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Raymond Niwa in 1950 (Central Studio)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the loss of Raymond Niwa—a member of the violin section from 1951 until 1997—who passed away on May 27, 2020, following a brief illness. He was ninety-seven.

Born on August 3, 1922, in Chicago, Niwa began violin lessons at the age of nine, and he attended Lane Technical College Preparatory High School. In 1940, Niwa was the winner of the Polish Arts Club’s first recital contest, and the following year he placed first in the Society of American Musicians Young Artist’s Competition. Following both contests, he was presented in recital in Kimball Hall.

Attending DePaul University as a student of Morris Gomberg, Niwa received a bachelor of music degree in 1943, after which he was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. After three years of military service, he returned to DePaul for a master’s degree, completed in 1948.

While a student, Niwa was a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago during the 1945–46 season. In 1946, he was in the pit for the final season of the Chicago Opera Company, and that same year, he began a five-year tenure with the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra. During 1950–51, he performed for one season as a member of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

The Niwa Trio—Raymond Niwa, Eloise Niwa, and Margaret Evans—in 1970 (Terry’s photo)

In 1951, fifth music director Rafael Kubelík invited Niwa to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first violin section. During his tenure, he performed as a featured soloist on two occasions: in Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto on January 3, 1953, with George Schick conducting, and again on June 10, 1970, in Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto under the baton of Irwin Hoffman. Niwa also was an active member on the Orchestra’s members’ committee as well as the contract negotiating team for many years.

Niwa and his wife Eloise, a pianist, and Margaret Evans, a longtime member of the Orchestra’s cello section, made up the Niwa Trio and were featured on the CSO’s Chamber Music Series for over twenty years. They also actively participated in the Orchestra’s ensemble programs, frequently performing in Chicago-area schools and throughout the community.

From 1946 until 1948, Niwa was on faculty at DePaul University, and in 1948, he began a long tenure at Roosevelt University, later heading the faculty string quartet for eight years.

Raymond Niwa in the early 1970s (Terry’s photo)

The Niwa’s children also are accomplished musicians. Their son David is a violinist and holds degrees from the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School, and their daughter Gail is a pianist, also with degrees from Juilliard. The Niwa family claims a singular distinction: all four have been soloists with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

In their retirement, Raymond and Eloise Niwa were longtime members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association. He also served for many years on the CSOAA’s board, as a director and treasurer.

Raymond Niwa’s beloved wife Eloise preceded him in death in 2013. He is survived by his daughter Gail, son David (Mariko), and grandson Matthew. Details for a memorial service are pending.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the classical music community in mourning Montserrat Caballé, the legendary Spanish soprano, who died on Saturday, October 6. She was 85.

Caballé appeared with the Chicago Symphony at Orchestra Hall on one occasion, on April 28 and 29, 1966, performing Strauss’s Four Last Songs and Weber’s scene and aria, “Ozean! Du Ungeheuer,” from Oberon under the baton of associate conductor Irwin Hoffman.

In the Chicago American, Roger Dettmer noted, “One of the largest Thursday audiences in recent Orchestra Hall history assembled for the first local appearance last evening of Montserrat Caballé, the Spanish soprano who has taken Milan, Vienna, Munich, Mexico City, Dallas, and Manhattan by storm. When she had finished singing music of Richard Strauss and Weber, accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Irwin Hoffman’s deferential direction, there was a roar of acclaim. . . . She is always a delicate and intelligent singer, in strict command of her resources. As important and admirable, she is a painstaking, persuasive musician, who has the measure of Strauss’s twilight songs—their intimacy, ecstasy, and inner peace—as well as the thrust for ‘Ozean!'”

“The consummate artistry of Montserrat Caballé gave Orchestra Hall one of the great moments in its history last night,” wrote Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “The Spanish soprano who has been attracitng maximum attention elsewhere does not have the big voice with a cutting edge associated with the luminaries of the German opera. . . . With the intuition which all of the great ones seem to have, she gave you a sample of the power and volume once or twice before setting in to spin the most gleaming of pianissimos heard since the glittering years of top flight [Elisabeth] Schwarzkopf . . . a pliant and carefully balanced phrase whose give and take adjusted to the words as well as the tonal requirements of the vocal line.”

