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Jon Vickers

The extraordinary Canadian tenor Jon Vickers, who appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on only one occasion, died on Friday, July 10, 2015, in Ontario. He was 88.

For the opening subscription concerts of the sixty-eighth season on October 23 and 24, 1958, music director Fritz Reiner led the Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Chorus—in its second season and prepared by its founder Margaret Hillis—and soloists Adele Addison, Regina Resnik, Vickers, and Jerome Hines in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The concert opened with the composer’s Leonore Overture no. 3.

In the Chicago American, Roger Dettmer described Vickers as “a Canadian tenor on his vocal way to Valhalla.” And in the Chicago Tribune, Claudia Cassidy wrote that “Jon Vickers’ tenor was stronger than I remembered, as if Bayreuth had invigorated it” (he had made his debut at Wagner’s annual festival only a few months before, as Siegmund in Die Walküre).

October 23 & 24, 1958

October 23 & 24, 1958

Cassidy continued, praising that Reiner delivered, “a Beethoven Ninth Symphony so magnificent that it ranks high in the company of great performances, and may be the finest thing Mr. Reiner has done in and for Chicago. . . . That Mr. Reiner is a master conductor goes without saying, though it is a pleasure to say it. That he can be a great interpreter of essentially spiritual music is not so commonly understood. But no one who heard this Ninth could deny it, for there it was, fully known, fully projected, fully shared. He had what he has made a superb orchestra and what he has insisted on having to match it, a chorus of such quality its newness is hard to remember. Like the orchestra, that chorus can attack like the blow of a fist.

“Out of all this came a Ninth full of mesmeric detail, yet all of one thrusting design soaring to the great finale. The strangely fascinating cacophony of the first movement was crystalline in style, through full of moods and shadows in sound. The scherzo, never capricious, but volatile as ether, held the ear taut and, oddly, the heart. The slow movement sang in layers of floating sound, austere for all its tenderness. The ‘Ode to Joy’ burst out with the jubilation of the freed spirit. When it was over the audience burst into a roar—the kind of roar that means hundreds of people have been, quite without knowing it, holding their breath in pure excitement.”

October 1958 program biography for Jon Vickers

October 1958 program biography for Jon Vickers

Numerous obituaries have been posted online, including in the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, Opera News, and The Guardian.

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Just before the opening of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s seventieth season, our sixth music director Fritz Reiner suffered a heart attack on October 7, 1960. He had been scheduled to conduct the first four weeks of concerts, but his recuperation forced the cancellation of his remaining appearances for the calendar year.

Maria Callas with Antonino Votto

Antonino Votto was one of Maria Callas‘s integral collaborators, leading many of her important productions at La Scala in the 1950s. He also was conductor of several of her landmark recordings on EMI including Puccini’s La bohème, Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, Bellini’s La sonnambula, and Ponchielli’s La Gioconda.

Replacement conductors included CSO associate conductor Walter Hendl, Robert Shaw (leading Beethoven’s Missa solemnis), Erich Leinsdorf (to conduct a special Saturday evening concert on October 15 featuring the U.S. debut of Sviatoslav Richter as soloist in Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto), and Antonino Votto (who would soon become Riccardo Muti‘s conducting teacher).

Votto was in Chicago to make his debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago and (according to their Performance + Cast Archive) he led the season opening performances of Verdi’s Don Carlo on October 14, 21, and 24. The cast included Giulietta Simionato, Margherita Roberti, Richard Tucker, Tito Gobbi, and Boris Christoff. Votto also conducted performances of Verdi’s Aida on October 17, 19, 22, and 28, with a cast that included Leontyne Price, Simionato, Carlo Bergonzi, and Robert Merrill.

