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Civic Music Student Orchestra, onstage at Orchestra Hall in March 1920 (William T. Barnum photo)

We recently received an extraordinary donation to our collections: a mounted photograph—in remarkable condition—of the Civic Music Student Orchestra onstage in Orchestra Hall from March 1920. This image appeared in the Civic’s first program book (see here), and previously, the only copies in our collections were quite grainy and not the best quality.

In this newly acquired image, clearly visible—downstage, front and center—is the Civic’s founding leadership: (standing) Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Frederick Stock and (seated, left to right) assistant conductors Eric DeLamarter (the CSO’s assistant and associate conductor from 1918 until 1936) and George Dasch (a member of the CSO’s violin and viola sections from 1898 until 1923).

Mildred Brown in the early 1920s (Image courtesy of the Archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis, Rochester, Minnesota)

Also clearly visible in the assistant concertmaster chair is Mildred Brown, the previous owner of this artifact. The photograph came to us from the archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester, Minnesota, where Brown—later Sister M. Ancille—lived from 1924 until her death in 1963. The handwriting at the bottom of the image reads, “Mildred Brown (Sr. Ancille), Assistant concert mistress, Front & center,” and an arrow points to her.

Born in Chicago on March 23, 1894, Brown earned a master’s degree in violin at the Chicago Musical College in 1915, where she studied with Alexander Sebald, and Leon Sametini, along with Chicago Symphony Orchestra assistant concertmaster Hugo Kortschak. She also attended the Juilliard School where she was a student of Franz Kneisel.

February 8, 1923

Brown was a member of the Civic Orchestra for its first season in 1919-20, one of fourteen women on the ensemble’s roster. At Stock’s invitation, she returned to the Civic in 1922-23, this time as concertmaster—the first woman to hold that position in the ensemble. During that season, Stock also invited her to be a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a Popular concert on February 8, 1923. Brown performed Wieniawski’s Fantaisie brillante (based on themes from Gounod’s Faust).

After her first year in the Civic Orchestra, Brown embarked on a solo career and enjoyed considerable success. A press brochure itemized generous critical praise:

  • “Miss Brown has traveled far upon the road to success [performing] with so much brilliance, so much technical clarity with tone so pure and round. Hers is an admirable gift” (Felix Borowski, Chicago Record Herald).
  • “A young violinist of high attainments, both in the technical and interpretative sense (Eric DeLamarter, Chicago Tribune).
  • “She dashed into the finale with brilliance and carried it off with joyous abandon. Miss Brown has the right stuff in her and made such a ‘hit’ with the audience that she had to give an encore (Karleton Hackett, Chicago Evening Post)

    Sister M. Ancille in the early 1960s (Image courtesy of the Archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis, Rochester, Minnesota)

  • “Mildred Brown possesses all the attributes of the finished artist [with] rich tone and brilliant technique. . . . The difficult harmonic passages were played with security and in a flawless fashion” (Milwaukee Free Press).

While on tour in 1923, she performed a concert at the College of Saint Teresa in Winona, Minnesota and served as an instructor for its summer session. In January 1924, she joined the Sisters of Saint Francis. As a postulant, she directed the Teresan Orchestra and gave frequent concerts, and later—as Sister M. Ancille—she served on the faculties of the School of Musical Art and Lourdes High School (both in Rochester) and the College of Saint Teresa. She completed a second master’s degree in music from the University of Michigan in 1941 (likely attending for several summers, as it was common for Sisters teaching at the high school and college levels to continue work on advanced degrees by taking summer classes).

Sister Ancille died unexpectedly on November 19, 1963, at the age of sixty-nine. An obituary published in The Campanile (the college’s newspaper), she was remembered for “her performances as presentations of impeccable technique, finesse of style, and the artistry of a great musician, [always] striving for perfection. Sister Ancille had a reserve and repose that persons of all ages admired and respected. Her complete composure and graciousness exemplified the fullness of her life as a Franciscan. It seems, to us, very fitting that God called her home on the feast of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, the patron of all Third Order Franciscans.”

Mildred Brown in the second chair of the Civic Orchestra’s first violin section in 1920

Special thanks to the Archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester, Minnesota, and congregational archivist Sister Marisa McDonald, OSF

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Title page for the first printed edition of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra

Guest conductor George Szell led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra on December 2 and 3, 1948, almost exactly four years following the work’s premiere on December 1, 1944, with Serge Koussevitzky leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In the Chicago Daily News, Clarence Joseph Bulliet called the work, “violent and awesome in its contrasts, sometimes as stormy as the most sensational of modern music. Then it calmed down to rival in delicacy the classicism of Haydn and Beethoven between which it was programmed at Orchestra Hall Thursday night.” (Haydn’s Oxford Symphony opened the concert, followed by the Bartók and Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto, that featured the debut of Seymour Lipkin.) Felix Borowski, writing for the Chicago Sun, added, that Bartók’s Concerto was, “of more than ordinary worth . . . Modern, indeed it is, but there are ideas—often very beautiful ideas—in the course of it. The orchestration is rich and colorful, frequently with new and beguiling textures.”