Countless tributes have been posted online, including the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, BBC News, and Opera News, among several others.

Ruggiero Ricci in Prague in 1958 (CTK/Alamy photo)

On July 24, 2018, we celebrate the centennial of the birth of the remarkable American violinist Ruggiero Ricci (1918-2012), a frequent soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

A student of Louis Persinger, Ricci played his first solo recital at Carnegie Hall at the age of eleven and was a noted interpreter of Paganini. A celebrated teacher himself, Ricci also taught at the universities of Michigan and Indiana, the Juilliard School, and Salzburg Mozarteum.

Between 1951 and 1972, Ricci appeared with the Orchestra on numerous occasions in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and in Milwaukee, and a complete list of his appearances is below (all concerts in Orchestra Hall unless otherwise noted):

November 8 and 9, 1951
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218
Rafael Kubelík, conductor

August 5, 1954, Ravinia Festival
PAGANINI Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 6
Georg Solti, conductor

August 7, 1954, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Concerto for Vioin and Cello in A Minor, Op. 102 (Double)
Paul Tortelier, cello
Georg Solti, conductor

July 5, 1962, Ravinia Festival
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, Op. 47
STRAVINSKY Violin Concerto in D
Walter Hendl, conductor

Ruggiero Ricci in 1965 (Getty Images)

December 19 and 20, 1963
GINASTERA Violin Concerto, Op. 30
Walter Hendl, conductor

December 21, 1963
PAGANINI Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 6
Walter Hendl, conductor

June 30, 1964, Ravinia Festival
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
Seiji Ozawa, conductor

July 2, 1964, Ravinia Festival
LALO Symphonie espagnole in D Minor, Op. 21
André Previn, conductor

February 27, 1971
GLAZUNOV Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 82
WIENIAWSKI Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22
Irwin Hoffman, conductor

January 6 and 7, 1972
January 10, 1972 (Pabst Theater, Milwaukee)
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63
John Pritchard, conductor

On July 18, 2018, Riccardo Muti led the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini in a concert at the Ravenna Festival, in tribute to Ricci’s centennial. The program included Rossini’s Overture to Il viaggio a Reims, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and Paganini’s Violin Concerto no. 4 in D minor, featuring Wilfried Hedenborg—a violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic for almost three decades and a student of Ricci’s at the Mozarteum in Salzburg in 1989—as soloist.

 

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has performed Aaron Copland‘s Lincoln Portrait on several occasions and with a number of notable narrators. A complete list is below.

Carl Sandburg

Poet, writer, and editor Carl Sandburg was narrator for the Orchestra’s first performances of Lincoln Portrait on March 15 and 16, 1945, in Orchestra Hall; third music director Désiré Defauw conducted. At the time, Sandburg was the country’s leading authority on Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth U.S. president. He had written the two-volume Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years in 1926, and in 1940, he completed the four-volume Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, for which he won his second Pulitzer Prize.

Claude Rains

The composer himself conducted the first performance at the Ravinia Festival on July 21, 1956. Popular stage and screen character actor Claude Rains was narrator for the occasion. Winner of a Tony Award and nominated four times for an Academy Award (in the best supporting actor category), he appeared in such classic films as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Casablanca, Notorious, and Lawrence of Arabia.

