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Sherrill Milnes (Dario Acosta photo)

Wishing a very happy eighty-fifth birthday to the legendary American baritone Sherrill Milnes! A native of Downers Grove, Illinois, he also was a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus in the beginning of his professional singing career.

Milnes auditioned for Margaret Hillis in 1958 and became a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus in time for the beginning its second season. “I was knocked out by Margaret’s personality and musicality,” he said in a March 1976 interview with Winthrop Sargeant for The New Yorker. “Singing under Fritz Reiner could only be a great thrill for an amateur singer, and I was an amateur. It was pre-career. She had all the techniques of a modern choral conductor. For example, ‘staccato du.” It was the first time I had encountered it. To make sure you know the notes, you sing them ‘du-du-du’—each note very short. Also speaking the words to rhythm—in a monotone, with the rhythm of the music but without the melody. She was the first choral conductor I’d ever know who molded the sound of the chorus, making it change color, and so on. She had everybody sing the soprano part where there was a melody, and the same with the bass and other parts. She opened up a whole new world of musical ideas and rehearsal ideas. . . . I’m on the recording of Reiner’s Beethoven Ninth in the chorus [and] Alexander Nevsky with Reiner too. . . . I was hearing phrases thrown at me for the first time, and it was opening up a whole new world.”

Milnes has been a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of occasions, both in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, all listed below.

December 16, 1961, Orchestra Hall
BACH Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243
HAYDN Mass in D Minor, Hob. XXII:11 (Lord Nelson)
Margaret Hillis, conductor
Maria Ferriero, soprano
Teresa Orantes, soprano
Lili Chookasian, contralto
David Paige, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

February 15, 1964, Orchestra Hall
MENDELSSOHN Elijah, Op. 70
Margaret Hillis, conductor
Lillian Garabedian, soprano
Marion Vincent, soprano
Julia Diane Ragains, soprano
Robert Johnson, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

December 19, 1964, Orchestra Hall
BERLIOZ L’enfance du Christ, Op. 25
Margaret Hillis, director
Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprano
Seth McCoy, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
John West, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

HAYDN July 18, 1965, Ravinia Festival
ORFF Carmina burana
Seiji Ozawa, conductor
Julia Diane Ragains, soprano
Pierre Duval, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Alfred Reichel, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Chicago Children’s Choir
Christopher Moore, director

August 7 and 9, 1969, Ravinia Festival
VERDI Aida
Giuseppe Patanè, conductor
Sheldon Patinkin, stage director
Robert Hale, bass-baritone
Lili Chookasian, contralto
Martina Arroyo, soprano
Richard Tucker, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Ara Berberian, bass
Herbert Kraus, tenor
Carolyn Smith-Meyer, soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 15 and 17, 1971, Ravinia Festival
VERDI Rigoletto
István Kertész, conductor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Patricia Wise, soprano
John Alexander, tenor
Robert Hale, bass-baritone
John Walker, tenor
Bernard Izzo, baritone
Edna Garabedian, mezzo-soprano
Susan Lutz, mezzo-soprano
Eugene Johnson, bass
Phyllis Kirian, soprano
Julia Diane Ragains, soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 1, 1972, Ravinia Festival
PUCCINI Tosca
James Levine, conductor
Teresa Kubiak, soprano
John Alexander, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Bernard Izzo, baritone
Charles Anthony, tenor
Andrew Földi, bass
Eugene Johnson, bass
Joseph Caccamo, boy soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Theatre Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

July 24, 1976, Ravinia Festival
WALTON Belshazzar’s Feast
André Previn, conductor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus
John Currie, director

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

June 26, 1981, Ravinia Festival
VERDI Macbeth
James Levine, conductor
Renata Scotto, soprano
Giuliano Ciannella, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
John Cheek, bass-baritone
Timothy Jenkins, tenor
Gene Marie Callahan, soprano
Michelle Harman-Gulick, soprano
Sharon Graham, mezzo-soprano
Duane Clenton Carter, baritone
Rush Tully, bass-baritone
Terry Cook, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis and James Winfied, directors

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

Milnes also gave one recital under the auspices of Allied Arts (now Symphony Center Presents):

February 14, 1987, Orchestra Hall
Jon Spong, piano
MONDONVILLE Eole’s Aria from Titon et l’Aurore
LULLY Bois épais from Amadis
GRÉTRY O Richard, O mon roi from Richard Coeur-de-lion
SCHUBERT An die Leier, D. 737
SCHUBERT Die Liebe hat gelogen, D. 751
SCHUBERT Kriegers Ahnung from Schwanengesang, D. 957
SCHUBERT Die Allmacht, D. 852
SANTOLIQUIDO Le domandai
SANTOLIQUIDO Quando le domandai
SANTOLIQUIDO Io mi levai dal centro della terra
SANTOLIQUIDO Riflessi
MOZART Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo, K. 584
McGILL Duna
COPLAND The World Feels Dusty from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson
TRADITIONAL/Copland At the River
arr. Dalway Love Trapped Me
arr. Dalway Killiney Strand
DUKE Luke Havergal
SAINT-SAËNS Qui donc commande from Henry VIII
Encores:
MOZART Fin ch’han dal vino calda la testa from Don Giovanni, K. 527
TRADITIONAL Shenandoah
TRADITIONAL/Britten Oliver Cromwell (sung by Spong with Milnes at the piano)
GIORDANO Nemico della patria from Andrea Chénier

Happy, happy birthday!

