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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.

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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.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra joins the classical music world in mourning the tragic loss of the remarkable Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky at the age of fifty-five. His passing was announced on his website on Wednesday, November 22.

Hvorostovsky appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on three occasions—all at the Ravinia Festival—as follows:

July 11, 1998
ROSSINI Overture to La scala di seta
VERDI Sul fil d’un soffio estesio from Falstaff
VERDI Tutto e deserto . . . Il balen del suo sorriso from Il trovatore
ROSSINI Overture to The Barber of Seville
ROSSINI Una voce poco fa from The Barber of Seville
ROSSINI Largo al factotum from The Barber of Seville
ROSSINI Dunque io son from The Barber of Seville
MOZART Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492
MOZART Crudel! perchè finora from The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492
TCHAIKOVSKY Polonaise from Eugene Onegin
TCHAIKOVSKY Ya vas lyublyu bezmerno from Pique Dame, Op. 68
GOUNOD Je veux vivre from Romeo and Juliet
GOUNOD Avant de quitter ces lieux from Faust
LEHÁR Gold and Silver Waltz, Op. 79
KORNGOLD Glück, das mir verblieb from Die tote Stadt
J. STRAUSS, Jr. On the Beautiful Blue Danube, Op. 314
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor

July 11, 1998, Ravinia Festival

August 3, 2002
TCHAIKOVSKY Waltz and Polonaise from Eugene Onegin
TCHAIKOVSKY Kogda bi zhizn domashnim krugom from Eugene Onegin
TCHAIKOVSKY/Glazunov Melodie from Souvenir d’un lieu cher, Op. 42, No. 3
Samuel Magad, violin
TCHAIKOVSKY Ya vas lyublyu bezmerno from Pique Dame, Op. 68
ROSSINI Overture to The Barber of Seville
ROSSINI Largo al factotum from The Barber of Seville
VERDI Overture to La forza del destino
VERDI Pietà, rispetto, amore from Macbeth
VERDI Ballet Music from Macbeth
VERDI Son io, mio Carlo . . . Per me giunto . . . O Carlo, ascolta from Don Carlo
VERDI Cortigiani, vil razza dannata from Rigoletto
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Soprano Karita Mattila also was scheduled to appear but canceled due to illness.

August 15, 2009
VERDI Rigoletto
Gilda Eglise Gutiérrez, soprano
Countess Ceprano Valerie Vinzant, soprano
Giovanna/Page Katherine Lerner, mezzo-soprano
Maddalena Natascha Petrinsky, mezzo-soprano
Matteo Borsa Hak Soo Kim, tenor
Duke of Mantua Stefano Secco, tenor
Count Ceprano/Court Usher Jonathan Beyer, baritone
Marullo Paul Corona, bass-baritone
Rigoletto Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone
Monterone Jason Stearns, baritone
Sparafucile Morris Robinson, bass
Apollo Chorus of Chicago
Stephen Alltop, director
James Conlon, conductor

At Orchestra Hall, Hvorostovsky appeared in recital on four occasions, as follows:

November 17, 1996
with the Saint Petersburg Chamber Choir
Nikolai Korniev, conductor

May 2, 1999
Mikhail Arkadiev, piano

October 22, 2000
Mikhail Arkadiev, piano

February 16, 2011
Ilja Ivari, piano

Countless tributes have been posted online, including websites of the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, The New York Times, and Opera News, among many others. A collection of his best performances on video can be found here.

Samuel Ramey (Christian Steiner photo)

Wishing the happiest of (slightly belated) birthdays to the remarkable American bass Samuel Ramey, who celebrated his seventh-fifth on March 28!

The legendary singer has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of notable occasions, both in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival. A complete list of his performances with the Orchestra is below (all concerts at Orchestra Hall unless otherwise noted):

March 26, 27, and 28, 1981
BRUCKNER Te Deum
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
David Rendall, tenor
Samuel Ramey, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded by Deutsche Grammophon in Orchestra Hall on March 28, 1981

November 1, 2, and 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
John Shirley-Quirk, bass-baritone
Sergei Kopchak, bass
Kurt R. 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

November 16, 1986
VERDI Messa da Requiem
Claudio Abbado, conductor
Margaret Price, soprano
Linda Finnie, mezzo-soprano
Vinson Cole, tenor
Ramey, Samuel; bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Gwynne Howell originally was scheduled to perform the bass part but canceled due to illness. He was replaced by Bonaldo Giaiotti on November 13 and 14 and Ramey on November 16.