Illinois Governor Otto J. Kerner rubs the nose of Gutzon Borglum‘s Lincoln bust in 1964 (World Telegraph & Sun photo by Roger Higgins)

Copland was again on the podium at the Ravinia Festival on July 6, 1963, when Illinois Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. was narrator. Kerner was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and served as a judge in the Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County before his election as the thirty-third governor of Illinois in 1960, winning re-election in 1964. He resigned as governor in 1968 when President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated him as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Kerner was later convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy, and perjury and sentenced to three years in federal prison; he was released early following his being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The next three performances, all in Orchestra Hall, were narrated by voices quite familiar to Chicagoans. On March 28, 1970, Mel Zellman, an announcer for WFMT for forty years, shared the stage with conductor Irwin HoffmanJim Tilmon, a longtime television reporter for WTTW and NBC, narrated the work on February 25, 1976, with associate conductor Henry Mazer on the podium. On January 29, 1979, Bill Kurtis, then a news anchor with WBBM-TV, was narrator, again under Mazer’s direction.

For a special July 4 celebration in 1982 at the Ravinia Festival, Aaron Copland himself was narrator. Erich Kunzel conducted.

Jane Byrne (Associated Press photo by Fred Jewell)

Jane Byrne was the first woman to serve as Chicago’s mayor—the city’s fortieth—from 1979 until 1983. On October 1, 1982, in Orchestra Hall, she was narrator in Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with Reynald Giovaninetti on the podium. According to her obituary in the Chicago Tribune, “Over her single term in office, Byrne launched Taste of Chicago and crowd-pleasing celebrations like Blues Fest, inspired the redevelopment of Navy Pier and the Museum Campus and encouraged movie making here in a big way by luring production of box office hits like The Blues Brothers.

Aaron Copland and William Warfield in 1963 (Library of Congress photo)

On October 4, 1997, Symphony Center officially opened its doors with a gala concert. The program included a performance of Lincoln Portrait with bass-baritone William Warfield as narrator and ninth music director Daniel Barenboim conducting. Warfield had become well known following a star turn as Joe—singing “Ol Man River“—in MGM‘s 1951 remake of Show Boat. He also recorded a highly acclaimed album of selections from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess with soprano Leontyne Price in 1963. Long associated with Copland, Warfield had sung the premiere performances of the first set of Old American Songs (for soloist and orchestra) as well as the second set (for soloist and piano).

Steppenwolf Theatre Company actors Martha Lavey, Amy Morton, K. Todd Freeman, and Tracy Letts shared narrating duties at the Ravinia Festival on July 4, 2004. David Alan Miller conducted.

Senator Barack Obama narrates Copland’s Lincoln Portrait in Millennium Park on September 11, 2005. William Eddins conducts (Todd Rosenberg photo)

On September 11, 2005, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave a free concert at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Guest conductor William Eddins led the Orchestra in The Star-Spangled Banner, William Schuman’s arrangement of Ives’s Variations on America, Rimsky- Korsakov’s Sheherazade, and Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with freshman U.S. Senator Barack Obama as narrator. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Wynne Delacoma wrote: “When September 11 comes around each year, the craving for a moment of proverbial silence—a chance to slow down, remember, and mourn—is strong. Sunday’s concert, led by former CSO resident conductor William Eddins and featuring Senator Barack Obama as narrator in Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, provided just that kind of beneficent moment. Despite the steamy weather, a large crowd filled the pavilion’s seats and lawn, giving the CSO in general, and Obama in particular, vociferous applause. . . . Obama brought an orator’s skill without an actor’s slick veneer to Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. The comforting quality of his voice gave added emotional resonance to Lincoln’s words. The CSO was a powerful surging force behind him, alternately sinking into meditation and swelling to majestic heights.”

Most recently, James Earl Jones was narrator at Orchestra Hall on February 21 and 24, 2009, under the baton of James Gaffigan, and on July 18, 2009, soprano Jessye Norman was narrator with James Conlon conducting at the Ravinia Festival.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Copland’s Lincoln Portrait on April 12, 13, 14, and 17, 2018. John Malkovich will be the narrator.

Byron JanisSending happy ninetieth birthday wishes to the legendary pianist Byron Janis!

