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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony were given on April 6 and 7, 1950, in Orchestra Hall under the baton of guest conductor George Szell. Since then, the work has been led by music directors Rafael Kubelík, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim; principal conductor Bernard Haitink; principal guest conductors Carlo Maria Giulini and Pierre Boulez; and Ravinia Festival music directors James Levine and James Conlon; along with guest conductors Sir John Barbirolli, Lawrence Foster, Michiyoshi Inoue, Hans Rosbaud, and Michael Tilson Thomas.

The Orchestra has recorded the work on three notable occasions, as follows.

Carlo Maria Giulini, the Orchestra’s first principal guest conductor, led Mahler’s Ninth Symphony in December 1971 and March 1975 before returning in April 1976 to perform and record the work. Following the first concert of that residency, Karen Monson in the Chicago Daily News wrote that “each time the aristocratic maestro meets the transcendent symphony, the relationship becomes more and more special, Giulini and the Orchestra have delved into the deepest secrets of this music, and Thursday evening they delivered a performance so rich and complete . . .”

In the Chicago Tribune, Thomas Willis called the performance “one of Giulini’s great nights in Orchestra Hall.” Recording sessions were scheduled for the following week, and “by the time the tape is rolling, this could be the most heartfelt and compelling recorded version of Mahler’s grief-stricken penultimate symphony. . . . The Chicago Symphony players will take any risks for Giulini. If he wishes them to play softer than soft, applying bow to string, or breath to mouthpiece or reed, they proceed to just this side of bobble or discomfiting silence. . . . No other guest has such control over orchestral color and emotional variation.”

Deutsche Grammophon was on hand on April 5 and 6, 1976, to record the symphony in Medinah Temple. Günther Breest was the executive producer and Klaus Scheibe the recording engineer. The release won the 1977 Grammy Award for Best Classical Orchestral Performance from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Eighth music director Sir Georg Solti first led the Orchestra in Mahler’s symphony at Orchestra Hall and Carnegie Hall in April 1981 before taking it on the road to Lucerne, Paris, Amsterdam, and London later that year. Back in Chicago, Solti led a concert performance (benefiting the musicians’ pension fund) on April 28, 1982, and recorded the symphony on May 2 and 4 in Orchestra Hall.

Reviewing in Gramophone magazine, Richard Osborne noted: “When Solti conducted Mahler’s Ninth Symphony in London in the autumn of 1981 the critic of The Financial Times observed: ‘Solti obviously knew how this music should gobut not why.’ Such a reading would be an evident act of self-parody, for it is to this very theme—the modern world’s nightmarish preoccupation with sensation, spiraling, self-referring and impossible to assuage—that Mahler so fearlessly addresses himself in the symphony’s third movement, the Rondo Burleske. It’s clear, though, from the present recording, made in Orchestra Hall, Chicago in May 1982, that Solti’s sense of the music is a good deal more rooted than it appeared to be amid the unsettling razzmatazz of an end-of-tour London performance.

“The new performance has a measure of repose about it as well as much splendour. The second movement is robust and resilient as Mahler directs. There is defiance and obstinacy in the third movement, an awful power which illuminates the music rather than the orchestra’s known expertise.”

James Mallinson produced the recording, and James Lock was the engineer for London Records. The recording won 1983 Grammy awards for Best Orchestral Recording, Best Engineered Recording—Classical, and Best Classical Album.

Soon after being named as the Orchestra’s third principal guest conductor, Pierre Boulez was in Chicago to lead four performances of Mahler’s Ninth in November December 1995.

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Wynne Delacoma wrote that Boulez led “one of classical music’s most profound meditations on relentless death and tumultuous life” as a “study in musical clarity, elegant balances, and proportion. . . . Many conductors play up the contrasts, creating dramatic mood shifts. Boulez and the CSO were after something more subtle.” John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune added that Boulez “[filtered] the work through his own modernist sensibility. Granted, there are ambiguities and uncertainties in this symphony that resist so rational an approach. But there are also levels of purely musical meaning few other conductors have uncovered. The otherworldly stillnesses, the demonic humor, the desolate nostalgia, the strange lapses into folkish banality registered that much more strongly because the hand organizing them was so calm and precise. . . . Let us hope the studio sessions capture in full the splendor of the live performances.”

For Deutsche Grammophon, the work was recorded at Medinah Temple on December 2 and 4, 1995. Roger Wright was the executive producer, Karl-August Naegler recording producer and editor, Ulrich Vette was the balance engineer, and Jobst Eberhardt and Stephan Flock were recording engineers. The release won the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony no. 9 on May 17, 18, 19, and 22, 2018.


Boulez & Grammy awards - December 1995

Did you know that Helen Regenstein Conductor Emeritus Pierre Boulez is the third all-time Grammy Awards champ? He received his first two Grammy Awards in February 1968, the same evening The Beatles won Album of the Year for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!

