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Phyllis Curtin

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the loss of the extraordinary American soprano Phyllis Curtin, a frequent guest artist who performed under three music directors—Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, and Sir Georg Solti—between 1957 and 1972. Curtin died on June 5, 2016, at her home in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. She was 94.

Curtin made her debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival in 1957, and she most recently appeared at Orchestra Hall in 1972. A complete list of her appearances with the Orchestra is below (subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, unless otherwise noted):

July 7, 1957 (Ravinia Festival)
FOSS The Song of Songs
Lukas Foss, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano

Reiner B9

April 27 and 28, 1961
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Florence Kopleff, contralto
John McCollum, tenor
Donald Gramm, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was recorded by RCA on May 1 and 2, 1961, in Orchestra Hall. The recording recently was re-released as part of a sixty-three-disc set featuring Reiner’s complete discography with the Orchestra.

April 26 and 27, 1962
HANDEL Israel in Egypt
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Carol Smith, mezzo-soprano
Richard Lewis, tenor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 9, 1964 (Ravinia Festival)
MOZART Voi che sapete from The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492
MOZART Alleluia from Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165
J. STRAUSS, Jr. Czárdás and Mein Herr Marquis from Die Fledermaus
KORNGOLD Glück das mir verblieb from Die tote Stadt
LEHÁR Dein is mein ganzes Herz from Das Land des Lächelns
SIECZYNSKI Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume
Andre Kostelanetz, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano

April 22, 23, and 24, 1965
HAYDN The Seasons
Jean Martinon, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Charles Bressler, tenor
Ara Berberian, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

January 6, 7, and 8, 1966
PERGOLESI Stabat Mater
Jean Martinon, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Betty Allen, mezzo-soprano
STRAVINSKY Les noces
Jean Martinon, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Betty Allen, mezzo-soprano
André Montal, tenor
Peter Harrower, bass-baritone
Mary Sauer, Laurence Davis, Louis M. Kohnop, and Eloise Niwa, pianos
Donald Koss, Gordon Peters, James J. Ross, Sam Denov, Albert Payson, and Norbert Szymanski, percussion
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

December 1, 2, and 3, 1966
MARTINON The Rose of Sharon (U.S. premiere)
Jean Martinon, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Ernst Haefliger, tenor
Joseph Brewer, tenor
Harold Robinson, baritone
Mary Sauer and Harriet Wingreen, pianos
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

May 14 and 15, 1970
JANÁČEK Glagolitic Mass
Charles Mackerras, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Joan Caplan, mezzo-soprano
John Alexander, tenor
Ara Berberian, bass
Mary Sauer, organ
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

January 20, 21, and 22, 1972
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 14, Op. 135
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Raffaele Arié, bass

June 27, 1972 (Ravinia Festival)
BRITTEN War Requiem, Op. 66
István Kertész, György Fischer, and Margaret Hillis, conductors
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Robert Tear, tenor
John Shirley-Quirk, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Northwestern University Chorus and Northwestern University Concert Choir
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Theatre Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

November 30 and December 1, 1972
BERLIOZ The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Phyllis Curtin, soprano (substituting for contralto Josephine Veasey)
Stuart Burrows, tenor
Robert Savoie, baritone
Roger Soyer, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Theatre Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

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James Levine in the early 1970s (Metropolitan Opera photo)

James Levine in the early 1970s (Metropolitan Opera photo)

As a last-minute replacement conductor for the opening concert of the Ravinia Festival’s thirty-sixth season on June 24, 1971, James Levine led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Mahler’s Second Symphony. Having just made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera leading Puccini’s Tosca on June 5, he conducted both the rehearsals and the performance of the Mahler without a score.

In the Chicago Daily News, Bernard Jacobson reported that the reverberations of Mahler’s symphony “were matched at the end of the performance by the ovation that greeted conductor James Levine. And indeed, this gifted twenty-eight-year-old musician earned every last resounding cheer. He had taken the concert over at a week’s notice from István Kertész (who was himself a replacement for the originally scheduled Eugene Ormandy), and everything he did was proof of thorough preparation, fine artistic judgment, and the ability to communicate ideas to an orchestra and, through it, to the audience.”