Between 1952 and 1974, Janis appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on numerous occasions at Orchestra Hall, in Milwaukee, and at the Ravinia Festival, under the batons of music directors Fritz Reiner and Jean Martinon; associate conductors Walter Hendl and Irwin Hoffman; Ravinia Festival music directors Seiji Ozawa and James Levine; and guest conductors Leonard Bernstein, André Cluytens, Igor Markevitch, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Hans Rosbaud, Joseph Rosenstock, William Steinberg, Leopold Stokowski, Willem Van Otterloo, and David Zinman.

Janis made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 10, 1952, in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting.

Two years later—a few weeks shy of his twenty-sixth birthday—he first performed in Orchestra Hall on March 4 and 5, 1954, in Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with Fritz Reiner on the podium. “If you have it, you have it, and Mr. Janis does,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune following his debut. “He has good fingers, a direct approach, and a good tone. He has temperament and fire and he wants, perhaps more than anything else in the world, to play the piano. You can always tell that by the sound. It comes out in the explosions of the double octaves, in the instinctive sensing of the crest of a phrase, in the way a Russian song suddenly knows pain, which is not quite the same thing as being sad. Because of these things, because he is such a pianist, his Tchaikovsky was big, beautiful, and dynamic, yet with all its tensions it sensed the relaxed sweep of the grand style. Few things could be more stupid than to patronize such playing, which Reiner and the orchestra gave superb collaboration, part Russian song, part Russian bear. When I look forward to what that playing can be, I am speaking of it in Janis’s own terms. Give him time to strengthen those fingers, to deepen and polish that tone. But listen as he does it, for he is worth hearing now.”

He most recently appeared with the CSO in Orchestra Hall on April 20 and 21, 1967, in Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto and Strauss’s Burleske with Irwin Hoffman conducting, and at the Ravinia Festival on August 15, 1974, in Saint-Saëns’s Fifth Piano Concerto under the baton of David Zinman.

Janis also made several recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as follows:

RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 1
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded March 2, 1957, in Orchestra Hall by RCA

Byron Janis’s complete RCA catalog—including his recordings with the CSO—recently was re-released in a box set.

STRAUSS Burleske for Piano and Orchestra
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded March 4, 1957, in Orchestra Hall by RCA

SCHUMANN Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded February 21, 1959, in Orchestra Hall by RCA

LISZT Totentanz for Piano and Orchestra
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded February 23, 1959, in Orchestra Hall by RCA

PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, Op. 10
Irwin Hoffman, conductor
Recorded by WFMT on April 20 and 21, 1967, in Orchestra Hall
Released in 1995 on From the Archives, vol. 10: Great Soloists

Happy, happy birthday!

Irwin Hoffman

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the death of Irwin Hoffman, a titled conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1964 until 1970. Hoffman died yesterday at the age of 93.

On August 13, 1964, Merrill Shepard, then-president of The Orchestral Association, announced that Hoffman had been engaged as the CSO’s new assistant conductor, beginning with the 1964-65 season. Hoffman was to serve the Orchestra and assist music director Jean Martinon in a variety of capacities, including conducting rehearsals and concerts (including youth concerts), leading the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, as well as new score review.

Hoffman’s debut program with the Orchestra was as follows:

December 17 & 18, 1964
VILLA-LOBOS Uirapurú
BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 1
Victor Aitay, violin
MAHLER Symphony No. 1 in D Major

Program book announcement from January 1968

Program book announcement from January 1968

Martinon promoted Hoffman to associate conductor the following year. He would serve in that capacity for three seasons, and in January 1968, Association president Louis Sudler announced that Hoffman would be acting music director for the 1968-69 season. (On December 17, 1968, the Association announced that Georg Solti would become the Orchestra’s eighth music director, beginning with the 1969-70 season.)

