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RCA Red Seal Records (a division of Sony Classical) is releasing a set of complete Chicago Symphony Orchestra recordings—some available for the first time on CD—led by Seiji Ozawa, recorded during his tenure as the first music director of the Ravinia Festival from 1964 until 1968.

“With the success of [Fritz] Reiner’s CSO recordings, RCA was eager to continue expanding its catalog with the Orchestra, and the label wasted no time engaging both [Jean] Martinon (who began his tenure as the orchestra’s seventh music director in 1963) and Ozawa,” writes Frank Villella in the liner notes for the set. “Martinon first recorded with the Orchestra for RCA in November 1964, and Ozawa’s first recording—Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto with [seventeen-year-old Peter] Serkin—was made at Orchestra Hall in June 1965.”

Additional highlights from the set include Serkin performing Bartók’s First Piano Concerto and Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto, one of the seven recordings of the Orchestra performing Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth symphonies, and Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, among others.

When Ozawa announced that he would step down as the Festival’s music director, he said that “Ravinia was the first organization to invite me to be its music director. Without the belief you had in me, I do not think I would have any career at this moment. The Chicago Symphony is one of the greatest orchestras I have ever conducted, and I have had no greater glory in music than I have experienced here.”

The set is available for pre-order via the Symphony Store here. It will be available domestically on April 21, 2017.

Riccardo Muti (Todd Rosenberg photo)

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

Current music director Riccardo Muti and former music directors Daniel BarenboimRafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, and Sir Georg Solti are squarely included, along with principal guest conductors Claudio Abbado, Pierre Boulez, and Carlo Maria Giulini; principal conductor Bernard Haitink; and Ravinia Festival music directors James Levine and Seiji Ozawa.

According to the article, “A great conductor illuminates music you thought you knew in a way that you couldn’t possibly have imagined.” Indeed.

leontyne-price

Today we send all best wishes for a very happy ninetieth birthday to the legendary soprano, Leontyne Price! Several excellent tributes have been written (here, here, and here, among many others) to recognize her extraordinary and groundbreaking career as an artist—in opera, concert, and on recording.

Price has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on numerous occasions, at Orchestra Hall, the Ravinia Festival, Carnegie Hall, and the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, as follows:

February 28 and March 1, 1963 (Orchestra Hall)
BERLIOZ Les nuits d’été, Op. 7
FALLA El amor brujo
Fritz Reiner, conductor

March 13, 1971 (Orchestra Hall)
March 15, 1971 (Pabst Theater)
BARBER “Give me my robe” from Antony and Cleopatra
MOZART “Dove sono” from Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492
STRAUSS Four Last Songs
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor

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

July 11, 1975 (Ravinia Festival)
PUCCINI “Un bel di vedremo” from Madama Butterfly
VERDI “Ernani! Ernani, involami” from Ernani
MOZART “D’Oreste, d’Ajace” from Idomeneo, K. 366
STRAUSS “Zweite Brautnacht” from Die ägyptische Helena
James Levine, conductor

Proof sheet detail from recording sessions for Verdi's Requeim at Medinah Temple in June 1977

Proof sheet detail from recording sessions for Verdi’s Requiem at Medinah Temple in June 1977 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

July 2, 1976 (Ravinia Festival)
PUCCINI “Senza mamma” from Suor Angelica
PUCCINI “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca
VERDI “Pace, pace, mio Dio” from La forza del destino
MOZART “Come scoglio” from Così fan tutte, K. 588
WAGNER “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser
James Levine, conductor

May 31, 1977 (Orchestra Hall)
VERDI Requiem
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Dame Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

June 22, 1979 (Ravinia Festival)
VERDI La forza del destino
James Levine, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Isola Jones, mezzo-soprano
Sharon Graham, mezzo-soprano
Giuseppe Giacomini, tenor
Andrea Velis, tenor
Cornell MacNeil, baritone
Renato Capecchi, baritone
Carl Glaum, baritone
Bonaldo Giaiotti, bass
Julien Robbins, bass
Daniel McConnell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

Price onstage with Solti and the Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on April 29, 1980 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Price onstage with Solti and the Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on April 29, 1980 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

April 29, 1980 (Carnegie Hall)
WAGNER “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser
WAGNER Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

July 13, 1985 (Ravinia Festival)
PUCCINI “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca
PUCCINI “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” from La rondine
VERDI “Ernani! Ernani, involami” from Ernani
VERDI “D’amor sull’ali rosee” from Il trovatore
WAGNER Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
STRAUSS Final Scene from Salome
James Levine, conductor

Advance notice for Price's 1963 debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Advance notice for Price’s 1963 debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Price also recorded with the Orchestra—including two Grammy Award winners—as follows:

BERLIOZ Les nuits d’été, Op. 7
FALLA El amor brujo
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded on March 2 and 3, 1963 in Orchestra Hall by RCA
Richard Mohr produced the recording, and Lewis Layton was the engineer. The recording won the 1964 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance–Vocal Soloist (with or without orchestra) from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

VERDI Requiem
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Dame Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded on June 1 and 2, 1977, in Medinah Temple by RCA
Thomas Z. Shepard produced the recording, and Paul Goodman was the engineer. The recording won the 1977 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance (other than opera).