Samuel Ramey (Steven Leonard photo)

June 23, 1989 (Ravinia Festival)
VERDI Messa da Requiem
James Levine, conductor
Andrea Gruber, soprano
Tatiana Troyanos, mezzo-soprano
Gary Lakes, tenor
Samuel Ramey, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

October 6, 1990 (Centennial Gala)
BEETHOVEN Finale: Ode, “To Joy” from Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Sylvia McNair, soprano
Susanne Mentzer, mezzo-soprano
Gary Lakes, tenor
Samuel Ramey, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, chorus director

July 8, 2000 (Ravinia Fesitval)
Selections by Copland, Leigh, Loewe, Mozart, Rodgers, and Verdi
Miguel-Harth Bedoya, conductor
Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano
Samuel Ramey, bass

July 2, 2005 (Ravinia Festival)
IBERT Chansons de Don Quichotte
RAVEL Don Quichotte à Dulcinée
James Conlon, conductor

August 15, and 17, 2008 (Martin Theatre, Ravinia Festival)
MOZART Don Giovanni, K. 527
James Conlon, conductor
Ellie Dehn, soprano
Soile Isokoski, soprano
Heidi Grant Murphy, soprano
Toby Spence, tenor
Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, bass-baritone
Samuel Ramey, bass
James Creswell, bass
Morris Robinson, bass
Apollo Chorus of Chicago
Stephen Alltop, director

Happy, happy birthday!

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James Conlon (Todd Rosenberg photo)

James Conlon (Todd Rosenberg photo)

James Conlon began his tenure as the Ravinia Festival’s fourth music director on June 24, 2005, leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Ullmann’s Second Symphony and Mahler’s First Symphony. The programming that season of several works by Ullmann was part of a multiseason effort by Conlon to showcase music written by composers whose music was suppressed by the Nazi regime, remaining all but forgotten for decades following World War II.

“Sophisticated programming is one thing, of course. Thrilling performances are another. The ultimate success Friday night was the committed, profoundly nuanced performance each symphony received,” wrote Wynne Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times. “Mahler’s Symphony no. 1 was a revelation. . . . The CSO positively glowed, most often with a low, lustrous burnish rather than a hectic gleam. In the final, frenzied movement, the Orchestra’s impeccable precision and tightly wound, urgent rhythmic drive set the blood racing.”

Joshua Guerrero, Michelle DeYoung, Latonia Moore, Roberto Alagna, and James Creswell, along with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Verdi’s Aida on August 3, 2013 (Patrick Gipson photo)

Joshua Guerrero, Michelle DeYoung,
Latonia Moore, Roberto Alagna, and James
Creswell—along with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus—in Verdi’s Aida on August 3, 2013 (Patrick Gipson photo)

Conlon’s eleven seasons at Ravinia’s helm included symphonies by Mahler; seldom-heard works by Korngold, Schulhoff, Schreker, and Zemlinsky; several of Mozart’s operas performed in the Martin Theatre; as well as Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Tosca; Strauss’s Salome; and Verdi’s Aida, Otello, and Rigoletto.

Conlon had made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 28, 1977, with violinist Itzhak Perlman and cellist Lynn Harrell as soloists in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major, Mendelsssohn’s Violin Concerto, and Brahms’s Double Concerto. Two days later, on July 30, he conducted Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 23 and Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand with John Browning and Mahler’s First Symphony. Conlon first conducted the Orchestra at Orchestra Hall on November 14, 15, 16, and 19, 1991, leading the first symphonies by Mendelssohn and Mahler. He concluded his tenure at Ravinia on August 15, 2015, leading the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.

This article also appears here.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the loss of Deborah Guscott, who was a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus’s alto section for twenty-eight seasons. Having most recently performed in Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet and Verdi’s Falstaff this past April under Riccardo Muti, she died on August 10, 2016, following a long illness.

Deborah Guscott (Jennifer Girard photo)

Deborah Guscott (Jennifer Girard photo)

A graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Guscott joined the Chicago Symphony Chorus at the invitation of founder and longtime director Margaret Hillis in 1987. For nearly thirty years, she regularly performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under three music directors—Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, and Muti—as well as Pierre Boulez, Bernard Haitink, James Levine, Christoph Eschenbach, and James Conlon, among many others. Guscott appeared on numerous recordings—several of them Grammy Award winners—and performed in Orchestra Hall, Medinah Temple, and Carnegie Hall; at the Ravinia Festival; and on tour with the Orchestra and Chorus to London, Salzburg, and Berlin.