For the 1969-70 season, Hoffman’s title was conductor and he led several weeks of subscription and popular concerts. In subsequent seasons, he returned as a guest conductor and most recently led the Orchestra in January 1977 with the following program:

January 12, 13, 14 & 15, 1977
January 17, 1977 (Uihlein Hall, Milwaukee)
KAY Of New Horizons
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
Esther Glazer, violin
PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100

Irwin Hoffman with score

Hoffman made his conducting debut at the age of seventeen with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Robin Hood Dell. He also studied at the Juilliard School and later with Serge Koussevitzky at the Tanglewood Music Festival. Hoffman has held titled positions with several orchestras, including the Grant Park Music Festival; Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; Martha Graham Dance Company; Florida Gulf Coast Symphony, later the Florida Orchestra; Bogotá Philharmonic in Colombia; Costa Rican National Symphony Orchestra; and the Santiago Philharmonic Orchestra in Chile.

Kurt Loft of the Florida Orchestra has posted a beautiful tribute here.

Wishing a very happy eightieth birthday to John Corigliano!

The recipient of numerous honors—including a Pulitzer Prize, an Academy Award, the Grawemeyer Award, and multiple Grammy awards—Corigliano served as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first composer-in-residence from 1987 until 1990.

The Orchestra first performed Corigliano’s Concerto for Piano in February 1969, with Sheldon Shkolnik as soloist and acting music director Irwin Hoffman on the podium. Under the baton of Sir Georg Solti, the Orchestra performed the Concerto for Clarinet with Larry Combs, as well as the Tournaments Overture on concerts in Orchestra Hall and during the 1985 tour to Europe, performing the work in Hamburg, Madrid, Paris, and London.

On March 15, 1990, music director designate Daniel Barenboim led the world premiere of Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1, jointly commissioned for the Orchestra’s centennial by the Chicago Symphony and the Meet-the-Composer Orchestra Residencies Program.

“During the past decade I have lost many friends and colleagues to the AIDS epidemic, and the cumulative effect of those losses has, naturally, deeply affected me. My First Symphony was generated by feelings of loss, anger, and frustration,” wrote Corigliano in the program note for the premiere. “A few years ago, I was extremely moved when I first saw ‘The Quilt,’ an ambitious interweaving of several thousand fabric panels, each memorializing a person who had died of AIDS, and, most importantly, each designed and constructed by his or her loved ones. This made me want to memorialize in music those I have lost, and reflect on those I am losing.”

The live recording—Barenboim and the Orchestra’s first on the Erato label—featured principal cello John Sharp and, offstage, pianist Stephen Hough. The recording was recognized with two 1991 Grammy awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Contemporary Composition. Barenboim programmed the symphony again in 1992, also taking it on tour to Carnegie Hall, Madrid, and London.

Corigliano’s First Symphony also has been performed at the Ravinia Festival under the batons of Christoph Eschenbach in 1996 and Marin Alsop in 2003; Eschenbach also led performances in Orchestra Hall in 1998.

With the Orchestra, Neeme Järvi conducted the Pied Piper Fantasy with Sir James Galway; Eschenbach led The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra with Joshua BellWilliam Eddins conducted Phantasmagoria on The Ghosts of Versailles; and Leonard Slatkin has led Three Hallucinations, Fantasia on an Ostinato, and The Mannheim Rocket.

To celebrate Sir Georg Solti’s seventy-fifth birthday in 1987, associate conductor Kenneth Jean led the Orchestra in the world premiere of Corigliano’s Campane di RavelloWritten while on vacation in Ravello, Italy, the composer remarked, “On Sundays, the multitude of churches in Ravello and the surrounding towns play their bells, each in a different key and rhythm. The cacophony is gorgeous, and uniquely festive. My tribute to Sir Georg attempts to make the sections of the symphony orchestra sound like pealing bells: that tolling, filigreed with birdcalls in the woodwinds, provides the backdrop for a theme that grows more and more familiar as it is clarified. At the end, it is clear and joyous—a tribute to a great man.”

Jean also led the work on the Centennial Gala concert on October 6, 1990, and current music director Riccardo Muti conducted it on September 19, 2015, on the Symphony Ball concert launching the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 125th season.