By February 1972, the Metropolitan announced that Levine would become its first principal conductor, and that October, Ravinia announced that he would be the festival’s second music director, succeeding Kertész, who had served as principal conductor from 1970 through the 1972 season.

Levine launched the first of his twenty years at the Ravinia Festival on June 27, 1973, leading the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Beethoven’s Missa solemnis. His tenure was marked with an astonishing range of repertoire: cycles of symphonies by Brahms and Mahler; Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Beethoven’s piano concertos; choral masterworks by Berlioz, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Orff, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky; and concert performances of operas by Bellini, Donizetti, Mozart, Puccini, Saint-Saëns, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, and Wagner, all with the leading singers of the day.

Carmina burana

Levine amassed an extensive discography with the Orchestra and Chorus (including several Grammy winners) on Deutsche Grammophon, Philips, and RCA, recorded at Orchestra Hall and in Medinah Temple, including Beethoven’s five piano concertos with Alfred Brendel; Berg’s Violin Concerto and Rihm’s Time Chant with Anne-Sophie Mutter; Brahms’s four symphonies and A German Requiem with Kathleen Battle and Håkan Hagegård; Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (conducting from the keyboard); Holst’s The Planets; Mahler’s symphonies no. 3 with Marilyn Horne, no. 4 with Judith Blegen, and no. 7; and Schubert’s Ninth Symphony.

Twenty years to the day of his first concert as music director, Levine capped his tenure on June 27, 1993, leading the Orchestra and Chorus in Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

This article also appears here.

Earlier today we heard of the news of the death of the remarkable English bass-baritone John Shirley-Quirk, as reported in The Telegraph.

Shirley-Quirk appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of important occasions, as listed below (all appearances are subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, unless otherwise noted):

John Shirley Quirk

August 30, 31 & September 1, 1971 (recording sessions at the Sofiensaal in Vienna)
MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
Georg Solti, conductor
Heather Harper, soprano
Lucia Popp, soprano
Arleen Augér, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Helen Watts, contralto
René Kollo, tenor
Martti Talvela, bass
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Norbert Balatsch, chorus master
Singverein Chorus
Helmut Froschauer, chorus master
Vienna Boys’ Choir

December 16, 17 & 18, 1971
BACH Mass in B Minor
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Margaret Price, soprano
Josephine Veasey, mezzo-soprano
Luigi Alva, tenor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

June 27, 1972 (Ravinia Festival)
BRITTEN War Requiem
István Kertész, conductor (orchestra)
György Fischer, conductor (chamber orchestra)
Margaret Hillis, conductor (children’s chorus)
Phyllis Curtin, soprano
Robert Tear, tenor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Northwestern University Chorus and Concert Choir
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Theatre Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

July 3, 1975 (Ravinia Festival)
MAHLER Selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
James Levine, conductor
Maria Ewing, soprano

Mahler's Symphony no. 8 in E-flat Major, recorded in Vienna in 1971

Mahler’s Symphony no. 8 in E-flat Major, recorded in Vienna in 1971

May 15, 16 & 17, 1980
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS A Sea Symphony
Raymond Leppard, conductor
Isobel Buchanan, soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

March 5, 6 & 7, 1981
STRAVINSKY Oedipus Rex
Claudio Abbado, conductor
Maximilian Schell, narrator
Philip Langridge, tenor
Lucia Valentini-Terrani, mezzo-soprano
Aage Haugland, bass
Rockwell Blake, tenor
Donald Gramm, bass-baritone
Men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

June 3, 4 & 5, 1982
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Eugene Ormandy, conductor
Benita Valente, soprano
Katherine Ciesinski, mezzo-soprano
Jon Frederic West, tenor
Kurt Link, bass (Shirley-Quirk canceled due to illness and was replaced by Link on June 5 only)
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