Antonino Votto and Guiomar Novaes's program book biographies

Antonino Votto and Guiomar Novaes’s program book biographies

According to an October 16, 1960, CSO press release: “Antonino Votto will conduct the subscription concerts in the third week of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s current season. The concerts of Tuesday afternoon, October 25, and the subscription pair of Thursday-Friday, October 27-28, originally scheduled for music director Fritz Reiner, will be directed by the Italian conductor who is currently in Chicago for his first season with the Lyric Opera. A leading conductor of both opera and symphony concerts at La Scala in Milan, Maestro Votto’s appearance with the Orchestra has been made possible through the courteous cooperation of Miss Carol Fox, General Manager of the Lyric Opera.”

October 25, 1960 - revised program

October 25, 1960 – revised program

October 25, 1960 - original program advertisement

October 25, 1960 – original program advertisement

Both programs were modified (see images right and below) to accommodate conductor and soloist. According to Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune regarding the first concert on October 25: “From the start of Haydn’s London Symphony thru the Mozart with Guiomar Novaes and Debussy’s Faun to the perfectly planned and executed climax of a stunning Pictures at an Exhibition this was a major concert on the sounder shores of style” (complete review is here). Also according to Cassidy, word traveled fast and the following two concerts on Thursday and Friday quickly sold out: “. . . Votto is a man to respect a score, an orchestra and a soloist. When you add that to knowing your business and you can work with other musicians on a high level remarkable things can happen. Such as orchestral equilibrium, a sense of proportion in displaying a soloist, a mounting excitement on the stage and in the audience. In other words, quite a concert” (complete review is here).

October 27 & 28, 1960 - revised program

October 27 & 28, 1960 – revised program

October 27 & 28, 1960 - original program advertisement

October 27 & 28, 1960 – original program advertisement

According to a newspaper account, Reiner—from his hospital bed at Presbyterian/Saint Luke’s—was able to hear a portion of the Friday afternoon matinee via “telephone from a remote pickup thru a microphone in the concert hall to a loudspeaker in the manager’s office.” Reiner’s statement: “Please convey my warm compliments on the splendid performance of Mme. Novaes and Maestro Votto. I enjoyed very much the finesse and style of the orchestra, which has been inoculated in the years of our association.”

Votto was re-engaged at Lyric the following season for Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor on October 14, 16, and 18, 1961 (with Joan Sutherland, Bergonzi, and Tucker); Giordano’s Andrea Chenier on October 20, and 25, 28 (with Shakeh Vartenissian and Jon Vickers); and the company premiere of Boito’s Mefistofele on October 21, 23, and 27 (with Ilva Ligabue, Christa Ludwig, Christoff, and Bergonzi).

Votto returned to Italy and in November 1962, twenty-one-year-old Riccardo Muti met him during his first year as a student at the Milan Conservatory. Muti remembers: “And then there was Votto, whom I recall so vividly. He was solemn and incredibly strict, and had worked with [Arturo] Toscanini during his years at La Scala. . . . Within a few days, however, I realized that Votto had taken a liking to me, to the point of giving me—as if to prefer me over less talented students, or ones he didn’t like as much—some pieces to conduct for the performances the following year. Not only did I take a class with him, but I also attended some of his rehearsals at La Scala. . . . I was particularly struck when he did Falstaff: he didn’t have the score! Now, it’s one thing to conduct from memory, but to try that with Falstaff is one of those things that just leaves you flabbergasted and makes you think that maybe, with such experts around, you’d best find another job. I asked him something along those lines, and he replied: ‘If you had worked with Him, you would do the same.’ ‘Him,’ of course, meant Toscanini, with whom such work was an intense, special months-long undertaking; after that, going on memory became spontaneous, the natural result of having complete mastery of the score. . . .

“Votto’s approach was based on conductorial efficiency, music for music’s sake, no frills, no bells and whistles, going straight to the heart of opera, only essential gestures, nothing more than was absolutely necessary. In his classes he’d often repeat, ‘Don’t annoy the orchestra.’ To the uninitiated that phrase might seem absurd or misleading, calling into question the orchestra conductor’s usefulness. In reality he just wanted to advise us that, once the orchestra was on an orderly, rhythmic path (the obvious outcome of long rehearsing), the maestro mustn’t disturb that natural gait, and must therefore avoid rash gestures while on the podium, steering clear of any temptation to become a court jester; basically, he mustn’t alter what the nature of the piece itself had established. And such a position was a clear, complete reflection of Arturo Toscanini’s.”

