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During Sir Georg Solti‘s tenure as eighth music director (1969–1991) and music director laureate (1991–1997), he and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus amassed an astonishing discography. Decca Classics—to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Solti’s death—is releasing a set of these complete recordings in a 108-CD boxed set.

“Recording with the Chicago Symphony was the fulfillment of Solti’s dreams and ambitions, to be able to record for posterity the ephemeral quality and emotions of a performance by this world-class ensemble,” writes Lady Valerie Solti in the accompanying book. “The orchestra were enthusiasts, hard workers, and brilliant musicians who were as eager as Solti to make first-class records and to create for the future a lasting document, a legacy of their wonderful relationship, a collaboration which won worldwide acclaim and unparalleled Grammy awards.” The 180-page hardcover book also includes articles by mezzo-soprano Yvonne Minton; producer and author Humphrey Burton; Martha Gilmer, who served as the Orchestra’s vice president for artistic planning during the latter half of Solti’s tenure; and CSO archivist Frank Villella; along with previously unpublished images from recording sessions.

The range of repertoire is vast: complete cycles of symphonies by Beethoven (twice, see here and here), Brahms, Bruckner, and Mahler (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here); Beethoven’s piano concertos; world premieres of Del Tredici’s Final Alice and Tippett’s Symphony no. 4 and Byzantium; complete operas including Beethoven’s FidelioSchoenberg’s Moses und AronVerdi’s Otelloand Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The set also includes hallmarks of the choral repertoire, featuring the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by directors Margaret Hillis and Duain Wolfe) performing Bach’s Mass in B minor and Saint Matthew PassionBeethoven’s Missa solemnisBerlioz’s The Damnation of FaustBrahms’s A German Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s The Creation (twice) and The Seasons, Shostakovich’s Babi Yar Symphony, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, and Verdi’s Requiem, plus many more works by these composers along with Bartók, Berg, Debussy, Dohnányi, Dvořák, Kodály, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Ravel, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and Weiner.

Solti leads the Orchestra in a recording session for Mahler’s Symphony no. 3 in November 1982 in Orchestra Hall (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Solti wrote in his Memoirs, “My term as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was the happiest time in my professional life . . . the fulfillment of my dreams, but at the same time, it was a new learning experience for me, a master class in musical directorship.” This set is a testament to that remarkable partnership.

The set releases in the United States on September 15, 2017, and is available here.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has recorded each of Brahms’s four symphonies multiple times and also has recorded the complete cycle on three different occasions. A complete listing is below.

During his tenure as Ravinia Festival music director, James Levine recorded the symphonies with the Orchestra for RCA at Medinah Temple. The recordings were produced by Thomas Z. Shepard and Paul Goodman was the recording engineer. Jay David Saks also co-produced the First Symphony, which was recorded in July 1975. The remaining three were recorded in July 1976.

Eighth music director Sir Georg Solti also led the Orchestra in sessions at Medinah Temple. For London, the four symphonies (along with the Academic Festival and Tragic overtures) were produced by James Mallinson; Kenneth Wilkinson, Colin Moorfoot, and Michael Mailes were the engineers. The Third and Fourth symphonies were recorded in May 1978, and the First and Second were recorded in January 1979. The set won 1979 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Classical Orchestral Recording from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Daniel Barenboim, the Orchestra’s ninth music director, recorded the four symphonies (along with the Academic Festival and Tragic overtures and the Variations on a Theme by Haydn) live at Orchestra Hall for Erato. Vic Muenzer was producer, Lawrence Rock was the sound engineer, assisted by Christopher Willis; and Konrad Strauss was the mastering engineer. All four symphonies were recorded live in 1993: the First and Third in May, the Fourth in September, and the Second in October.

Recordings of the individual symphonies by other conductors are listed below.

Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68

Rafael Kubelík, conductor
Recorded by Mercury in Orchestra Hall in April 1952
David Hall, recording director
C. Robert Fine and George Piros engineers

Günter Wand, conductor
Recorded live for RCA in Orchestra Hall in January 1989
Norman Pellegrini and David Frost, producers
Mitchell Heller, recording engineer
John Purcell, post-production engineer

Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90

Frederick Stock, conductor
Recorded by Columbia in New York’s Liederkranz Hall in November 1940

Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall in December 1957
Richard Mohr, producer

Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Recorded by Angel in Medinah Temple in October 1969
Peter Andry, producer
Carson Taylor, balance engineer

Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform Brahms’s four symphonies at Orchestra Hall in May. Details here and here.

