neruda Songs on March 7 but also to be onstage in the Chorus for the three performances of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony.

Hunt Lieberson's program biography

Hunt Lieberson’s March 2006 program biography

On March 14, the day before our first session with the Orchestra, the Chorus had a rehearsal with Michael Tilson Thomas—what we call the conductor’s piano rehearsal. Only occasionally do the soloists also attend this rehearsal, so we were surprised to see Hunt Lieberson and Shafer walk in as well. From the Chorus’s usual seats in the terrace (behind the Orchestra) during a performance, we don’t have a great vantage point to hear soloists; but for this rehearsal, they were facing us, just a few feet away.

Tilson Thomas started at the first chorus entrance, “Aufersteh’n.” The mezzo-soprano solo begins a few minutes later and when Hunt Lieberson stood, she didn’t just rehearse—she performed. She threw herself into the music with urgency and demanded our attention, even though the performance didn’t seem to be for us. It was immediate, raw, electric.

During the break, she sat alone, studying her score. I approached her, asked if I could say hello, and expressed how much I had admired her performance of the Neruda Songs. I inquired if the performances in Boston had been recorded, and we talked about the possibility that they would be released. And, of course, I said how much I was looking forward to the Mahler. Throughout, she was very gracious.

To say now that those performances were special is an understatement. The experience and privilege of having shared the stage with her will always remain.

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10/19/06 -- Chicago, IL-- Maestro Bernard Haitink conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra through Mahler 3 at the Symphony Center. © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2006

Bernard Haitink leads Mahler’s Third Symphony on October 19, 2006 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Bernard Haitink made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in March 1976, leading Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso, Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, and Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony. After return engagements in 1997 and early 2006, it was announced in April 2006 that Haitink would become the Orchestra’s principal conductor beginning the following season, as the search for a new music director continued. (In February 2004, Daniel Barenboim had announced that he would step down as music director when his contract expired at the end of the 2005–06 season.)

Haitink led his first concerts as principal conductor on October 19, 20, and 21, 2006, in Mahler’s Third Symphony featuring mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, the women of the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe), and the Chicago Children’s Choir (prepared by Josephine Lee). In April 2007, the work was the initial release on CSO Resound, the Orchestra’s new, in-house recording label.

The initial release on the CSO Resound label: Mahler's Symphony no. 3

The initial release on the CSO Resound label: Mahler’s Symphony no. 3

During his four-year tenure as principal conductor, Haitink led numerous subscription weeks in addition to concerts at the Ravinia Festival; in Carnegie Hall; and on tour to Europe and Asia, including the Orchestra’s first concerts in China. Additional releases on CSO Resound included Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony; Mahler’s First and Sixth symphonies; Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben and Webern’s Im Sommerwind; Mahler’s Second Symphony, Poulenc’s Gloria, and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe featuring the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe); and Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, which won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

This article also appears here.

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