November 1, 2 & 4, 1984
MUSSORGSKY Boris Godunov
Claudio Abbado, conductor
Ruggero Raimondi, bass
Zehava Gal, mezzo-soprano
Cyndia Sieden, soprano
Jennifer Jones, mezzo-soprano
Philip Langridge, tenor
Hartmut Welker, baritone
Samuel Ramey, bass
Kaludi Kaludov, tenor
Lucia Valentini-Terrani, mezzo-soprano
Sergei Koptchak, bass
Kurt Hansen, tenor
Richard Cohn, baritone
Bradley Nystrom, bass-baritone
Donald Kaasch, tenor
Paul Grizzell, bass
Dale Prest, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

János Starker

Legendary cellist and teacher János Starker, principal cello (1953–1958) and frequent soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, died on April 28, 2013, in Bloomington, Indiana. He was 88.

János Starker was born in Budapest, Hungary to Russian émigré parents. He began cello studies at age six, taught his first lesson at age eight, and gave his first public performance at age ten. He studied at the Franz Liszt Royal Academy, where faculty included Béla Bartók, Zoltan Kodály, Ernst von Dohnányi, and Leo Weiner. It was also at the Liszt Academy where he met his lifelong friend and future CSO concertmaster, Victor Aitay.

After imprisonment in a internment camp (on Csepel Island, in the Danube next to Budapest) during World War II, Starker became principal cello of the Budapest Opera and Philharmonic orchestras. With Aitay, he left Hungary in 1946 for Vienna, performing as soloist and in Aitay’s string quartet. Starker immigrated to the United States in 1948 and joined the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as principal cello at the invitation of Antal Doráti. The next year, he occupied the same position in New York City’s Metropolitan Opera under the direction of fellow Hungarian Fritz Reiner. With Reiner, Starker came to Chicago and became principal cello of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1953. He became an American citizen in 1954.

The maestro joined the newest members of the Orchestra for an informal photo in 1953. The new musicians are (left to right): Nathan Snader, violin; Juan Cuneo, violin; Joseph Golan, violin; Alan Fuchs, horn; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; Ray Still, oboe; and János Starker, cello.

Fritz Reiner and the newest members of the Orchestra in 1953: Nathan Snader, violin; Juan Cuneo, violin; Joseph Golan, violin; Alan Fuchs, horn; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; Ray Still, oboe; and Starker.

In 1958, Starker left Chicago and resumed his career as an international soloist and for the next five decades, he appeared in recitals and as soloist with the world’s leading orchestras. In addition to performing all the major works from the cello repertoire, he performed concertos written for him by David Baker, Doráti, Bernhard Heiden, Jean Martinon, Miklós Rózsa, Robert Starer, and Chou Wen-chung. Starker was the subject of countless news articles, magazine profiles, and television documentaries, and his performances have been broadcast on radio and television around the world.

Starker’s discography includes more than 270 recordings of over 180 pieces, many of which have become landmark records of cello literature. He made an unprecedented five recordings of J.S. Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello; the final album received the 1997 Grammy Award for best instrumental soloist performance (without orchestra). Starker’s first recording of Kodály’s Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello received France’s Grand prix du disque in 1948.

Starker was equally renowned as a teacher. He joined the faculty of Indiana University in 1958 and was named a distinguished professor in 1962. He taught at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada for seventeen years and at the Hochschule für Musik in Essen, Germany for five years, and many of his students (including the CSO’s own Brant Taylor) have won prestigious awards and occupy prominent positions in chamber ensembles and major orchestras. Starker published and recorded a series of studies entitled An Organized Method of String Playing which remains an important piece of cello instruction. He published or edited numerous musical scores and articles, and developed the Starker Bridge designed to enhance the acoustics of stringed instruments. His autobiography, The World of Music According to Starker, was published by Indiana University Press in 2004.

