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December 3 and 4, 1909

December 3 and 4, 1909

Sergei Rachmaninov made his first appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on December 3 and 4, 1909, conducting his Isle of the Dead and performing as soloist in his Second Piano Concerto with Frederick Stock conducting.

“Mr. Rachmaninov appeared in three different roles on yesterday’s program as a creative musician (a composer, as a conductor, and as a pianist), in all three capacities he displayed unusual preeminence and gifts of a transcendent order,” wrote the critic in the Chicago Examiner. “At the conductor’s desk, [he] is a striking personality [and] the members of the Orchestra responded readily to his minutest directions.” In the concerto, “Rachmaninov made no less an artistic impression. He is endowed with a comprehensive technique, his scale passages and chord playing are clean and rapid, his tone is rich and musical, and in his concerto he displayed remarkable gifts . . . after a half dozen recalls [he] responded with his celebrated C-sharp minor prelude.”

According to Phillip Huscher, “Although Chicago didn’t get to hear it, by then Rachmaninov had written a third piano concerto, tailor-made for his first North American tour in late 1909. Rachmaninov introduced the work in New York on November 28, with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony. He played it there again in January, with Gustav Mahler conducting the New York Philharmonic.”

For the first time with Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he performed his Third Piano Concerto on January 23 and 24, 1920. Despite a nasty Chicago storm, Orchestra Hall was packed for the Friday matinee. “The concert of yesterday afternoon was an event,” wrote Karleton Hackett in the Evening Post. “I do not care what the verdict of twenty years from now may be regarding this concerto, for I have just listened to a performance of it that stirred me deeply. . . . It was a work of a man who understands the capacity of the instrument and can write for it in the fresh, vigorous idiom of our day such music as brings out its peculiar power and charm. What is quite as much to the point, he himself can play the instrument with a mastery that makes every phrase a delight. Rachmaninov has supreme virtuosity. There is nothing he cannot do at the keyboard, from the most exquisite delicacy of ornamentation to the downright stroke of elemental power. . . . The music was so vigorous, expressing so spontaneously the emotion of our own time that it seemed as though it were being struck out in the white heat of the creative impulse of the moment.”

Chicago American, January 15, 1932

In January 1932, the composer was again in Chicago for three concerts with Stock and the Orchestra. After a performance of the second concerto on January 12, Herman Devries in the American reported, “It was not Chicago . . . it was not Orchestra Hall . . . it was not Rachmaninov . . . to me it seemed Olympus, and we were all gods. Thus does music glorify when it is itself glorious. It is not the first time that I have waxed passionately enthusiastic over the genius of Rachmaninov. After hearing Horowitz [in recital] on Sunday [January 10], we thought that the season’s thrills were nearly complete.”

Later that week on January 14 and 15, Rachmaninov was soloist in his third concerto. “The most exciting event in the history of Orchestra Hall occurred last night,” wrote Glenn Dillard Gunn in the Herald & Examiner. “With one impulse, the audience rose and shouted its approval. Many eyes were wet and many throats were hoarse before the demonstration ended. For once on their feet, the listeners remained to cheering after the Orchestra had trumpeted and thundered its fanfare and long after the composer-pianist had brought Dr. Stock to the footlights to share his honors. Never have I witnessed such a tribute . . . and never, it is my sincere conviction, has such response been so richly deserved.”

Chicago Sun, February 12, 1943

Chicago Sun, February 12, 1943

Rachmaninov’s final appearances with the Orchestra were on February 11 and 12, 1943, in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto and his own Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, under the baton of associate conductor Hans Lange. “Sergei Rachmaninov evoked a series of ovations when he appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall last night,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “His entrance won standing tribute from orchestra and capacity audience, his Beethoven stirred a storm of grateful applause, and his own Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini ended the concert in a kind of avalanche of cumulative excitement.”

The following week, Rachmaninov traveled to Louisville and Knoxville for solo recitals on February 15 and 17, in what would be his final public performances. He died in Beverly Hills, California on March 28, 1943.

Portions of this article are included in the February 14-17, 2019, program book and also previously appeared here.

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Wishing a very happy birthday to our friends at the New York Philharmonic, as today they celebrate the 175th anniversary of their very first concert, given on December 7, 1842!