Sir Georg Solti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director, won thirty-one Grammy Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences—more than any other recording artist. Alison Krauss and Quincy Jones tie for the number two slot with twenty-seven awards each, and Boulez is number three, with twenty-six Grammy Awards, including eight with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Following is a complete list of Pierre Boulez’s Grammy Awards† to date:

Album of the Year—Classical (1)
Best Opera Recording (2)
BERG Wozzeck
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Walter Berry, Ingeborg Lasser, Isabel Strauss, Fritz Uhl, Carl Doench
Paris National Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Thomas Z. Shepard, producer
(For Album of the Year—Classical, there was a tie that year. Boulez’s recording of Berg’s Wozzeck tied with Leonard Bernstein‘s recording of Mahler’s Symphony no. 8 with the London Symphony Orchestra, also for CBS. Soloists included Erna Spoorenberg, Gwyneth Jones, Gwenyth Annear, Anna Reynolds, Norma Procter, John Mitchinson, Vladimir Ruzdiak, and Donald McIntyre; and the choruses were the Leeds Festival Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Orpington Junior Singers, Highgate School Boys’ Choir, and the Finchley Children’s Music Group. John McClure was the producer.)

Debussy Philharmonia

Best Classical Performance—Orchestra (3)
DEBUSSY Jeux, La mer, Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun
Pierre Boulez, conductor
New Philharmonia Orchestra

Best Classical Performance—Orchestra (4)
DEBUSSY Images for Orchestra
Pierre Boulez, conductor
The Cleveland Orchestra

Best Classical Performance—Orchestra (5)
STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring
Pierre Boulez, conductor
The Cleveland Orchestra

Bartok New York

Album of the Year—Classical (6)
Best Classical Performance—Orchestra (7)
BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra
Pierre Boulez, conductor
New York Philharmonic
Thomas Z. Shepard, producer

Best Classical Performance—Orchestra (8)
RAVEL Daphnis et Chloé
Pierre Boulez, conductor
New York Philharmonic
Camerata Singers
Abraham Kaplan, director

Berg Lulu

Best Classical Album (9)
Best Opera Recording (10)
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Teresa Stratas, Yvonne Minton, Hanna Schwarz, Franz Mazura, Kenneth Riegel, Toni Blankenheim, Robert Tear, Helmut Pampuch
Paris Opera Orchestra
Gunther Breest and Michael Horwath, producers
Deutsche Grammophon

Best Opera Recording (11)
WAGNER Der Ring des Nibelungen
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Donald McIntyre, Gwyneth Jones, Heinz Zednik, Hermann Becht, Jeannine Altmeyer, Manfred Jung, Matti Salminen, Ortrun Wenkel, Peter Hofmann, and Siegfried Jerusalem
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus
Andrew Kazdin, producer

Boulez Prince

Best Classical Album (12)
Best Orchestral Performance* (13)
Best Performance of a Choral Work** (14)
BARTÓK The Wooden Prince* and Cantata profana**
Pierre Boulez, conductor
John Aler, tenor
John Tomlinson, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Karl-August Naegler, producer
Deutsche Grammophon

Boulez Bartok Concerto

Best Classical Album (15)
Best Orchestral Performance (16)
BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra and Four Orchestral Pieces
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Karl-August Naegler, producer
Deutsche Grammophon

Best Classical Album (17)
Best Orchestral Performance* (18)
DEBUSSY La mer*, Nocturnes, Jeux, and First Rhapsody for Clarinet
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Franklin Cohen, clarinet
Women of The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus
Gareth Morell, director
Karl-August Naegler, producer
Deutsche Grammophon

Boulez Explosante

Best Small Ensemble Performance (with or without a conductor) (19)
BOULEZ . . . explosante-fixe . . .
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Ensemble InterContemporain
Deutsche Grammophon

Best Orchestral Performance (20)
BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique and Tristia
Pierre Boulez, conductor
The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus
Gareth Morell, director
The Cleveland Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon

Boulez Bluebeard

Best Orchestral Performance* (21)
Best Opera Recording** (22)
MAHLER Symphony No. 9*
BARTÓK Bluebeard’s Castle**
Jessye Norman, soprano
László Polgár, bass
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon

Boulez Repons

Best Classical Contemporary Composition (23)
Pierre Boulez, composer
Deutsche Grammophon

Best Orchestral Performance (24)
VARÈSE Amériques, Arcana, Déserts, and Ionisation
Pierre Boulez, composer
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon

Mahler 3 Vienna

Best Orchestral Performance (25)
MAHLER Symphony No. 3
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
Women’s Chorus of the Wiener Singverein
Johannes Prinz, director
Vienna Boys’ Choir
Gerald Wirth, director
Vienna Philharmonic
Deutsche Grammophon

Best Small Ensemble Performance (with our without a conductor) (26)
BOULEZ Le marteau sans maître, Dérive 1, Dérive 2
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Hilary Summers, contralto
Ensemble InterContemporain
Deutsche Grammophon

A database of former Grammy Award winners can be found here; category titles have changed over the years. For opera recordings, only principal soloists are listed.

Numerous upcoming programs celebrate Pierre Boulez, including Beyond the Score: A Pierre Dream on November 14 and 16, 2014, and Boulez’s Piano Works on March 15, 2015, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich.

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


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