Corigliano and Stephanie Jeong at the Harris Theater on October 2, 2017 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

MusicNOW, the Orchestra’s contemporary music series, kicked off its twentieth season on October 2, 2017, at the Harris Theater with a concert celebrating past composers-in-residence. Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek honored their predecessors by programming works by Anna Clyne, Osvaldo Golijov, and Mark-Anthony Turnage, along with—in attendance—Mason Bates, Shulamit Ran, Augusta Read Thomas, and Corigliano.

CSO violins Yuan-Qing Yu and Hermine Gagné, viola Danny Lai, and cello Kenneth Olsen performed Corigliano’s A Black November Turkey (in the composer’s string quartet arrangement), and violin Stephenie Jeong soloed in the Red Violin Caprices. The Chicago Classical Review’s Lawrence A. Johnson observed, “Jeong delivered a powerful tour de force performance, sensitively serving the pages of introspective melancholy and throwing off Corigliano’s artful retake on nineteenth-century Paganini-esque fiddle fireworks with blazing virtuosity and panache. It was wonderful to see the veteran composer join the CSO’s young associate concertmaster for a double curtain call.”

And next season, in January 2019, Thomas Hampson will perform the song “One Sweet Morning” from Corigliano’s song cycle One Sweet Morning, commissioned to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks. Bramwell Tovey will conduct.

Happy, happy birthday!

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Copland

On July 10, 1962, Aaron Copland conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival in a program that began with Haydn’s Symphony no. 95, Stravinsky’s Ode for Orchestra, and Chávez’s Sinfonia india. After intermission, the composer returned to lead his Orchestral Variations and Old American Songs with bass William Warfield.

Copland’s appearance drew “the largest Tuesday crowd in many a Ravinia summer [and] everything added up to the best program given summer audiences here in a decade of concerts,” wrote Roger Dettmer in the Chicago American. “The strongest music was Mr. Copland’s Variations, tense and unrelenting, splendorously scored, and in design, memorable.”

July 10, 1962

July 10, 1962

William Warfield—who had given the premiere of the orchestral arrangement of the first set of songs as well as the first performance of the original version of the second set with the composer at the piano—was soloist for the occasion. Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times commented, “In the two sets of American songs, William Warfield showed us that the acoustically revamped pavilion is now a fit place for a vocal soloist, for his big, warm baritone came to us as no singer had before.”

Copland had made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 21, 1956, in a concert that had attracted over 5,000 people, despite a late-afternoon hailstorm. He led a program of his own works: An Outdoor Overture, suites from Our Town and Billy the Kid, the first two movements from the Third Symphony, and Lincoln Portrait with Claude Rains as narrator. For his debut at Orchestra Hall, the composer was soloist in his Piano Concerto on December 5, 1964, led by assistant conductor Irwin Hoffman.

This article also appears here.

Irwin Hoffman

On November 26, 2014, we celebrate the ninetieth birthday of Irwin Hoffman, a titled conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1964 until 1970.

On August 13, 1964, Merrill Shepard, then-president of The Orchestral Association, announced that Hoffman had been engaged as the CSO’s new assistant conductor, beginning with the 1964-65 season. Hoffman was to serve the Orchestra and assist music director Jean Martinon in a variety of capacities, including conducting rehearsals and concerts (including youth concerts), leading the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, as well as new score review.

Hoffman’s debut program with the Orchestra was as follows:

December 17 & 18, 1964
VILLA-LOBOS Uirapurú
BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 1
Victor Aitay, violin
MAHLER Symphony No. 1 in D Major

Program book announcement from January 1968

Program book announcement from January 1968

Martinon promoted Hoffman to associate conductor the following year. He would serve in that capacity for three seasons, and in January 1968, Association president Louis Sudler announced that Hoffman would be acting music director for the 1968-69 season. (On December 17, 1968, the Association announced that Georg Solti would become the Orchestra’s eighth music director, beginning with the 1969-70 season.)