Guscott was a fixture on the Chicago vocal scene, performing with countless ensembles, including the Grant Park ChorusLight Opera Works, Music of the Baroque, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Ravinia Festival Orchestra, Bach Week FestivalOriana Singers, and Chicago a cappella, among many others. She was a soloist on several occasions for the Do-it-Yourself Messiah under Hillis and with the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest under its music director Jay Friedman. An active liturgical musician, Guscott worked at many churches and temples in the Chicagoland area, most recently as music director and cantor at both Saint Domitilla Parish in Hillside and Divine Providence Parish in Westchester.

Duain Wolfe, director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus since 1994, described his longtime colleague: “An alto with a particularly rich, luscious sound, Deb contributed significantly to the highly lauded sound of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. We are all very grateful for her gifts, both as an important musician in our ranks and as a strong, positive force who always found the silver lining in every cloud. Deb’s indomitable spirit has been an inspiration to all of us, and we will miss her greatly.”

Music director of the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest—and CSO principal trombone—Jay Friedman added, “Deb Guscott was my go-to contralto for the past twenty years in many solo roles from opera to oratorio. She possessed a true contralto voice, something rare and perfect for Mahler, Wagner, and many other great masters. Deb was a fun person and a joy to work with—always upbeat and willing to rehearse at a moment’s notice—and she will be greatly missed.”

Christopher Bell, director of the Grant Park Chorus since 2002, shared his thoughts with the musicians of his chorus: “I was privileged to have Deb—a well known and beloved singer in Chicago—in the Grant Park Chorus and honored to be able to call her a friend. My abiding memory of my last visit with her will be of much laughter and hilarity, as we shared many memories and reminiscences. The Chicago singing community is a strong and closely knit one, and I know that you, like me, are saddened and shocked by this loss of one of our own. Today, I am thinking of you all and sharing your sorrow.”

There will be a service in her memory given at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica (3121 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago 60612) on Saturday, September 3, 2016, beginning at 11:00 a.m. The upcoming Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performances of Brahms’s A German Requiem on November 10, 11, and 12, 2016—a work that Guscott performed on many occasions with the Chorus—will be dedicated to her memory.

One of Guscott’s many solo performances with the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest under Friedman was of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony on November 16, 2003. A live recording of her singing the fourth movement—Urlicht—is available in the link below.

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Ernest Ansermet and the Orchestra onstage at the Ravinia Festival on July 3, 1936 (Ravinia Festival photo)

Ernest Ansermet and the Orchestra onstage at the Ravinia Festival on July 3, 1936 (Ravinia Festival photo)

On July 3, 1936, Ernest Ansermet and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra inaugurated the first season of the Ravinia Festival* with a program that included Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, Clouds and Festivals from Debussy’s Nocturnes, and Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird.

“Three days ago the last seat in the pavilion was sold. The audience was socially brilliant and musically responsive, so that a full-length Beethoven symphony and the most sonorous of the preludes which Wagner wrote for any of his music-dramas evoked a veritable tumult of applause,” wrote Glenn Dillard Gunn in the Herald & Examiner following that first concert. “For the next five weeks the Chicago Symphony will continue the season begun last night, playing on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings and offering programs quite as serious as those presented in Orchestra Hall during the winter season.”

July 3, 1936

July 3, 1936

Several notable conductors made their Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuts at the Ravinia Festival, including future music directors Riccardo Muti, Georg Solti, Jean Martinon, Fritz Reiner, and Artur Rodzinski; future festival music directors James Conlon, Christoph Eschenbach, James Levine, and Seiji Ozawa; and prominent guest conductors Sir Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein, Josef Krips, Erich Leinsdorf, Kurt Masur, Pierre Monteux, Eugene Ormandy, George Szell, and Michael Tilson Thomas.

“I look around at the beauty of the park, the acoustics and proportion of the Pavilion . . . and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in residence,” commented James Levine in the 1985 book Ravinia: The Festival at Its Half Century. “Look at how these people work during the Festival weeks—putting on performances of difficult music under extreme weather conditions sufficiently well to be worthy of recording, finishing one concert and getting up the next morning to rehearse for another. . . . Most of the people around Ravinia seem to find a rejuvenation synonymous with summer from the change of pace, the change of style, the challenge of new repertoire, and the opportunity to work from a different vantage point. It’s that kind of thinking, that buoyant spirit, which has been prevalent throughout the unique history of Ravinia. And it’s that spirit which makes Ravinia truly magical!”