WAGNER “Dich teure Halle” from Tannhäuser
Recorded by WFMT on April 29, 1980, in Carnegie Hall
Released on Chicago Symphony Orchestra: The First 100 Years during the Orchestra’s centennial season in April 1991

Under the auspices of Allied Arts and CSO Presents, Price also gave numerous recitals in Orchestra Hall on the following dates:

  • May 6, 1956
  • April 7, 1957
  • December 6, 1958
  • May 30, 1962
  • February 3, 1963
  • February 1, 1970
  • February 27, 1972
  • April 4, 1976
  • January 29, 1984
  • November 11, 1990
  • April 24, 1994
  • February 16, 1997

Happy, happy birthday!

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

roberta-peters

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family remembers the extraordinary soprano Roberta Peters, who died yesterday at her home in Rye, New York. She was 86.

Barely nineteen years old in 1949, Peters was introduced to impresario Sol Hurok, who arranged for her to audition for Metropolitan Opera general manager Rudolf Bing. At the audition, she sang “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen”—the Queen of the Night’s second aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Bing apparently asked her to perform the aria (with four Fs above high C) seven times, as he listened from different areas of the opera house. Satisfied, he booked Peters to debut in the role in February 1951.

However, on November 17, 1950, Bing called Peters to see if she would be able to step in that evening for an ailing Nadine Conner as Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Peters had learned the role and accepted, even though she had not yet performed onstage, let alone with a full orchestra. She made her debut under the guidance of the evening’s conductor—Fritz Reiner—and her career was launched.

November 1953

November 5 and 6, 1953

During Reiner’s first season as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s sixth music director, he wasted no time in engaging Peters. She made her debut with the Orchestra during the fourth subscription week on November 5 and 6, 1953, singing Mozart’s concert aria Ma che vi fece, O stelle (K. 368); “Grossmächtige Prinzessin” from Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos; and “No word from Tom” from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress.

Peters later appeared again with Reiner and the Orchestra, on February 27 and 28, 1958, in Mozart’s concert aria Mia speranza adorata (K. 416) and four songs—Wiegenlied; Säusle, liebe Myrte; Ständchen, and Amor!—by Richard Strauss.

Peters's November 1953 program biography

Peters’s November 1953 program biography

At the Ravinia Festival, Peters appeared numerous times with the Orchestra between 1966 and 1984, performing songs and arias under conductors Josef Krips, Franz Allers, Erich Kunzel, and James Levine. Also under Levine, she appeared as Despina in concert performances of Mozart’s Così fan tutte on July 16 and 18, 1975.

Numerous tributes have been posted online, in The New York Times and Opera News, among others.

thomas-at-desk

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

barenboim-brahms-5-erato

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

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

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

wagner-prelude-and-liebestod

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

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

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

elgar-enigma

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

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

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

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

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

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

gould-tchaikovsky-waltzes-rca

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

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

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

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

In the spring of 1976, the major American political parties had not yet hosted their conventions to nominate candidates for president. But on May 11—the day after the first of three concerts at Carnegie Hall by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Sir Georg SoltiDonal Henahan of The New York Times had a suggestion:

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“Solti’s Chicagoans Stimulate a Yen to Yell”

It is pretty well agreed now, among decibel collectors, that the audiences at Chicago Symphony concerts make more noise than anybody. If you happen to pass Carnegie Hall tomorrow or Friday night and notice that sturdy old monument rocking slightly on its foundations, do not worry: It is only the Chicago orchestra’s fans going happily mad over a performance conducted by Sir Georg Solti. (Don’t run out to buy tickets, by the way; Chicago Symphony concerts are invariably sold out as soon as they are announced.)

The sheer fervor, somewhat resembling religious fanaticism, that characterizes the New York ovations for Chicago/Solti, is a phenomenon worth some sociologist’s study. Of course, the Chicago Symphony is one of the world’s great orchestras, and Sir Georg is undeniably one of the world’s most exciting conductors. The cheering is, therefore, aimed at real quality.

But the Dionysian frenzy that many observers have commented upon goes beyond ordinary enthusiasm into the category of the demonstration. Chicago players and Sir Georg himself have confessed that the intensity of these ovations in New York takes them aback. Thoughtful musicians cross their fingers, in fact. They have seen reputations rise and fall, for what seems too little reason either way, and know how capricious and irrational audiences can be.