Starker received five honorary degrees and numerous awards including the Kodály Commemorative Medallion from the Government of Hungary in 1983 and the Chevalier de l’Order des Arts et des Lettres from the French Republic in 1997. He played the Lord Aylesford Stradivarius cello between 1950 and 1964, and he also played a 1705 Matteo Goffriller cello throughout his career.

For the United States premiere of Martinon’s Cello Concerto on July 31, 1965, former principal cello János Starker returned as soloist at the Ravinia Festival. Shown here during a rehearsal are the composer, soloist, and conductor, Ravinia music director Seiji Ozawa.

Starker was soloist in the United States premiere of Martinon’s Cello Concerto at the Ravinia Festival on July 31, 1965. Seiji Ozawa, the Festival’s music director, conducted.

A complete list of János Starker’s solo appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are below (subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, unless otherwise noted):

November 19 and 20, 1953
DVOŘÁK Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104
Fritz Reiner, conductor

November 24, 1953
SCHUBERT/Cassadó Cello Concerto in A Minor
Fritz Reiner, conductor

February 4 and 5, 1954
BEETHOVEN Triple Concerto in C Major, Op. 56
Bruno Walter, conductor
George Schick, piano
John Weicher, violin

January 6 and 7, 1955
BRAHMS Double Concerto in A Minor, Op. 102
Bruno Walter, conductor
John Weicher, violin

April 14 and 15, 1955
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 58
Fritz Reiner, conductor

October 6, 7, and 11, 1955
STRAUSS Don Quixote, Op. 35
Fritz Reiner, conductor
John Weicher, violin
Milton Preves, viola

January 5 and 6, 1956
SCHUMANN Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 129
Fritz Reiner, conductor

February 28, March 1, and 12, 1957
BRAHMS Double Concerto in A Minor, Op. 102
Fritz Reiner, conductor
John Weicher, violin

March 14 and 15, 1957
SAINT-SAËNS Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 33
Fritz Reiner, conductor

June 28, 1957 (Ravinia Festival)
DVOŘÁK Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104
Igor Markevitch, conductor

December 5 and 6, 1957
HINDEMITH Cello Concerto
Fritz Reiner, conductor

March 20, 21, and 25, 1958
STRAUSS Don Quixote, Op. 35
Fritz Reiner, conductor
John Weicher, violin
Milton Preves, viola

October 19 and 20, 1961
PROKOFIEV Symphony-Concerto for Cello, Op. 125
Erich Leinsdorf, conductor

July 23, 1963 (Ravinia Festival)
DVOŘÁK Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104
Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, conductor

July 30, 1963 (Ravinia Festival)
WALTON Cello Concerto
Sir William Walton, conductor

December 3 and 4, 1964
HAYDN Cello Concerto in C Major
TCHAIKOVSKY Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33
Jean Martinon, conductor

July 31, 1965 (Ravinia Festival)
MARTINON Cello Concerto, Op. 52
Seiji Ozawa, conductor

July 29, 1967 (Ravinia Festival)
LALO Cello Concerto in D Minor
Jean Martinon, conductor

May 9 and 10, 1968
HINDEMITH Cello Concerto
Jean Martinon, conductor

July 18, 1970 (Ravinia Festival)
DVOŘÁK Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104
István Kertész, conductor

November 4 and 5, 1971
RÓZSA Cello Concerto, Op. 32
Georg Solti, conductor

July 15, 1972 (Ravinia Festival)
HAYDN Cello Concerto in C Major
István Kertész, conductor

July 21, 1973 (Ravinia Festival)
BEETHOVEN Triple Concerto in C Major, Op. 56
BRAHMS Double Concerto in A Minor, Op. 102
Sergiu Comissiona, conductor
Rudolf Buchbinder, piano
Franco Gulli, violin

July 27, 1974 (Ravinia Festival)
SAINT-SAËNS Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 33
TCHAIKOVSKY Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33
Kazimierz Kord, conductor

August 2, 1975 (Ravinia Festival)
SHOSTAKOVICH Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 107
Lawrence Foster, conductor

October 7, 8, and 9, 1976
SAINT-SAËNS Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 33
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

November 22, 24, and 25, 1978
BOCCHERINI Cello Concerto B-flat Major
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

November 25, 27, and 28, 1987
HINDEMITH Cello Concerto
Erich Leinsdorf, conductor

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During his twenty-two years as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1969 until 1991), Sir Georg Solti shared the podium with several other titled conductors, who served in a variety of capacities.