*Ravinia Park had opened on August 15, 1904, and Frederick Stock and the Orchestra first performed at the park’s theater on November 20, 1905. The Orchestra appeared there semiregularly through August 1931, after which the park was closed for most of the Great Depression.

This article also appears here.

Placido Domingo

Wishing the happiest of birthdays to Plácido Domingo, celebrating his seventh-fifth!

The legendary singer has appeared in Chicago on both concert and opera stages, performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as vocal soloist and conductor at Orchestra Hall, the Ravinia Festival, and several other venues in Chicago and in Europe. A complete list of his performances with the Orchestra is below (all concerts at Orchestra Hall unless otherwise noted):

October 9, 1987 (special concert celebrating Sir Georg Solti‘s seventy-fifth birthday)
J. STRAUSS, Jr. Overture to Die Fledermaus
Plácido Domingo, conductor
VERDI Excerpts from Act 1 of Otello
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano
Plácido Domingo, tenor
Joseph Wolverton, tenor
Kurt R. Hansen, tenor
David Huneryager, baritone
Richard Cohn, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

Solti 75

October 9, 1987 (Jim Steere photo)

June 27, 1992 (Ravinia Festival)
SAINT SAËNS Samson and Delilah
James Levine, conductor
Denyce Graves, mezzo-soprano
Plácido Domingo, tenor
David Anderson, tenor
John Concepcion, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone
Sergei Koptchak, bass
Paul Grizzell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

June 27, 1994 (Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park)
Miguel Roa, conductor
Veronica Villaroel, soprano
Plácido Domingo, tenor
SOROZÁBAL Madrileña bonita from La del manojo de Rosas
MORENO TORROBA Los vareadores from Luisa Fernanda
MORENO TORROBA En mi tierra extremena from Luisa Fernanda
PENELLA Torero quiero ser from El gato montés
MORENO TORROBA De este apacible rincón from Luisa Fernanda
GUERRERO Fiel espada from El Huésped del Sevillano
MORENO TORROBA Amor, vida de mi vida from Maravilla
CABALLERO No cantes mas from El duo de la Africana
SOROZÁBAL No puede ser from La tabernera del puerto
SERRANO Te quiero Morena from El trust de los tenorios
LARA Granada

July 6, 1994 (Ravinia Festival)
Plácido Domingo, conductor
TCHAIKOVSKY Romeo and Juliet
SAINT SAËNS Introduction and Rondo capriccioso in A Minor, Op. 28
Sarah Chang, violin
SARASATE Concert Fantasies on Carmen, Op. 25
Sarah Chang, violin
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36

July 8, 1994 (Ravinia Festival)
Eugene Kohn, conductor
Kallen Esperian, soprano
MOZART Dalla sua pace from Don Giovanni, K. 527
MOZART Ma qual mai soffre, O Dei, from Don Giovanni, K. 527
VERDI Quando le sere al placido from Luisa Miller
VERDI Già nella notte densa from Otello
PUCCINI E lucevan le stelle from Tosca
MEYERBEER O, Paradis! from L’africaine
GOUNOD Il se fait tard . . . O nuit d’amour from Faust
DONIZETTI Caro elisir . . . Trallarallara . . . Esulti pur la barbara from L’elisir d’amore

May 2, 1996 (special concert celebrating Daniel Barenboim‘s Silver Jubilee)
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Plácido Domingo, tenor
MOZART Dalla sua pace from Don Giovanni, K. 527
BERLIOZ Invocation to Nature from The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24
VERDI Otello’s Death from Otello
WAGNER Winterstürme from Die Walküre
TCHAIKOVSKY Lenski’s Aria from Eugene Onegin

May 12, 1997 (United Center)
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Elizabeth Futral, soprano
Plácido Domingo, tenor
MASSENET Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père from Le Cid
CILÈA E’ la solita storia from L’Arlesiana
WAGNER Winterstürme from Die Walküre
DONIZETTI Caro elisir . . . Trallarallara . . . Esulti pur la barbara from L’elisir d’amore
PUCCINI E lucevan le stelle from Tosca
MASCAGNI Suzel, buon dì! from L’amico Fritz
LEHÁR Dein ist mein ganzes Herz from The Land of Smiles
LEHÁR Lippen schweigen from The Merry Widow
MOZART Là ci darem la mano from Don Giovanni, K. 527
SOROZÁBAL No puede ser from La tabernera del puerto
LARA Granada
VERDI Brindisi—Libiamo, libiamo ne’ lieti calici from La traviata

Star-Crossed Lovers

January 26, 1998 (Dan Rest photo)

