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Ned Rorem in 1984 (Jack Mitchell photo)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the loss of American pianist, diarist, and Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Ned Rorem. He died at his home in Manhattan on November 18, 2022, at the age of ninety-nine.

Rorem was born in Richmond, Indiana, on October 23, 1923, and his family soon moved to Chicago. He expressed a talent for music at a young age and attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and the American Conservatory of Music. As a young musician, he regularly attended concerts in Orchestra Hall, where he “was exposed to contemporary music simultaneously with the standard classics. From the very start, I saw—heard—that the present was every bit as vital as the past, a truth made obvious when the two were interlarded.” Rorem later attended Northwestern University, the Curtis Institute, and the Juilliard School.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performed a number of Rorem’s works, including the world premiere of Goodbye My Fancy, commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on the occasion of its centennial season. “Goodbye My Fancy finds, both musically and expressively, the inner coherence it strives for,” John von Rhein wrote in the Chicago Tribune, following the first performance on November 8, 1990. “Rorem’s music remains blissfully oblivious to the blandishments of what used to be called modernism: the score is dated 1988 but sounds as if it could been written thirty years earlier. No American composer sets American words more sensitively; no composer is more alive to Whitman’s fierce passions. Rorem’s choral writing savors leanness, elegance and subtlety, even when it roars. The deployment of massed and solo voices with instruments is telling, the cumulative impact affecting. . . . the shining stars of the occasion were the Chicago Symphony Chorus. As prepared by director Margaret Hillis, the CSO contingent sang with firm consonants, clear vowels, full and forward tone and fervent dedication. They were magnificent to hear. Goodbye My Fancy is a work that deserves to be in the repertory of America’s best symphony choruses. But I doubt that any of them will be able to make its Whitmanesque music leap off the page more exactly or vividly than Hillis’s sterling ensemble.”

A complete list of his works performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus is below:

August 4, 1959, Ravinia Festival
ROREM Symphony No. 3
Alfred Wallenstein, conductor

November 12 and 13, 1959, Orchestra Hall
ROREM Design for Orchestra
Fritz Reiner, conductor

July 14, 1962, Ravinia Festival
ROREM Eagles
William Steinberg, conductor

Leonard Slatkin, Margaret Hillis, Ned Rorem, John Cheek, and Wendy White following the world premiere of Goodbye My Fancy on November 8, 1990 (Jim Steere photo)

June 15 and 16, 1972, Orchestra Hall
ROREM Piano Concerto in Six Movements
Irwin Hoffman, conductor
Jerome Lowenthal, piano

January 6, 7, and 9, 1977, Orchestra Hall
ROREM Air Music, Ten Variations for Orchestra
Guido Ajmone-Marsan, conductor

April 24, 25, and 26, 1986, Orchestra Hall
ROREM An American Oratorio
Margaret Hillis, conductor
Donald Kaasch, tenor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

November 8, 9, and 10, 1990, Orchestra Hall
ROREM Goodbye My Fancy (world premiere)
Leonard Slatkin, conductor
Wendy White, mezzo-soprano
John Cheek, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

On June 3, 1990, Rorem made a rare appearance as a pianist in Orchestra Hall, accompanying soprano Arleen Augér. “The idea of pairing Augér, one of the few American singers who really care about American vocal music, with composer-pianist Rorem, who has done more than any other living American to cultivate the art of native song, was an inspired one,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “Fully half of the program was given over to his songs. Throughout the program, Rorem’s accompaniments were rich in the special insights perhaps only a composer who happens to be a skilled pianist can bring to them.”

Numerous tributes have been posted online, including AP News, NPR, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among several others.

Ned Rorem and former CSO Composer-in-Residence John Corigliano give a pre-concert conversation in Orchestra Hall’s ballroom on November 8, 1990

This article also appears here.

Gary Graffman (Carol Rosegg photo)

Wishing a very happy (albeit slightly belated) ninetieth birthday to the great American pianist and teacher Gary Graffman!

Graffman appeared as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of occasions between 1951 and 1976, listed below:

January 13, 1951, Orchestra Hall
RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18
George Schick, conductor

April 7, 1956, Orchestra Hall
TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23
George Schick, conductor

February 10, 12, and 13, 1959, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37
Walter Hendl, conductor
Recorded by RCA on May 5, 1959, in Orchestra Hall. Richard Bayne was the engineer and Richard Mohr was the producer.

February 18, 1961, Orchestra Hall
RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18
Walter Hendl, conductor

July 29, 1961, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37
Paul Hindemith, conductor

August 5, 1961, Ravinia Festival
RACHMANINOV Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 43
Izler Solomon, conductor

January 10, 11, and 13, 1974, Orchestra Hall
RACHMANINOV Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43
Guido Ajmone-Marsan, conductor

July 22, 1976, Ravinia Festival
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26
André Previn, conductor

October 14, 15, and 17, 1976, Orchestra Hall
MENDELSSOHN Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

Happy, happy birthday!

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Theodore Thomas

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


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