The Chicago/Solti phenomenon has been compared to the cult that grew up around Toscanini and his NBC Symphony a generation ago, to the Stokowski fan clubs of his Philadelphia Orchestra years and to the von Karajan mystique in some sectors of the musical world today. Unsophisticated music listeners, with the help of judicious publicity agents, love to fasten upon an idol, to proclaim this or that artist “the greatest” and fall prostrate at mention of the holy name. Other and wiser folk simply like to cheer what they regard as the best. Cheering is an emotional purgative, a primal scream that often seems to do the screamer more good than the

The New York Times, May 11, 1976

The New York Times, May 11, 1976

Beyond the obvious fact of its lofty quality, there are several arguable rationalizations for the kind of hysteria regularly generated by the Chicago under Sir Georg. When the orchestra made its first Carnegie Hall appearances under him six years ago, many knowledgeable New Yorkers were simply flattened by what they heard. The Chicago Symphony—unlike the Cleveland under Szell, the Boston under Leinsdorf, the Philadelphia under Ormandy—had not been a regular visitor.

Fritz Reiner, who built the orchestra to its current level in the late 1950s, hated touring. He refused to do the kind of barnstorming to high prestige places that would have made the Chicago Symphony’s greatness apparent to more than the blessed few who heard it regularly in its own Orchestra Hall during Dr. Reiner’s ten‐year regime.

The fact, which Sir Georg readily admits, is that the Chicago Symphony as it stands (or sits) is largely the product of the Reiner years. The Solti genius has consisted in making splendid use of a ready‐made instrument. Not the least amazing thing about the Chicago’s current status as a symbol of excellence is that of all major American orchestras it is the oldest: Most of the players date back to the Reiner years before.

Another possible factor in the Chicago’s popularity is the high percentage of opera fans who frequent these concerts. One of Sir Georg’s first smash successes at Carnegie came in 1971 with a concert performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, and he subsequently offered four other operatic attractions. His sixth, on Friday night, will be The Flying Dutchman.

Sir Georg, you remember, had been artistic director of London’s Covent Garden opera house, and his renown as an opera conductor fattened considerably when he completed the first Ring cycle ever produced on commercially available recordings, for London Records. And, since opera enthusiasts on the whole are famous—or notorious, as you wish—for treating their heroes and heroines to hysterical ovations, Chicago/Solti has not suffered from being attractive to the opera set.

prez

Another and probably more disputable conjecture: there existed in New York at the time of the Chicago/Solti arrival on the scene, a considerable number of people who yearned to hear concerts led by an unashamedly passionate “maestro,” preferably someone cast in the Toscanini mold. To some extent, Leonard Bernstein in his early years with the Philharmonic fulfilled the needs of this sizable and vocal constituency.

But when Pierre Boulez took charge of the Philharmonic these New Yorkers missed their former feeling of audience participation. They came to regard themselves as disenfranchised musical citizens. Mr. Boulez seemed to them more acoustical scientist than performer, and his analytical talents and objective approach to music were largely unappreciated. For this emotional breed of listener, the coming of Chicago/Solti offered a chance not merely to applaud but also—almost in the political sense of the word—to demonstrate. It was as if they were sending a message.

The yen to yell can come to be as important to certain audiences as the music itself. Opera fans, in particular, seem to regard their demonstrations of affection and approbation as part of the performance, and that can be obnoxious when carried too far. But any continuing audience, such as the one attracted by the Chicago/Solti concerts, is also acting out a communal claim to eliteness. It is proclaiming its own superior taste and knowledge, as well as showing the performers how much they are appreciated: We happy few who know what’s what, we proud melomaniacs, we who make (and can easily break) heroes, salute.

In any event, the Chicago Solti ovations are likely to go down among the legends of New York’s cultural life. And perhaps the explanation is simpler than suggested here. When the inevitable ranting and raving is heard at Carnegie Hall, it may merely be one sector of the musical electorate voting for its concept of what orchestral concerts should be. The Chicago Symphony for President, as it were. Well, we could do worse.

The 1976 U.S. presidential election was held on November 2, 1976. Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, the Democratic party candidate, ran against and defeated incumbent president Gerald Ford, the Republican candidate.

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In March 1898, Theodore Thomas and the Chicago Orchestra embarked on a monthlong tour through Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. In New York, the tour included six concerts at the Metropolitan Opera House, one at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Orchestra’s debut in Carnegie Hall on March 7.