On August 25, 2018, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra joins the music world in celebrating the centennial of composer, conductor, pianist, author, and lecturer Leonard Bernstein, who was, according to John von Rhein, “one of the most phenomenally gifted and successful Renaissance men of music in American history.”

Shortly after his remarkable debut—replacing an ailing Bruno Walter—with the New York Philharmonic on November 14, 1943, Bernstein first appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on July 4, 1944. The “much discussed young conductor . . . drew 4,100 people to Ravinia last night,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “It was Mr. Bernstein’s concert. . . . The eye and the ear inevitably gravitated to the slight young figure on the podium, a dark young man with a sensitive, sensuous face a little like David Lichine’s, hands that gyrate so convulsively they scarcely could hold a baton if they tried, and eyes that somehow manage to be agonized, supplicant, and truculent without losing their place in the score. A fascinating fellow, this Bernstein, dynamic, emotional, yet under complete control.”

Bernstein appeared with the Orchestra on several occasions in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and in Milwaukee and New York City, as follows:

July 4, 1944, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Overture to Egmont, Op. 84
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Joseph Szigeti, violin
SIBELIUS Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39

July 6, 1944, Ravinia Festival
TCHAIKOVSKY Romeo and Juliet
RAVEL Piano Concerto in G Major
Leonard Bernstein, piano
Herman Felber, Jr., conductor
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36

July 8, 1944, Ravinia Festival
BARTÓK Rhapsody No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra
Joseph Szigeti, violin
MOZART Serenade in G Major, K. 525 (Eine kleine Nachtmusik)
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218
Joseph Szigeti, violin
STRAUSS Don Juan, Op. 20
STRAVINSKY Suite from The Firebird

July 9, 1944, Ravinia Festival
BERNSTEIN Symphony No. 1 (Jeremiah)
Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprano
COPLAND Suite from Our Town
ROSSINI “Non più mesta” from La Cenerentola
Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprano
ROSSINI Overture to La gazza ladra
SIBELIUS Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39

July 31, 1945, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture in C Minor, Op. 80
BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15
Leon Fleisher, piano
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47

August 2, 1945, Ravinia Festival
CASADESUS/Steinberg Concerto in D Major
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica)

August 4, 1945, Ravinia Festival
COPLAND El salón México
FRANCK Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra
Leon Fleisher, piano
LISZT Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major
Leon Fleisher, piano
MOZART Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504 (Prague)

August 5, 1945, Ravinia Festival
BERNSTEIN Suite from Fancy Free
HAYDN Symphony No. 85 in B-flat Major (La reine)
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47

January 1951

January 18, 19, and 23, 1951, Orchestra Hall
January 22, 1951, Pabst Theater, Milwaukee
HAYDN Symphony No. 102 in B-flat Major
RAVEL Piano Concerto in G Major
Leonard Bernstein, piano and conductor
STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring

January 25 and 26, 1951, Orchestra Hall
BACH Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050
René Rateau, flute
John Weicher, violin
Leonard Bernstein, piano and conductor
MAHLER Symphony No 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
Alyne Dumas Lee, soprano
Ruth Slater, mezzo-soprano
Chicago Musical College Chorus
Christian Choral Club
James Baar, director

July 26, 1956, Ravinia Festival
CASADESUS/Steinberg Andante lento molto from Concerto in D Major
BERNSTEIN Serenade
Vladimir Spivakovsky, violin
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 (Pathétique)

July 27, 1956, Ravinia Festival
BERNSTEIN Symphony No. 2 (The Age of Anxiety)
Byron Janis, piano
MOZART Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 201
SCHUMANN Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61

July 28, 1956, Ravinia Festival
BACH Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050
Ernst Liegl, flute
John Weicher, violin
Leonard Bernstein, piano and conductor
BERNSTEIN Symphony No. 1 (Jeremiah)
Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprano
MOZART “Zeffiretti lusinghiere” from Idomeneo, K. 366
Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprano
MOZART “Ch’io mi scordi di te?”, K. 505
Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprano
Leonard Bernstein, piano and conductor
STRAVINSKY Suite from The Firebird

Leonard Bernstein in rehearsal with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in June 1988 (Jim Steere photo)

June 16 and 17, 1988, Orchestra Hall
STRAUSS Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24
John Fiore, conductor
STRAUSS Don Juan, Op. 20
Kate Tamarkin, conductor
STRAUSS Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28
Leif Bjaland, conductor
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 1, Op. 10
Bjaland, Fiore, and Tamarkin appeared in conjunction with the 1988 American Conductors Program for which Bernstein was the artistic advisor. A joint project of the American Symphony Orchestra League and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the program was made possible through the generous support of the Ford Motor Company Fund.

June 21 and 22, 1988, Orchestra Hall
June 24, 1988, Avery Fisher Hall, New York
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 7, Op. 60 (Leningrad)

“I cannot recall a season finale of recent years, in fact, that sent the audience home on such a tidal wave of euphoria, and for so many of the right reasons,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune, following the first performance of the Leningrad Symphony on June 21. “Indeed, the conductor was constantly pushing the music beyond the rhetorical brink, then drawing back when things threatened to go over the top. Of course, he had the world’s greatest Shostakovich brass section at his ready command. The augmented brasses blared with magnificent menace, the violins sounded their unison recitatives with vehement intensity. And the woodwinds, with their always crisp and characterful playing, reminded us of the many poetic, soft sections that separate the bombastic outbursts.”

Both of Shostakovich’s symphonies were recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon and the subsequent release received the 1990 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

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