May 13, 15, 16, and 17, 1997 (Medinah Temple)
June 8 and 9, 1997 (Philharmonie, Cologne, Germany)
FALLA Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Plácido Domingo, conductor
Daniel Barenboim, piano

October 4, 1997 (Symphony Center Opening Night Gala)
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Soile Isokoski, soprano
Plácido Domingo, tenor
VERDI Già nella notte densa from Otello
VERDI Niun mi tema from Otello

January 26, 1998 (Star-Crossed Lovers)
Daniel Barenboim, conductor and piano
Renée Fleming, soprano
Plácido Domingo, tenor
BERNSTEIN Tonight from West Side Story
GOUNOD Il se fait tard . . . O nuit d’amour from Faust
VERDI Già nella notte densa from Otello
LEHÁR Dein ist mein ganzes Herz from The Land of Smiles
LEHÁR Lippen schweigen from The Merry Widow
GARDEL El día que me quieras
MORENO TORROBA ¡Quisiera verte y no verte!
MORENO TORROBA Jota castellana

May 25, 26, 27, and 30, 2000
Plácido Domingo, conductor
WAGNER Siegfried Idyll
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Rachel Barton, violin
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

August 4, 2007 (Ravinia Festival)
James Conlon, conductor
Ana María Martínez, soprano
Plácido Domingo, tenor
MASSENET Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père from Le Cid
CILÈA E’ la solita storia from L’Arlesiana
WAGNER Winterstürme from Die Walküre
VERDI Già nella notte densa from Otello
MORENO TORROBA Amor, vida de mi vida from Maravilla
MORENO TORROBA En mi tierra extremena from Luisa Fernanda
BERNSTEIN Tonight from West Side Story
SOROZÁBAL No puede ser from La tabernera del puerto
PENELLA Duet from El gato montés
LARA Granada
LEHÁR Lippen schweigen from The Merry Widow

Domingo also recorded with the Orchestra on three occasions:

VERDI Requiem
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on September 20 and 21, 1993
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Alessandra Marc, soprano
Waltraud Meier, mezzo-soprano
Plácido Domingo, tenor
Ferruccio Furlanetto, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Erato
(Verdi’s Requiem was performed on September 17, 18, 23, and 25, 1993, with Vicente Ombuena singing the tenor solos; Domingo was in Chicago only on September 20.)

FALLA Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Recorded in Medinah Temple on May 13, 15, 16, and 17, 1997
Plácido Domingo, conductor
Daniel Barenboim, piano
Teldec

Star-Crossed Lovers
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on January 26, 1998
Daniel Barenboim, conductor and piano
Renée Fleming, soprano
Plácido Domingo, tenor
BERNSTEIN Tonight from West Side Story
GOUNOD Il se fait tard . . . O nuit d’amour from Faust
GARDEL El día que me quieras
MORENO TORROBA ¡Quisiera verte y no verte!
MORENO TORROBA Jota castellana
VERDI Già nella notte densa from Otello
LEHÁR Dein ist mein ganzes Herz from The Land of Smiles
LEHÁR Lippen schweigen from The Merry Widow
London

Happy, happy birthday!

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biography

April 7 and 8, 1960

Two years after winning the prestigious 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Van Cliburn made his first appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on April 7 and 8, 1960, performing Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto with Fritz Reiner conducting. On April 12 he was soloist in Schumann’s A minor concerto with the Orchestra, also with Reiner on the podium.

“Van Cliburn cannot be accused of looking for the easy road to success,” wrote Donal Henahan in the Chicago Daily News following the first performance of Brahms’s concerto. The twenty-five year-old pianist gave “a performance of glitter and grace, and one that was breathtakingly well played . . . perhaps no one but Horowitz today could play those double-note scales in both hands with as much apparent ease.”

recording

RCA’s release of Schumann’s Piano Concerto, recorded in Orchestra Hall on April 16, 1960

Cliburn would appear four more times during Reiner’s tenure, and their performances of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in April 1963 were Reiner’s last public appearances. Cliburn later appeared in Chicago under Jean Martinon as well as at the Ravinia Festival with Georges Prêtre, Seiji Ozawa, Donald Johanos, Bruno Maderna, and James Levine. His final appearance with the Orchestra was on July 16, 2005, at Ravinia in Grieg’s Piano Concerto, under festival music director James Conlon.

On the RCA label, he made several recordings with the Orchestra, including Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth concertos, Brahms’s Second, Rachmaninov’s Second, and Schumann’s concerto with Reiner; and MacDowell’s Second and Prokofiev’s Third concertos with Walter Hendl.