March 7, 1898

March 7, 1898

The program for Carnegie was entirely comprised of music by French composers, featuring the U.S. premiere of Franck’s Variations symphoniques and Saint-Saëns’s Fifth Piano Concerto, both with Raoul Pugno as soloist. Composer Alexandre Guilmant also appeared, as organ soloist in his Adoration, Allegro, and Final à la Schumann, as well as Lefebvre’s Méditation. Berlioz’s Overture to King Lear, Franck’s Le chasseur maudit, Saint-Saëns’s Le rouet d’Omphale, and Massenet’s Suite from Les Erinnyes rounded out the program.

The reviewer in Harper’s Bazaar praised the performances of both Pugno and Guilmant, “and the enjoyment of the afternoon was increased by the good work done by the Chicago Orchestra.” The New York Times added, “The Orchestra was heard to great advantage in Saint-Saëns’s symphonic poem, which was played with consummate finish, and Mr. Thomas’s accompaniments to the soloists were a source of joy.” And the New York Tribune heralded the concert as “an exhibition of virtuosity.”

The Orchestra has returned to Carnegie Hall on numerous occasions, under music directors Frederick Stock, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, and Riccardo Muti; principal guest conductors Carlo Maria Giulini, Claudio Abbado, and Pierre Boulez; principal conductor Bernard Haitink; chorus director and conductor Margaret Hillis; and associate conductor Henry Mazer.

This article also appears here.

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In October 1958, Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra embarked on a two-week Eastern tour with stops in Ann Arbor, Cleveland, Syracuse, Rochester, Burlington, Boston, Philadelphia, New Brunswick, and Washington, D.C.

Fritz Reiner (Oscar Chicago photo)

Fritz Reiner (Oscar Chicago photo)

In Nancy Jordan Fako’s book Philip Farkas and His Horn, the Orchestra’s principal horn recounts the October 14 concert: “One incident that I think is worth repeating is a series of concerts we gave with Reiner in 1958 where we played in New York and several other cities, but the most notable concert was in Boston. This particular concert consisted of an overture by Berlioz, I believe it was the Corsair, and I know it was the Brahms Third Symphony, and after intermission we did [Strauss’s] Ein Heldenleben. The concert started off brilliantly, as the Berlioz would require, but as the concert progressed, it became apparent that we were about to give a flawless performance. Nothing happened! There were no cracked notes, no bad entrances, no bad intonation. Nothing! Nothing out of perfection! It went on and on, till the middle of Ein Heldenleben we all began to realize that were giving the perfect performance. And that is when the tension began mounting, much the same as the pitcher realizes in the eighth inning that he has a perfect no-hitter in the making, where each pitch becomes even more intense. At any rate, we finished the concert. It was an absolutely flawless production, even with Heldenleben. The audience was amazed and we were awed in our own ability. And as we came offstage, I saw Reiner standing in the wings at Symphony Hall in Boston and he was shaking hands with each and every musician as they came out. It finally came to my turn to shake hands and I noticed that Dr. Reiner was crying with tears running down his face, so I took the liberty to ask him why. He answered, ‘Well, we just had a perfect concert. All my life I have waited for a perfect concert and tonight we had one.’ Well, we all got backstage and everyone was elated. It was like we had just won the World Series. And who came backstage but Arthur Fiedler who had been in the audience, and he was shouting, ‘You’re not men, you’re gods.’ ”

October 14, 1958, Symphony Hall in Boston

October 14, 1958, Symphony Hall in Boston

This article also appears here.

Muenzer, Edgar1

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

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

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

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

Muenzer, Edgar2

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

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

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

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

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Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

On October 28 and 29, 1954, soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf made her American and Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuts in Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs and the closing scene from his final opera, Capriccio. Fritz Reiner conducted.

Schwarzkopf “is both a soprano with a historically beautiful voice of its kind and a musician of transcendent intelligence. She knows most intimately what her texts are about, feels them deeply, and possesses the extraordinary vocal capacity to color with each word, each mood, each musical phrase,” raved Roger Dettmer in the Chicago American. “Here was artistry of the utmost fulfillment of an exquisite and cherished kind heard rarely in a lifetime of listening.”

October 28 and 29, 1954

October 28 and 29, 1954

“It has seemed to me that it took Miss Schwarzkopf a long time to come here,” commented Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “But exactly the right time, too. For it brought her here when Reiner, a kind of Straussian magician, had restored to the Orchestra its old, deep layered glow, and had added an immaculate polish strictly his own. Good things go together, and it is worthwhile to wait.”

The capacity crowd on October 28 included another legendary soprano—Maria Callas—also preparing to make her American debut, in town for the title role in Bellini’s Norma during Lyric Theatre of Chicago’s first season.*

*The company’s name was changed to Lyric Opera of Chicago for the 1955–56 season.

This article also appears here.

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

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