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.

john-williams

Wishing a very happy eighty-fifth birthday to the incomparable John Williams! Composer, conductor, winner of five Academy Awards (and fifty nominations) and twenty-two Grammy awards, he has given us several of the most popular movie soundtracks in the history of cinema.

When Williams became the first composer to be awarded the American Film Institute‘s lifetime achievement award in 2016, his longtime collaborator Steven Spielberg said, “Without John Williams, bikes don’t really fly, nor do brooms in Quidditch matches, nor do men in red capes. There is no Force, dinosaurs do not walk the Earth, we do not wonder, we do not weep, we do not believe.”

Erich Kunzel first led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Williams’s music—selections from Star Wars: Episode IV–A New Hope—at the Ravinia Festival on August 13, 1978. Williams himself first guest conducted the Orchestra at Ravinia on July 31, 1994, and at Orchestra Hall on November 28, 29, and December 2, 2003. During that first downtown residency on November 29, he led the Orchestra in the world premiere of his Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, dedicated to then–Principal Horn Dale Clevenger. The work was commissioned by the Edward F. Schmidt Family Commissioning Fund for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Under the baton of the composer, the Orchestra recorded a suite from Memoirs of a Geisha in August 2008, with Yo-Yo Ma as soloist. In May 2012, Williams led the Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus in sessions for the soundtrack for Lincoln, later nominated for both Grammy and Academy awards.

John Williams will return again to lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in April 2018 (details will soon be available here, here, and here).

Happy, happy birthday!

horowitz-cover

All of a sudden, Vladimir Horowitz is everywhere. Especially in Chicago.

In addition to Deutsche Grammophon releasing Horowitz: Return to Chicago, Sony Classical has issued a set of the pianist’s unreleased live recital recordings, covering thirteen programs recorded at twenty-five concerts in fourteen different venues between 1966 and 1983. And four of those concerts were recorded in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, on May 12, 1968; November 2, 1975; and April 8 and 15, 1979.

Program book cover for November 2, 1975

November 2, 1975, program book cover

These live recordings were made by Columbia Masterworks (1966–1968) and RCA Red Seal (1975–1983), and—with the exception of a few tracks released on compilation albums—the vast majority of the material has never been previously available. The fifty-disc set recently was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Historical Album.

“Vladimir Horowitz’s piano technique is so comprehensive that it diminishes everyone else,” wrote Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune, following the November 1975 performance, presented under the auspices of Allied Arts. “When he summons the power and clangor for bravura passages, the other powerhouses by comparison sound like lightweights. But when he relaxes into pellucid cascades of an impressionist Liszt tone poem, other light-fingered specialists seem to have developed fingers of lead. . . . Horowitz is not only in a class by himself, he is apparently indestructible. Ten years after his return to the concert stage, the seventy-one-year-old virtuoso has the endurance, the control, and the coiled-spring presence to make each appearance an unforgettable event. . . . Horowitz today is as much a giant as ever.”

November 2, 1975

November 2, 1975

In addition to the works on the program, the audience—including an extra 150 on the stage—demanded no less than six encores: Schumann’s Träumerei from Kinderszenen; Scarlatti’s Sonata in A major, K. 322; Moszkowski’s Étincelles; Chopin’s Black Key Etude in G-flat major, op. 10, no. 5 and Mazurka in A minor, op. 17, no. 4; and finally Rachmaninov’s Étude-Tableaux in D major, op. 39, no. 9. All are included on the release.

marriner

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the death of legendary conductor Sir Neville Marriner, who died on Sunday at his home in London. He was 92.

Marriner began his career as a violinist and founded the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, a chamber orchestra named for the church in which the ensemble first performed, in 1958. Serving as music director until 2011, together they amassed an extraordinary discography (Andrew Clements of The Guardian picks his ten favorites here) that included the Grammy Awardwinning soundtrack to the feature film Amadeus.

Marriner led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during two residencies at the Ravinia Festival, as follows:

July 31, 1980
LUTOSŁAWSKI Mala Suita
LISZT Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major
Misha Dichter, piano
SCHUBERT Symphony No. 6 in C Major, D. 589

August 2, 1980
SCHOENBERG Transfigured Night, Op. 4
NIELSEN Flute Concerto
Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute
SCHUBERT Symphony No. 3 in D Major, D. 200

July 16, 1981
MOZART Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385 (Haffner)
LALO Symphonie espagnole in D Minor, Op. 21
Shlomo Mintz, violin
RACHMANINOV Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27

July 18, 1981
BIZET/Guiraud Suite from Carmen
ELGAR Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 (Enigma)
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
Misha Dichter, piano

Numerous tributes have been posted online, including The New York Times, The Telegraph, and NPR, among others.