A complete list of Van Cliburn’s appearances and recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra can be found here.

This article also appears here.

Wishing a very happy seventieth birthday to Jessye Norman!

A frequent visitor to Chicago—on concert, recital, and opera stages—Norman has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as vocal soloist and narrator on many occasions, both at Orchestra Hall and the Ravinia Festival. A complete list of her performances with the Orchestra is below (all concerts at Orchestra Hall unless otherwise noted):

Jessye Norman 1970s

March 21, 22, and 23, 1974
SCHUMANN Das Paradies und die Peri, Op. 50
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano
Birgit Finnilä, contralto
Ernst Haefliger, tenor
Raffaele Arié, bass
Sarah Beatty, soprano
Isola Jones, mezzo-soprano
Philip Creech, tenor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

May 29, 30, and 31, 1975
LA MONTAINE Songs of the Rose of Sharon, Op. 6
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano

August 9, 1975 (Ravinia Festival)
BERLIOZ Les nuits d’été, Op. 7
Edo de Waart, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano

July 7, 1978 (Ravinia Festival)
MOZART Ch’io mi scordi di te?, K. 505
Edward Gordon, piano
RAVEL Sheherazade
BERLIOZ La mort de Cléopatre
WAGNER Wesendonk-Lieder
WAGNER Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
James Levine, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano

July 9, 1978 (Ravinia Festival)
MENDELSSOHN Elijah, Op. 70
James Levine, conductor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Jessye Norman, soprano
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Beverly Wolff, mezzo-soprano
Isola Jones, mezzo-soprano
Philip Creech, tenor
Kirk Stuart, piano
John Cheek, bass
Philip Kraus, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 8, 1979 (Ravinia Festival)
MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde
James Levine, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano
Seth McCoy, tenor

March 26, 27, and 28, 1981
BRUCKNER Te Deum
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
David Rendall, tenor
Samuel Ramey, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

December 1, 2, and 3, 1983
MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde
Erich Leinsdorf, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano
David Rendall, tenor

Receiving bows following Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at Orchestra Hall on September 24, 1986

Receiving bows following Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Orchestra Hall on September 24, 1986 (Jim Steere photo)

September 24, 25, 26, and 27, 1986
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano
Reinhild Runkel, mezzo-soprano
Robert Schunk, tenor
Hans Sotin, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 1, 1988 (Ravinia Festival)
WAGNER Die Walküre, Act 1
James Levine, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano
Gary Lakes, tenor
Aage Haugland, bass

July 5, 1992 (Ravinia Festival)
STRAUSS  Ruhe, meine Seele, Op. 27, No. 1
STRAUSS Waldseligkeit, Op. 49, No. 1
STRAUSS Wiegenlied, Op. 41, No. 1
STRAUSS Die heiligen drei Konige aus Morgenland, Op. 56, No. 6
STRAUSS Cäcilie, Op. 27, No. 2
WAGNER Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
James Levine, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano

December 2, 4, and 7, 1993
BARTÓK Bluebeard’s Castle
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano
László Polgár, bass
Larry Russo, narrator

June 22, 1996 (Ravinia Festival)
BERLIOZ “Villanelle,” “Le spectre de la rose,” “Sur les lagunes,” and “L’ile inconnue” from Les nuits d’été, Op. 7
RAVEL Sheherazade
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano

June 21, 1997 (Ravinia Festival)
MOZART Vado, ma dove?, K. 583
MOZART “Porgi amor” from The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492
BIZET Habanera from Carmen
SAINT-SAËNS “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Samson and Delilah
STRAUSS Final Scene from Capriccio
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano

July 18, 2009 (Ravinia Festival)
COPLAND Lincoln Portrait
James Conlon, conductor
Jessye Norman, narrator

Norman also has recorded with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on three occasions:

BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 (Solti 2)

BRUCKNER Te Deum
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, March 1981
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
David Rendall, tenor
Samuel Ramey, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Deutsche Grammophon

BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Recorded in Medinah Temple, September and October 1986
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano
Reinhild Runkel, mezzo-soprano
Robert Schunk, tenor
Hans Sotin, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
London
1987 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Recording

Boulez Bluebeard

BARTÓK Bluebeard’s Castle
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, December 1993
Jessye Norman, soprano
László Polgár, bass
Nicholas Simon, narrator
Deutsche Grammophon
1998 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording

Happy, happy birthday!

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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

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