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Ozawa headshotAs a last-minute replacement for Georges Prêtre in July 1963, Seiji Ozawa was called upon to lead the Orchestra in two concerts at the Ravinia Festival. The twenty-seven-year-old conductor made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on July 16 in Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no. 3, Grieg’s Piano Concerto with Byron Janis, and Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony. Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune reported that Ozawa was “instantly in command when in possession of a baton and a musical idea. His conducting technique reminds you of his teacher, Herbert von Karajan, in that it lays the score in the lap of the Orchestra with transparency of gesture and human communication, then commands acceptance.” On July 18, he conducted Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Christian Ferras, Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, Takemitsu’s Requiem for Strings, and selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

Only a month later it was announced that Ozawa would become the Ravinia Festival’s first music director and resident conductor beginning with the 1964 season, replacing Walter Hendl, who had served as artistic director since 1959. For his first concert as music director on June 16, 1964, Ozawa led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Barber’s Piano Concerto with John Browning, and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.

Reverse jacket of Angel Records recording of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, made at Medinah Temple on June 30 and July 1, 1969

Reverse jacket of Angel Records recording of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, made at Medinah Temple on June 30 and July 1, 1969

He served as music director of the Ravinia Festival through the 1968 season and as principal conductor for the 1969 season, returning regularly as a guest conductor. Ozawa most recently appeared there on July 14, 1985, leading Mozart’s Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in D major and Takemitsu’s riverrun with Peter Serkin, along with Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony.

Between 1965 and 1970—at both Orchestra Hall and in Medinah Temple— Ozawa and the Orchestra recorded a number of works for both Angel and RCA, including Bartók’s First and Third piano concertos and Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with Peter Serkin, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade with concertmaster Victor Aitay, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

Some of this content was previously posted here; this article also appears here.

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Ozawa headshot

Congratulations to Seiji Ozawa—the Ravinia Festival‘s first music director from 1964 until 1968—who will be a recipient of this year’s Kennedy Center Honors! Additional honorees, announced today, include American rock band the Eagles, singer-songwriter Carole King, filmmaker George Lucas, actress and singer Rita Moreno, and actress Cicely Tyson.

The gala event will be broadcast on CBS on December 29, 2015.

As a last-minute replacement for Georges Prêtre in July 1963, Seiji Ozawa was called upon to lead the Orchestra in two concerts at the Ravinia Festival. The twenty-seven-year-old conductor made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on July 16, leading Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no. 3, Grieg’s Piano Concerto with Byron Janis, and Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony. Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune reported that Ozawa was “instantly in command when in possession of a baton and a musical idea. His conducting technique reminds you of his teacher, Herbert von Karajan, in that it lays the score in the lap of the orchestra with transparency of gesture and human communication, then commands acceptance.” On July 18, he conducted Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Christian Ferras, Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, Takemitsu’s Requiem for Strings, and selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

June 16, 1964

June 16, 1964

Only a month later it was announced that Ozawa would become the Ravinia Festival’s first music director and resident conductor beginning with the 1964 season, replacing Walter Hendl, who had served as artistic director since 1959. For his first concert as music director on June 16, 1964, Ozawa led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Barber’s Piano Concerto with John Browning, and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.

He served as music director of the Ravinia Festival through the 1968 season and as principal conductor for the 1969 season, returning regularly as a guest conductor. Ozawa most recently appeared there on July 14, 1985, leading Mozart’s Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in D major and Takemitsu’s riverrun with Peter Serkin, along with Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony.

Ozawa LP

Between 1965 and 1970—both at Orchestra Hall and in Medinah Temple—Ozawa and the Orchestra recorded a number of works for both Angel and RCA, including Bartók’s First and Third piano concertos and Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with Peter Serkin, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade with concertmaster Victor Aitay, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, among numerous others.

Ozawa most recently appeared in Chicago at Orchestra Hall on February 9, 1996, leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe), Heidi Grant Murphy, and Michelle DeYoung in Mahler’s Second Symphony; and on January 10, 2001, conducting Mahler’s Ninth Symphony with the Saito Kinen Orchestra.

Congratulations, Maestro Ozawa!

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The work most closely identified with Sir Georg Solti’s tenure as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra would arguably be Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.

During his final season as music director, Solti and the Orchestra recorded Mahler’s Fifth a second time for London Records. The work was recorded live in concert at the Musikverein in Vienna on November 30, 1990, during the Orchestra’s tour to Russia, Hungary, and Austria.