March 24, 1912

It would be nearly seventy years before the Philharmonic made their debut in Chicago, on March 24, 1912, in Orchestra Hall. That concert was led by their new music director Josef Stránský (who had succeeded Gustav Mahler the year before) and the program was as follows:

WEBER Overture to Der Freischütz
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Jan Kubelík, violin
LISZT Tasso, Symphonic Poem No. 2
SAINT SAËNS Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Op. 28
Jan Kubelík, violin
DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 (From the New World)

An image of the program—courtesy of the New York Philharmonic’s Leon Levy Digital Archives—can be found here.

“Interest in the New York Philharmonic Society’s first Chicago concert was so great that Orchestra Hall was sold out yesterday afternoon [with patrons] curious to hear America’s oldest orchestra . . .” wrote Glenn Dillard Gunn in the Chicago Daily Tribune. “Conductor Stránský is a man of force and originality, as his interpretations of the Freischütz Overture, Liszt’s symphonic poem Tasso, and The New World Symphony of Dvořák abundantly demonstrated. . . . It was in the scherzo and finale of the symphony, however, that he achieved his most impressive results. He brought to light a wealth of contrapuntal interest not discovered by other interpreters of the symphony, yet supported them with an unfailing clarity and grace in the presentation of the dominant melodic line and with qualities of rhythmical life and accent . . .”

Regarding the violin soloist Jan Kubelík (and father of future Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Rafael), Gunn added, “the Bohemian violinist played with his wonted certainty and purity of tone and intonation and with something more than his usual measure of conviction.”

This past February, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra helped both the Vienna and New York philharmonics launch the celebration of their joint 175th anniversaries by loaning the manuscript score of Richard Strauss’s Symphony no. 2 in F minor (from the Theodore Thomas Collection in the Rosenthal Archives) for an exhibit. Details of that collaboration are here and here, and a virtual tour of the exhibit is here.

Happy, happy birthday!

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March 9 and 10, 1928

March 9 and 10, 1928

On March 9 and 10, 1928, Vladimir Horowitz first appeared with the Orchestra in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto with Frederick Stock conducting. His U.S. debut had been less than two months before, at Carnegie Hall on January 12, when he was soloist in Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the New York Philharmonic under Sir Thomas Beecham.

In the Herald & Examiner, Glenn Dillard Gunn proclaimed the twenty-four-year old pianist the greatest talent to come out of Russia since Rachmaninov. “Whether he sustains a tenuous thread of melody or thunders more loudly than the Orchestra’s basses and percussions, his playing has diction. He never fails to impart to every moment of his performance that especial inflection, accent, or rhythmic impulse which adds eloquence to mere tonal beauty.” Herman Devries in the Chicago American took it even further, saying, “A sensation, nothing less, one of the most amazingly legitimate sensations of the generation. . . . The Orchestra itself, Mr. Stock, too, whose accompaniment was actually emotionally inspired, was visibly moved and impressed. Don’t ask me to describe his playing, just go. It’s something one does not have to describe. No one can dissect genius—and Horowitz is a genius—a young demi-god.”

March 26 and 27, 1953

Advertisement for Horowitz’s March 26 and 27, 1953 concerts (canceled due to illness)

Horowitz returned regularly for more than twenty years, performing under music directors Désiré Defauw and Artur Rodzinski and guest conductor Eugene Ormandy in concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky. To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of his U.S. debut, he was scheduled to appear again in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto under Rafael Kubelík in March 1953, but having fallen ill with the flu, he was forced to cancel.

He returned to Chicago on several occasions to perform in recital, and his last appearance—at the age of eighty-three— was on October 26, 1986. “Sunday’s concert found the great pianist in a generally more introspective mood,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. Horowitz played with “a lyrical sensitivity, a limpid and beautifully proportioned pianism, a seamless, purling legato of the sort no other pianist can duplicate.”

Deutsche Grammophon recently released—for the first time on CD—Horowitz‘s final recital in Orchestra Hall from October 26, 1986.

This article also appears here.