Their friendship continued well beyond the conservatory, and when Muti married Maria Cristina Mazzavillani on June 1, 1969, in Ravenna, Votto was best man (“while Sviatoslav Richter became our ad hoc photographer and took some of the best photos”).

Excerpts from Riccardo Muti, An Autobiography: First the Music, Then the Words.

____________________________________________________

Solti and Margaret Hillis show off their 1986 Grammy Awards for Liszt’s Faust Symphony and Orff’s Carmina burana.

Sir Georg Solti won thirty-one Grammy Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences—more than any other recording artist. Twenty-four of those awards were with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. In addition, Solti and producer John Culshaw received the first NARAS Trustees’ Award in 1967 for their “efforts, ingenuity, and artistic contributions” in connection with the first complete recording of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen with the Vienna Philharmonic. Sir Georg also received the Academy’s 1995 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Alison Krauss and Quincy Jones tie for the number two slot with twenty-seven awards each, and Pierre Boulez—CSO conductor emeritus and former principal guest conductor—is number three, with twenty-six Grammy Awards, including eight with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Following is a complete list of Sir Georg Solti’s Grammy Awards.*

1962
Best Opera Recording (1)
VERDI Aida
Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, Rita Gorr, Jon Vickers, Robert Merrill, Giorgio Tozzi
Rome Opera House Orchestra and Chorus
RCA

1966
Best Opera Recording (2)
WAGNER Die Walküre
Georg Solti, conductor
Birgit Nilsson, Régine Crespin, Christa Ludwig, James King, Hans Hotter, Gottlob Frick
Vienna Philharmonic
London

1972
Album of the Year—Classical (3)
Best Choral Performance—Classical (other than opera) (4)
MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
Georg Solti, conductor
Heather Harper, Lucia Popp, Arleen Augér, Yvonne Minton, Helen Watts, René Kollo, John Shirley-Quirk, Martti Talvela
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Singverein Chorus
Vienna Boys’ Choir
Norbert Balatsch and Helmut Froschauer, chorus masters
David Harvey, producer
London

1972
Best Classical Performance—Orchestra (5)
MAHLER Symphony No. 7 in E Minor
Georg Solti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
London

1974
Album of the Year—Classical (6)
Best Classical Performance—Orchestra (7)
BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
David Harvey, producer
London

1974
Best Opera Recording (8)
PUCCINI La bohème
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Montserrat Caballé, Judith Blegen, Plácido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes, Vicente Sardinero, Ruggero Raimondi
London Philharmonic Orchestra
John Alldis Choir
Wandsworth School Boys’ Choir
RCA

1975
Album of the Year—Classical (9)
Beethoven’s Complete Symphonies
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 in E flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 4 in B flat Major, Op. 60
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (Pastoral)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
BEETHOVEN Overture to Egmont, Op. 84
BEETHOVEN Overture to Coriolan, Op. 62
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Pilar Lorengar, Yvonne Minton, Stuart Burrows, Martti Talvela
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Ray Minshull and David Harvey, producers
London

1976
Best Classical Orchestral Performance (10)
STRAUSS Also sprach Zarathustra
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Ray Minshull, producer
London

1977
Best Choral Performance (other than opera) (11)
VERDI Requiem
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, Janet Baker, Veriano Luchetti, José van Dam
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
RCA

1978
Best Choral Performance, Classical (other than opera) (12)
BEETHOVEN Missa solemnis in D Major, Op. 123
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Lucia Popp, Yvonne Minton, Mallory Walker, Gwynne Howell
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
London

1979
Best Classical Album (13)
Best Classical Orchestral Recording (14)
Brahms’s Complete Symphonies
BRAHMS Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
BRAHMS Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73
BRAHMS Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90
BRAHMS Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98
BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
BRAHMS Tragic Overture, Op. 81
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
James Mallinson, producer
London