For the 1969-70 season, Hoffman’s title was conductor and he led several weeks of subscription and popular concerts. In subsequent seasons, he returned as a guest conductor and most recently led the Orchestra in January 1977 with the following program:

January 12, 13, 14 & 15, 1977
January 17, 1977 (Uihlein Hall, Milwaukee)
KAY Of New Horizons
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
Esther Glazer, violin
PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100

Irwin Hoffman with score

Hoffman made his conducting debut at the age of seventeen with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Robin Hood Dell. He also studied at the Juilliard School and later with Serge Koussevitzky at the Tanglewood Music Festival. Hoffman has held titled positions with several orchestras, including the Grant Park Music Festival; Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; Martha Graham Dance Company; Florida Gulf Coast Symphony, later the Florida Orchestra; Bogotá Philharmonic in Colombia; Costa Rican National Symphony Orchestra; and the Santiago Philharmonic Orchestra in Chile.

Happy birthday, maestro!

This week Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s First Symphony, almost exactly one hundred years since Frederick Stock first conducted it in Chicago.

Program page for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's first performances of Mahler's First Symphony

Program page for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of Mahler’s First Symphony

That first performance of the symphony (sandwiched between Handel’s Concerto grosso, op. 6, no. 2 and Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Josef Hofmann) on November 6, 1914, left Ronald Webster of the Chicago Daily Tribune a bit puzzled: “The Mahler symphony is less important but more interesting to talk about because it is strictly earthy. There is a suggestion in the program notes that Mahler was not wholly serious in this symphony. It was obvious yesterday that he was not serious at all. Even the finale is not serious, though it is tiresome, being too long. But it is the quality of the humor which is likely to cause people to turn up their noses. The humor is a little coarse, definitely ironical, of a barnyard kind and healthy. Mahler is himself partly to blame for such ideas about him. Definite conceptions such as his (though he may not have been serious about them either) are death to all mystic attitude toward this work. . . . He suggests that the first movement is nature’s awakening at early morning. One suspects that Mahler included in nature the cows and chickens as well as the cuckoo and the dewy grass.” The complete review is here.

Despite that critic’s early apprehensions, the symphony soon became a staple in the Orchestra’s repertoire and has been led—at Orchestra Hall, the Ravinia Festival, and on tour—by a vast array of conductors, including: Roberto Abbado, Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, James Conlon, Christoph von Dohnányi, Gustavo Dudamel, Christoph Eschenbach, Adam Fischer, Carlo Maria Giulini, Bernard Haitink, Irwin Hoffman, Paul Kletzki, Kirill Kondrashin, Rafael Kubelík, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Igor Markevitch, Henry Mazer, Eugene Ormandy, Seiji Ozawa, George Schick, Leonard Slatkin, Sir Georg Solti, William Steinberg, Klaus Tennstedt, Michael Tilson Thomas, Edo de Waart, Bruno Walter, and Jaap van Zweden.

And the Orchestra has recorded the work six times, as follows:

Giulini 1971Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Recorded by Angel at Medinah Temple in March 1971
Christopher Bishop, producer
Carson Taylor, engineer
Giulini’s recording won the 1971 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance—Orchestra from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Abbado 1981Claudio Abbado, conductor
Recorded by Deutsche Grammophon at Orchestra Hall in February 1981
Rainer Brock, producer
Karl-August Naegler, engineer

Solti 1983Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Recorded by London at Orchestra Hall in October 1983
James Mallinson, producer
James Lock, engineer

Tennstedt 1990Klaus Tennstedt, conductor
Recorded by EMI at Orchestra Hall in May and June 1990
John Fraser, producer
Michael Sheady, engineer

Boulez 1998Pierre Boulez, conductor
Recorded by Deutsche Grammophon at Orchestra Hall in May 1998
Karl-August Naegler, producer
Rainer Maillard and Reinhard Lagemann, engineers

Haitink 2008Bernard Haitink, conductor
Recorded by CSO Resound at Orchestra Hall in May 2008
James Mallinson, producer
Christopher Willis, engineer

For more information on Muti’s performances of Mahler’s First this week, please visit the CSO’s website.

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