Early in his tenure as sixth music director, Fritz Reiner first led the Orchestra in his friend and countryman’s work on October 13 and 15, 1955. “This wonderful score, a network of nerves spun and controlled by the most brilliant of nervous energies, was played as only great orchestras can play,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “It is a superb work and a Reiner triumph.”

The following week, Reiner and the Orchestra committed their performance to disc on October 22; for RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton the recording engineer. In February 2016, Gramophone listed this release as one of the “finest recordings of Bartók’s music,” noting the “sheer fervour of Reiner’s direction . . . taut and agile . . . [his] precision and control is immediately apparent.”

The Orchestra has since recorded the work on five additional occasions, as follows:

During his year as principal conductor of the Ravinia Festival, Seiji Ozawa recorded the work in Orchestra Hall on June 30 and July 1, 1969, for AngelPeter Andry was the executive producer, Richard C. Jones the producer, and Carson Taylor was the recording engineer. Eighth music director Sir Georg Solti conducted the Concerto for London on January 19 and 20, 1981, in Orchestra Hall. James Mallinson was the producer and James Lock the balance engineer.

James Levine, Ravinia’s second music director, led sessions in Orchestra Hall on June 28, 1989, for Deutsche Grammophon. Steven Paul was executive producer, Christopher Alder the recording producer, and Gregor Zielinsky was balance engineer. During the 1990 tour to the Soviet Union, Hungary, and Austria, Solti conducted the Orchestra in an all-Bartók program, video recorded at the Budapest Convention Centre on November 28, 1990, for London. Humphrey Burton directed the production, and Katya Krausova was producer, Eric Abraham the executive producer, and Michael Haas the audio producer.

Most recently, Pierre Boulez recorded the work in Orchestra Hall on November 30, 1992, for Deutsche Grammophon. Roger Wright was the executive producer, Karl-August Naegler the recording producer, Rainer Maillard the balance engineer, and Jobst Eberhardt and Reinhild Schmidt were recording engineers. The release won 1994 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Orchestral Performance.

Guest conductor Rafael Payare makes his subscription concert debut leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra on January 18 and 20, 2018.

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Rafael Kubelík, Chicago, November 1951

Rafael Kubelík, Chicago, November 1951

On October 23 and 24, 1952, fifth music director Rafael Kubelík led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the music most closely associated with his native Czechoslovakia, Smetana’s Má vlast.

“Smetana’s My Country is regarded in Kubelík’s Czechoslovakia with a reverence which rises superior to admiration and becomes a symbol of patriotic love,” wrote Felix Borowski in the Chicago Sun-Times. He continued that Kubelík’s interpretation “transcended mere music making. It was an impressive, even jubilant, rite. . . . It was evident that Orchestra Hall realized that this concert was more than ordinarily important to its conductor. Kubelík never previously had led his orchestra with so much outward disclosure of inspiration, nor indeed, had the players responded with so much zest. . . . The Moldau was received with notable enthusiasm, and this was as it should be, for the work rarely has been given with so much color and brilliance of effect.”

On December 4 and 5 of that year, the work was recorded by Mercury Records. Returning as a guest conductor, Kubelík led performances of the six symphonic poems on January 23 and 24, 1969, and again on October 27, 28, and 29, 1983.

October 27, 28, and 29, 1983

October 27, 28, and 29, 1983

John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune called Kubelík’s third complete cycle with the Orchestra “his finest. One has only to compare it with the famous recording of Má vlast he made with the Chicago Symphony in 1952 at the start of his final season as CSO music director. In every respect the present performance was superior, not just because Kubelík is a more searching interpreter than he was thirty-one years ago, but also because the Orchestra responds with so much more skill and understanding. And why not? Kubelík taught them the style.”

This article also appears here.

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Detail of the cover of a manuscript (not in Holst's hand) of The Planets used by Frederick Stock for the U.S. premiere

Detail of the cover of a manuscript (not in Holst’s hand) of The Planets used by Frederick Stock for the U.S. premiere

Gustav Holst‘s suite for large orchestra, The Planets, was conceived to be “connected with astrology rather than astronomy. There is no ‘program’ attached to the work beyond that which is associated with the subtitles of the movements,” according to Felix Borowski’s note in the CSO’s program book.

The first complete performance of all seven movements was given in London on November 15, 1920, with Albert Coates conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. Less than two months later, on New Year’s Eve, Frederick Stock led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (the offstage women’s chorus was omitted) in the U.S. premiere of The Planets at Orchestra Hall.

December 31, 1920, and January 1, 1921

December 31, 1920, and January 1, 1921

“His rhythmic figures are fascinating, curious, and irresistible. The demonic insistent martial pulse of the first fragment, ‘Mars, Bringer of War,’ was the most vital sample,” wrote Ruth Miller in the Chicago Tribune. “The Planets should be a most dependable and successful addition to the orchestra repertoire.”

This article also appears here.

the vault

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

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