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Wishing a very happy seventy-fifth birthday to legendary American conductor Michael Tilson Thomas! A frequent and favorite visitor to the podium for nearly fifty years, he has led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, on tour to Australia, and in the recording studio.

Michael Tilson Thomas (Art Streiber photo)

Tilson Thomas made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival, leading two programs:

July 12, 1970, Ravinia Festival
J.C. BACH Sinfonia for Double Orchestra in E-flat Major
HAYDN Symphony No. 60 in C Major
VARÈSE Intégrales
STRAVINSKY Suite from Pulcinella

August 1, 1970, Ravinia Festival
BACH Suite No. 4 in D Major, BWV 1069
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488
John Browning, piano
RUGGLES Sun-Treader
WAGNER Siegfried’s Rhine Journey, Siegfried’s Death and Funeral March, and Brünnhilde’s Immolation from Götterdämmerung

In Orchestra Hall, he made his debut with the Orchestra as follows:

May 21, 22, and 24, 1981, Orchestra Hall
BACH/Schoenberg Chorale Preludes (Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele and Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist)
IVES Symphony No. 2
STRAVINSKY The Firebird

Tilson Thomas and Solti at a press conference in Perth

Tilson Thomas also joined Sir Georg Solti and the Orchestra for the ensemble’s first tour to Australia in 1988. He led one program on four occasions as follows:

March 5, 1988, Perth Concert Hall, Perth
March 10, 1988, Adelaide Festival Center, Adelaide
March 15, 1988, Melbourne Concert Hall, Melbourne
March 18, 1988, Sydney Opera House, Sydney
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b
IVES Symphony No. 3 (The Camp Meeting)
RACHMANINOV Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27

Most recently, he led the Orchestra just last year:

December 13, 14, and 15, 2018, Orchestra Hall
STRAVINSKY Concerto in D for String Orchestra
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63
Nicola Benedetti, violin
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 (Pathétique)

For CBS and Sony, Tilson Thomas also recorded a number of works (all in Medinah Temple) by Charles Ives with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus:

IVES Central Park in the Dark
Recorded May 12, 1986

IVES New England Holidays Symphony
Fred Spector, Jew’s harp
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded May 10 and 12, 1986

IVES Symphony No. 1 in D Minor
Recorded April 15 and 17, 1989

IVES Symphony No. 4
Mary Sauer, piano
Members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded April 15 and 17, 1989

IVES The Unanswered Question (original version)
IVES The Unanswered Question (revised versoin)
Adolph Herseth, trumpet
Recorded May 10, 1986

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.

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Ozawa headshotAs a last-minute replacement for Georges Prêtre in July 1963, Seiji Ozawa was called upon to lead the Orchestra in two concerts at the Ravinia Festival. The twenty-seven-year-old conductor made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on July 16 in Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no. 3, Grieg’s Piano Concerto with Byron Janis, and Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony. Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune reported that Ozawa was “instantly in command when in possession of a baton and a musical idea. His conducting technique reminds you of his teacher, Herbert von Karajan, in that it lays the score in the lap of the Orchestra with transparency of gesture and human communication, then commands acceptance.” On July 18, he conducted Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Christian Ferras, Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, Takemitsu’s Requiem for Strings, and selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

Only a month later it was announced that Ozawa would become the Ravinia Festival’s first music director and resident conductor beginning with the 1964 season, replacing Walter Hendl, who had served as artistic director since 1959. For his first concert as music director on June 16, 1964, Ozawa led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Barber’s Piano Concerto with John Browning, and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.

Reverse jacket of Angel Records recording of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, made at Medinah Temple on June 30 and July 1, 1969

Reverse jacket of Angel Records recording of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, made at Medinah Temple on June 30 and July 1, 1969

He served as music director of the Ravinia Festival through the 1968 season and as principal conductor for the 1969 season, returning regularly as a guest conductor. Ozawa most recently appeared there on July 14, 1985, leading Mozart’s Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in D major and Takemitsu’s riverrun with Peter Serkin, along with Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony.

Between 1965 and 1970—at both Orchestra Hall and in Medinah Temple— Ozawa and the Orchestra recorded a number of works for both Angel and RCA, including Bartók’s First and Third piano concertos and Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with Peter Serkin, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade with concertmaster Victor Aitay, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

Some of this content was previously posted here; this article also appears here.

Ozawa headshot

Congratulations to Seiji Ozawa—the Ravinia Festival‘s first music director from 1964 until 1968—who will be a recipient of this year’s Kennedy Center Honors! Additional honorees, announced today, include American rock band the Eagles, singer-songwriter Carole King, filmmaker George Lucas, actress and singer Rita Moreno, and actress Cicely Tyson.

The gala event will be broadcast on CBS on December 29, 2015.

As a last-minute replacement for Georges Prêtre in July 1963, Seiji Ozawa was called upon to lead the Orchestra in two concerts at the Ravinia Festival. The twenty-seven-year-old conductor made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on July 16, leading Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no. 3, Grieg’s Piano Concerto with Byron Janis, and Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony. Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune reported that Ozawa was “instantly in command when in possession of a baton and a musical idea. His conducting technique reminds you of his teacher, Herbert von Karajan, in that it lays the score in the lap of the orchestra with transparency of gesture and human communication, then commands acceptance.” On July 18, he conducted Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Christian Ferras, Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, Takemitsu’s Requiem for Strings, and selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

June 16, 1964

June 16, 1964

Only a month later it was announced that Ozawa would become the Ravinia Festival’s first music director and resident conductor beginning with the 1964 season, replacing Walter Hendl, who had served as artistic director since 1959. For his first concert as music director on June 16, 1964, Ozawa led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Barber’s Piano Concerto with John Browning, and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.

He served as music director of the Ravinia Festival through the 1968 season and as principal conductor for the 1969 season, returning regularly as a guest conductor. Ozawa most recently appeared there on July 14, 1985, leading Mozart’s Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in D major and Takemitsu’s riverrun with Peter Serkin, along with Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony.

Ozawa LP

Between 1965 and 1970—both at Orchestra Hall and in Medinah Temple—Ozawa and the Orchestra recorded a number of works for both Angel and RCA, including Bartók’s First and Third piano concertos and Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with Peter Serkin, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade with concertmaster Victor Aitay, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, among numerous others.

Ozawa most recently appeared in Chicago at Orchestra Hall on February 9, 1996, leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe), Heidi Grant Murphy, and Michelle DeYoung in Mahler’s Second Symphony; and on January 10, 2001, conducting Mahler’s Ninth Symphony with the Saito Kinen Orchestra.

Congratulations, Maestro Ozawa!

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

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