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lincoln

Orchestra Hall became a Hollywood recording studio in May 2012 when John Williams led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in recording sessions for the motion picture Lincoln. Director Steven Spielberg was on hand to supervise the production.

“I can’t speak for Steven certainly, but I would guess that this particular project, Lincoln, was viewed by him as a great responsibility and a daunting challenge very different than making a straightforward entertainment film,” commented Williams. “For quite a few years now I’ve been conducting the Chicago Symphony . . . one of our greatest orchestras in the country and certainly one of the best in the world. And every time I would come back from Chicago I’d say, ‘Steven, that’s the greatest orchestra in Chicago. Someday we should do something with them,’ never really thinking that would be practical. And as we approached the time to make the decisions about where, when, and how to do Lincoln, I think Steven said, ‘You know, wouldn’t it be a great time to have your friends down at the Chicago Symphony perform?’ ”

The recording was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score and a Grammy Award in the Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media category.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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Following performances in Chicago, Pierre Boulez led the Orchestra, Chorus (prepared by Margaret Hillis and singing in Hungarian), and soloists tenor John Aler and bass John Tomlinson in recording sessions for Bartók’s Cantata profana on December 16, 1991. Later that week, Boulez and the Orchestra recorded The Wooden Prince on December 20 and 21. Deutsche Grammophon paired both works and released the recording in early 1993.

Bartók Wooden Prince

“Boulez provides what is by far the best studio recording the [Cantata profana] has ever had . . . truly state-of-the-art in terms of sound,” wrote Rob Cowan in the March 1993 issue of Gramophone. “Boulez is able to command a shimmering hushed pp, yet the battle-hardy Allegro molto with its hectoring syncopations and warlike percussion, is full of grit and muscle. . . .The Chicago Symphony Chorus egg the proceedings on with tireless zeal.”

Regarding The Wooden Prince, Cowan continued: “Again, the soft music is wonderfully atmospheric: the ppp muted violins in the prelude have a ghostly pallor that is so typical of this orchestra’s quiet string playing, yet when all are enraged at full throttle, the effect is shattering. Detail is legion throughout: the basses, brass, and drums have immense presence (the Dance of the Trees issues an ominous growl), there’s plenty of percussion glitter in the chirpy Dance of the Princess with the wooden prince, and the work’s lyrical close is beautifully blended.”

On March 1, 1994, the recording was awarded four Grammy awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Orchestra’s performance of The Wooden Prince was recognized in the Best Orchestral Performance category, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was awarded Best Performance of a Choral Work for its rendering of the Cantata profana. Rainer Maillard was recognized for his work in the Best Engineered Recording–Classical category, and the entire release won for Best Classical Album.

This article also appears 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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Leonard Bernstein onstage with the Orchestra in June 1988 (Jim Steere photo)

Leonard Bernstein in rehearsal with the Orchestra in June 1988 (Jim Steere photo)

Leonard Bernstein made several appearances with the Chicago Symphony at the Ravinia Festival between 1944 and 1956, and he also conducted the Orchestra on two subscription weeks at Orchestra Hall in 1951. In June 1988, he returned to Chicago to act as artistic advisor for the American Conductors Program, a joint project of the American Symphony Orchestra League and selected major American orchestras. For the program, he coached three young conductors—Kate Tamarkin, Leif Bjaland, and John Fiore, all chosen following a nationwide competition—in works by Richard Strauss.

On the June 16 and 17 concerts with the Orchestra, Fiore conducted Death and Transfiguration, Tamarkin led Don Juan, and Bjaland conducted Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. After intermission, Bernstein took the podium for Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 1, and the following week, he closed the Orchestra’s ninety-seventh season with Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony (Leningrad) on June 21 and 22.

Shostakovich 7

“I cannot recall a season finale of recent years, in fact, that sent the audience home on such a tidal wave of euphoria, and for so many of the right reasons,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune, following the first performance of the Leningrad Symphony. “Indeed, the conductor was constantly pushing the music beyond the rhetorical brink, then drawing back when things threatened to go over the top. Of course, he had the world’s greatest Shostakovich brass section at his ready command. The augmented brasses blared with magnificent menace, the violins sounded their unison recitatives with vehement intensity. And the woodwinds, with their always crisp and characterful playing, reminded us of the many poetic, soft sections that separate the bombastic outbursts.”

Both of Shostakovich’s symphonies were recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon and the subsequent release received the 1990 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

This article also appears here.

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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