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Ernest Ansermet and the Orchestra onstage at the Ravinia Festival on July 3, 1936 (Ravinia Festival photo)

Ernest Ansermet and the Orchestra onstage at the Ravinia Festival on July 3, 1936 (Ravinia Festival photo)

On July 3, 1936, Ernest Ansermet and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra inaugurated the first season of the Ravinia Festival* with a program that included Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, Clouds and Festivals from Debussy’s Nocturnes, and Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird.

“Three days ago the last seat in the pavilion was sold. The audience was socially brilliant and musically responsive, so that a full-length Beethoven symphony and the most sonorous of the preludes which Wagner wrote for any of his music-dramas evoked a veritable tumult of applause,” wrote Glenn Dillard Gunn in the Herald & Examiner following that first concert. “For the next five weeks the Chicago Symphony will continue the season begun last night, playing on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings and offering programs quite as serious as those presented in Orchestra Hall during the winter season.”

July 3, 1936

July 3, 1936

Several notable conductors made their Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuts at the Ravinia Festival, including future music directors Riccardo Muti, Georg Solti, Jean Martinon, Fritz Reiner, and Artur Rodzinski; future festival music directors James Conlon, Christoph Eschenbach, James Levine, and Seiji Ozawa; and prominent guest conductors Sir Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein, Josef Krips, Erich Leinsdorf, Kurt Masur, Pierre Monteux, Eugene Ormandy, George Szell, and Michael Tilson Thomas.

“I look around at the beauty of the park, the acoustics and proportion of the Pavilion . . . and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in residence,” commented James Levine in the 1985 book Ravinia: The Festival at Its Half Century. “Look at how these people work during the Festival weeks—putting on performances of difficult music under extreme weather conditions sufficiently well to be worthy of recording, finishing one concert and getting up the next morning to rehearse for another. . . . Most of the people around Ravinia seem to find a rejuvenation synonymous with summer from the change of pace, the change of style, the challenge of new repertoire, and the opportunity to work from a different vantage point. It’s that kind of thinking, that buoyant spirit, which has been prevalent throughout the unique history of Ravinia. And it’s that spirit which makes Ravinia truly magical!”

*Ravinia Park had opened on August 15, 1904, and Frederick Stock and the Orchestra first performed at the park’s theater on November 20, 1905. The Orchestra appeared there semiregularly through August 1931, after which the park was closed for most of the Great Depression.

This article also appears here.

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Program page for the added extra concert on November 8, 1906

Program page for the added extra concert on November 8, 1906

Demand for tickets was so great for the two scheduled subscription concerts featuring composer and pianist Camille Saint-Saëns that the Orchestral Association added an extra concert for November 8, 1906. That first appearance was “regarded as . . . one of the most important events of the season,” according to Glenn Dillard Gunn in the Chicago Inter Ocean. “Black haired, gray bearded, and immaculately dressed, he carries jauntily his seventy-two years of labor and honorable achievement in the realm of art. . . . His technical command of the piano is supreme. He has a velocity that is enormous, a certainty almost infallible.”

The first half of that extra concert was conducted by Frederick Stock. Following intermission, it was announced that Saint-Saëns—who was still somewhat weak following a recent illness—would not perform the Bretonne Rhapsodies on the organ; instead, Stock would lead the Orchestra in Phaéton and the Danse macabre. Le rouet d’Omphale and selections from Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust completed the program.

Advance notice in the program book for Saint-Saëns's debut performances

Advance notice in the program book for Saint-Saëns’s debut performances

On the November 9 and 10 subscription concerts, Stock and the Orchestra repeated the Coronation March, Danse macabre, and Phaéton. To close the first half of the program, Saint-Saëns was soloist in his Second Piano Concerto, and Dvořák’s New World Symphony was given following intermission. William Lines Hubbard in the Chicago Tribune noted the composer’s weak appearance. “When seated at the piano, however, the musician took predominance over the man, and positiveness, strength, and authority were in evidence . . . .We have several notable presentations of the graceful [G minor concerto], but none of them has been technically more beautiful, tonally more gratifying, or interpretatively more elegant than was the one he offered yesterday. . . . The Orchestra gave an accompaniment which could but have rejoiced the composer’s heart, and the audience grew insistently enthusiastic and would not be stilled until the veteran pianist returned to the instrument and gave an additional solo.”

This article also appears here.

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