For London, Michael Haas was the producer, Stanley Goodall was the engineer, and Matthew Hutchinson was the tape editor.

In his Memoirs, Solti wrote: “it was Mahler’s Fifth which I shall always associate with the Chicago Symphony. It was part of our first tour program together, to Carnegie Hall in New York [in January 1970]. We went with a certain trepidation, not knowing how New Yorkers would receive us, as we were still an unknown quantity. When we finished the last movement, the audience stood up and screamed hysterically as if it were a rock concert. The applause seemed endless; they had fallen under the spell of our exceptional performance. I had never experienced such an overwhelming phenomenon in my life and probably never will again.” (Shortly after the concert in New York, the symphony was recorded in Chicago’s Medinah Temple in March 1970.)

In the second edition of Paul Robinson’s Solti, the author stated: “In November 1990, Solti and the CSO toured Europe to great acclaim. In Vienna their program included the Mahler Fifth and the Decca engineers were there to record the event for posterity. It turned out to be an even finer recording than the one they had made in Chicago twenty years before. The virtuosity is on the same high level but there is a depth of feeling, particularly in the Adagietto, that is quite striking. The sound quality is also remarkable, taking advantage of the latest in digital technology. There are numerous subtleties of soft playing only hinted at in the earlier recording. One of Mahler’s most original touches of orchestration is the use of a tam-tam in the second movement. It is marked piano and in most recordings it is simply not audible. But in this one it has an altogether distinctive presence that colors the whole texture of the music. Wonderful! There are times when one misses the expansiveness of expression that is so moving in the [Leonard] Bernstein or [Herbert von] Karajan recordings, but this is nonetheless one of [the] best documentations of Solti and the CSO in their prime together.”

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In 1967, Viking Press published John Culshaw‘s book, Ring Resounding, a detailed account of the first complete studio recording of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. Solti was the conductor for those recordings, made in Vienna between 1958 and 1965 with an all-star cast of singers and the Vienna Philharmonic.

Rand McNally & Company published a coffee table book in 1974 with text by Chicago Tribune music critic Thomas Willis and photographs by Robert M. Lightfoot III. The book was titled simply The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and included images of rehearsals, performances, and recording sessions in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and in tour venues.

Also in 1974, MacMillan published William Barry Furlong‘s Season with Solti. Intended to give a backstage view of how the Chicago Symphony Orchestra operated during a single season, the book included first-hand accounts from numerous members of the Orchestra.

Paul Robinson’s Solti was published in 1979 by Lester and Orpen Limited. It was the third in their Art of the Conductor series, following books on Herbert von Karajan and Leopold Stokowski, also by Robinson.

And, of course, there’s Sir Georg Solti’s Memoirs with assistance from Harvey Sachs. (My well-worn copy is pictured to the right.) It was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1997. The afterword—by Valerie, Gabrielle, and Claudia Solti, to whom Solti had dedicated the book—says it all: “Our beloved Gyrui and Papa died, unexpectedly, in the South of France on Friday, September 5, 1997. Only hours before, he had completed the final corrections to this book. We hope it will give an insight into the most rare and wonderful of human beings, who enriched and blessed our lives beyond any words. No family could have had a more loving, generous, and wise husband and father.”

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In a recent, beautifully crafted article in The Guardian, Ed Vulliamy wrote, “Solti’s shattering Mahler Ninth at the Royal Festival Hall with the Chicago orchestra in 1981 left anyone who heard it dazed with wonderment.”

Sir Georg Solti first led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s Ninth Symphony on subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall in April 1981 and then later that year during a European tour, culminating on September 19, 1981, with that performance at the Royal Festival Hall in London. He and the Orchestra next performed it on a musicians’ pension fund concert on April 28, 1982, and recorded it the following week in Orchestra Hall.

Richard Osborne’s review in Gramophone magazine, disagreeing somewhat with Vulliamy, 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 go but 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, spiralling, 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.” (Osborne’s review goes on to favor Herbert von Karajan‘s 1980 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic (on Deutsche Grammophon), perhaps because he was already working on his excellent biography of the conductor.)

James Mallinson produced the recording, and James Lock was the engineer for London Records. The recording won the 1983 Grammy Awards for Best Orchestral Recording, Best Engineered Recording—Classical, and Best Classical Album from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus dominated that year at the Grammy Awards, also winning for Best Choral Performance (other than opera) for Haydn’s The Creation. Solti also won for Best Opera Recording for Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

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Theodore Thomas

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