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Alan Stout in 1971

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family notes with sorrow the passing of Alan Stout, composer and longtime composition and theory professor at Northwestern University. Stout died yesterday, February 1, 2018, at the age of 85.

Stout’s music was first performed by the Orchestra on two concerts given at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium on May 29 and 31, 1967, when Esther Glazer was soloist in Movements for Violin and Orchestra with Henry Lewis conducting. Soon thereafter, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presented four world premieres by Stout, under the batons of Seiji Ozawa, Sir Georg Solti, and Margaret Hillis, at the Ravinia Festival and in Orchestra Hall.

On August 4, 1968, Ozawa led the world premiere of Stout’s Symphony no. 2 at Ravinia. The work was commissioned by the Ravinia Festival Association through a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, and the performance was made possible by a Composer Assistance Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

World premiere of Stout’s Second Symphony at the Ravinia Festival on August 4, 1968

The symphony was “vivid [and] multi-dimensional . . . a collection of musical rituals,” according to Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “The work is a marvelous tapestry of textures, combining a superior craftsmanship, a remarkable ear, and encyclopedic knowledge of the inventions of his colleagues, [including] Messiaen, Penderecki, Elliott Carter, and Pierre Boulez . . .”

The composer’s Symphony no. 4 was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its eightieth season and dedicated to Georg Solti, who led the world premiere performances on April 15, 16, and 17, 1971. The score calls for a small chorus, and members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus were prepared by assistant director Ronald Schweitzer.

The following year, Solti also led the world premiere of Stout’s George Lieder (Poems from Das neue Reich) on December 14, 15, and 16, 1972, with baritone Benjamin Luxon as soloist.

Composer and conductor review the score of the George Lieder in December 1972 (Terry’s photo)

Stout’s large-scale Passion for Soloists, Chorus, and Orchestra was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with assistance from the National Endowment for the Arts and was dedicated to Margaret Hillis and the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Hillis led the world premiere performances on April 15, 16, and 17, 1976. Soloists included Mary Sauer on organ, Elizabeth Buccheri on piano, along with soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson, tenors Frank Little and John McCollum, baritones Leslie Guinn and LeRoy Lehr, and bass Monroe Olson.

The premiere of Stout’s Passion, on which the composer worked for over twenty years, was a “monumental undertaking [and] provided the most difficult music the Chorus has undertaken since Fritz Reiner brought Margaret Hillis here in 1957 to found the now internationally known ensemble,” wrote Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “Stout fashions his church Latin text into curtains and tapestries of sound. Like a sonic aurora borealis, they expand and contract as needed, supplying intimate but still objective commentary on an emotional-laden event, creating towering climaxing as the peak points of the action, or providing canopies of tightly woven, often contrapuntal sheets of sound against which other portions of the action can take place.”

Detail from the first section of Stout’s Passion, with markings by Margaret Hillis




Margaret Harris (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Harris leads the Orchestra in Maywood on July 26, 1971 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

While a student at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, ten-year old Margaret Harris won a youth audition and the opportunity to perform with the Orchestra on Young People’s Concerts. On November 17 and December 1, 1953, she was soloist in a movement from Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor with associate conductor George Schick. Shortly thereafter, Harris won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute, and by the age of twelve she was a student at the Juilliard School, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In 1970, she took over the reins of the Broadway musical Hair, conducting the seven-piece orchestra (all male, all older) from the keyboard.

Margaret Harris and the Orchestra in Maywood on July 26, 1971 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Harris addresses the Maywood audience on July 26, 1971 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

During the summer of 1971, Harris became the first African American woman to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, leading three Symphony in the Streets concerts—free outdoor concerts presented in cooperation with the Illinois Arts Council—on July 26 near the village hall in Maywood, on August 1 in Lincoln Park, and on August 6 on the grounds of the First Lutheran Church in Harvey. She led works by Borodin, Granados, Prokofiev, Sibelius, Smetana, Wagner, and a suite from Galt MacDermot’s score for Hair.

Harris “thoroughly earned her assignment by her own talents,” wrote Bernard Jacobson in the Chicago Daily News following the concert in Maywood. “Her work showed a cool competence that was particularly impressive in view of her limited symphonic experience.” The reviewer praised “the sense of spontaneous musicality she conveys. ‘Let the Sunshine In,’ the final number from Hair urges; and that is exactly what Margaret Harris did.”

This article also appears here.

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


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