1979
Best Choral Performance, Classical (other than opera) (15)
BRAHMS Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Kiri Te Kanawa, Bernd Weikl
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
London

1980
Best Classical Orchestral Recording (16)
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 6 in A Major
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Ray Minshull, producer
London

1981
Best Classical Album (17)
Best Classical Orchestral Recording (18)
MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Isobel Buchanan, Mira Zakai
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
James Mallinson, producer
London

1982
Best Choral Performance (other than opera) (19)
BERLIOZ La Damnation de Faust, Op. 24
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Frederica von Stade, Kenneth Riegel, José van Dam, Malcolm King
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director
London

1983
Best Classical Album (20)
Best Classical Orchestral Recording (21)
MAHLER Symphony No. 9 in D Major
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
James Mallinson, producer
London

1983
Best Opera Recording (22)
MOZART Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Kiri Te Kanawa, Lucia Popp, Frederica von Stade, Samuel Ramey, Thomas Allen, Kurt Moll
London Philharmonic Orchestra
London Opera Chorus
Christopher Raeburn, producer
London
This recording actually tied with the soundtrack for Verdi’s La traviata with James Levine conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; principal soloists Teresa Stratas, Plácido Domingo, and Cornell MacNeil.

1983
Best Choral Performance (other than opera) (23)
HAYDN The Creation
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Norma Burrowes, Sylvia Greenberg, Rüdiger Wohlers, James Morris, Siegmund Nimsgern
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
London

1985
Best Opera Recording (24)
SCHOENBERG Moses und Aron
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Franz Mazura, Philip Langridge
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
James Mallinson, producer
London

1986
Best Classical Orchestral Recording (25)
LISZT A Faust Symphony
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Siegfried Jerusalem
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Michael Haas, producer
London

1987
Best Orchestral Recording (26)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Jessye Norman, Reinhild Runkel, Robert Schunk, Hans Sotin
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Michael Haas, producer
London

1988
Best Opera Recording (27)
WAGNER Lohengrin
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Jessye Norman, Eva Randová, Plácido Domingo, Siegmund Nimsgern, Hans Sotin, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Vienna Philharmonic
Vienna State Opera Chorus
Christopher Raeburn, producer
London

1988
Best Chamber Music Performance (28)
BARTÓK Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion
Sir Georg Solti and Murray Perahia, pianos
Evelyn Glennie and David Corkhill, percussion
CBS

1991
Best Performance of a Choral Work (29)
BACH Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Felicity Lott, Anne Sofie von Otter, Hans Peter Blochwitz, William Shimell, Gwynne Howell
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
London

1992
Best Opera Recording (30)
STRAUSS Die Frau ohne Schatten
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Hildegard Behrens, Júlia Várady, Sumi Jo, Reinhild Runkel, Plácido Domingo, José van Dam
Vienna Philharmonic
Vienna State Opera Chorus
Vienna Boys’ Choir
Christopher Raeburn, Morten Winding, and Stephen Trainor, producers

1997
Best Opera Recording (31)
WAGNER Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Karita Mattila, Iris Vermillion, Ben Heppner, Herbert Lippert, José van Dam, Alan Opie, René Pape
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director
Michael Woolcock, producer

*A database of former Grammy Award winners can be found here; category titles have changed over the years. For opera recordings, only principal soloists are listed.

____________________________________________________

In June and July 1961, Georg Solti led the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in a recording of Verdi’s Aida. A dream cast had been assembled, including: Leontyne Price, Rita Gorr, Jon Vickers, Robert Merrill, and Giorgio Tozzi.

Giuseppe Conca was the chorus master, and Luigi Ricci, Ugo Catania, and Fernando Cavaniglia were assistant conductors. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer, and Lewis Layton and René Boux were the engineers.

The recording won the 1962 Grammy Award — Solti’s first award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences — for Best Opera Recording.

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