Irwin Hoffman

Irwin Hoffman was appointed assistant conductor by Jean Martinon in 1964 and was promoted to associate conductor the following year. After Martinon’s departure and before Solti’s arrival, Hoffman served as the CSO’s acting music director for the 1968-69 season and held the title of conductor for the 1969-70 season.

Carlo Maria Giulini

Carlo Maria Giulini was the CSO’s first principal guest conductor, serving in that capacity for three seasons, beginning in 1969-70. A frequent guest conductor, Giulini appeared and recorded (for Angel and Deutsche Grammophon) with the Orchestra numerous times between 1955 and 1978, after which he began his tenure as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (An excellent biography of Giulini—Serving Genius—was recently published by the University of Illinois Press.)

Claudio Abbado

From 1982 until 1985, Claudio Abbado was the Orchestra’s second principal guest conductor. He also conducted and recorded (for Deutsche Grammophon) with the CSO numerous times between 1971 and 1991. Also during that time, he was music director at La Scala (1968 until 1986), principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (1979 until 1987), music director of the Vienna State Opera (1986 until 1991), and chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic (beginning in 1989).

Henry Mazer

A former protégé of Fritz Reiner, Henry Mazer was appointed by Solti in 1970 as associate conductor, and he served the CSO in that capacity for sixteen years until 1986. He became music director of the Taipei Philharmonic Orchestra in 1985.

Margaret Hillis

Founder and longtime chorus director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Margaret Hillis was hired by Fritz Reiner in 1957 and was the first woman to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in November of that year. Of course, she prepared the Chorus for virtually all choral concerts during Solti’s tenure as music director, worked very closely with Solti on countless recordings, and appeared frequently as a guest conductor with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Kenneth Jean

Michael Morgan

In 1986, Sir Georg Solti appointed two American-born associate conductors, Kenneth Jean and Michael Morgan. Each served the Orchestra until 1993. In 1986, Jean also became music director of the Florida Symphony Orchestra. Morgan was named music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony in 1990 and music director of the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra in 1997.

István Kertész

At the Ravinia Festival, two conductors served as titled conductors during Sir Georg Solti’s tenure. Fellow Hungarian István Kertész first led the CSO at Ravinia in 1967 and was principal conductor from 1970 until 1972. Prior to that, his posts included: chief conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra in Hungary, general music director of the Augsburg Opera, general music director of the Cologne Opera, and principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

James Levine

On June 24, 1971, twenty-eight-year-old James Levine replaced an indisposed Kertész in a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at the Ravinia Festival. (He had made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera only a few weeks earlier, on June 5). Shortly thereafter, he was named the festival’s music director beginning in the summer of 1973 and held the post for twenty years, until 1993. Levine has been the longtime music director of the Metropolitan Opera since 1976.

Daniel Barenboim

Daniel Barenboim first guest conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1970, and he subsequently was a frequent visitor on the podium and in recording (for Angel, Deutsche Grammophon, and Erato). On January 30, 1989, The Orchestral Association announced that he would become the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ninth music director, beginning in September 1991 (he had also succeeded Solti as music director of the Orchestra de Paris in 1975). Barenboim was given the title music director designate.

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Theodore Thomas

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Last night - Maestro Riccardo Muti and the CSO with pianist Kirill Gerstein (@kgerstein) perform Puccini’s Preludio sinfonico, R. Strauss’ Suite from Le bourgeois gentilhomme and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1. Photos by @toddrphoto.

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