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Byron JanisSending happy ninetieth birthday wishes to the legendary pianist Byron Janis!

Between 1952 and 1974, Janis appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on numerous occasions at Orchestra Hall, in Milwaukee, and at the Ravinia Festival, under the batons of music directors Fritz Reiner and Jean Martinon; associate conductors Walter Hendl and Irwin Hoffman; Ravinia Festival music directors Seiji Ozawa and James Levine; and guest conductors Leonard Bernstein, André Cluytens, Igor Markevitch, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Hans Rosbaud, Joseph Rosenstock, William Steinberg, Leopold Stokowski, Willem Van Otterloo, and David Zinman.

Janis made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 10, 1952, in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting.

Two years later—a few weeks shy of his twenty-sixth birthday—he first performed in Orchestra Hall on March 4 and 5, 1954, in Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with Fritz Reiner on the podium. “If you have it, you have it, and Mr. Janis does,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune following his debut. “He has good fingers, a direct approach, and a good tone. He has temperament and fire and he wants, perhaps more than anything else in the world, to play the piano. You can always tell that by the sound. It comes out in the explosions of the double octaves, in the instinctive sensing of the crest of a phrase, in the way a Russian song suddenly knows pain, which is not quite the same thing as being sad. Because of these things, because he is such a pianist, his Tchaikovsky was big, beautiful, and dynamic, yet with all its tensions it sensed the relaxed sweep of the grand style. Few things could be more stupid than to patronize such playing, which Reiner and the orchestra gave superb collaboration, part Russian song, part Russian bear. When I look forward to what that playing can be, I am speaking of it in Janis’s own terms. Give him time to strengthen those fingers, to deepen and polish that tone. But listen as he does it, for he is worth hearing now.”

He most recently appeared with the CSO in Orchestra Hall on April 20 and 21, 1967, in Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto and Strauss’s Burleske with Irwin Hoffman conducting, and at the Ravinia Festival on August 15, 1974, in Saint-Saëns’s Fifth Piano Concerto under the baton of David Zinman.

Janis also made several recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as follows:

RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 1
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded March 2, 1957, in Orchestra Hall by RCA

Byron Janis’s complete RCA catalog—including his recordings with the CSO—recently was re-released in a box set.

STRAUSS Burleske for Piano and Orchestra
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded March 4, 1957, in Orchestra Hall by RCA

SCHUMANN Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded February 21, 1959, in Orchestra Hall by RCA

LISZT Totentanz for Piano and Orchestra
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded February 23, 1959, in Orchestra Hall by RCA

PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, Op. 10
Irwin Hoffman, conductor
Recorded by WFMT on April 20 and 21, 1967, in Orchestra Hall
Released in 1995 on From the Archives, vol. 10: Great Soloists

Happy, happy birthday!

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Reiner memorial insert front cover

Reiner memorial insert front cover

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 canceled his remaining appearances for the calendar year to recuperate and was able to return to the CSO podium in March 1961 to lead the season’s final five weeks of concerts. However, his health continued to decline and he was forced to curtail many of his conducting duties, and it was announced on April 20, 1962, that he would become “musical adviser” for the 1962-63 season. Two weeks later on May 3, The Orchestral Association announced that Jean Martinon would become the Orchestra’s seventh music director beginning with the 1963-64 season.

As musical adviser, Reiner was scheduled to conduct seven weeks of subscription concerts in December 1962 and February, March, and April 1963. On April 18, 19, and 20, he led Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide, Brahms’s Second Symphony, and Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Van Cliburn as soloist (the Beethoven was recorded by RCA on April 22 and 23; see here and here for more information). Reiner was scheduled to close the season on May 2 and 3 with an extensive all-Wagner program (featuring several excerpts from Tristan and Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Die Walküre, and Götterdämmerung); however, the CSO press office announced on Monday, April 29 that “on the advice of his physician, Fritz Reiner must withdraw from this week’s concerts.”

Reiner retreated over the summer and arrived in New York in October to begin rehearsals for a new production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung at the Metropolitan Opera, scheduled to open on November 14. However, he fell ill with bronchitis on November 11 and withdrew from the production, being replaced by Joseph Rosenstock. Reiner’s condition gradually worsened and he succumbed to pneumonia on November 15, 1963, at the age of 74 (his Chicago Tribune obituary, written by Claudia Cassidy, is here).

On Saturday evening, November 16, Martinon led the Orchestra in Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave Overture, his own Second Violin Concerto with Henryk Szerying, and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. According to the Sunday, November 17 Chicago Tribune: “Orchestra Hall, filled for a golden decade with the music conducted by Dr. Fritz Reiner, was silent for a minute Saturday night as the audience and musicians bowed heads in tribute to his memory.” Merrill Shepard, the new president of the Association, had signaled the moment of silence.

Program page for November 21 and 22, 1963, announcing scheduled memorial for Fritz Reiner the following week

Program page for November 21 and 22, 1963, announcing scheduled memorial for Fritz Reiner the following week

Funeral services were given on November 18 in New York. Attendees included Reiner’s former student at the Curtis Institute and music director of the New York Philharmonic Leonard Bernstein, tenor Lauritz Melchior, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera Rudolf Bing, impresario Sol Hurok, and Van Cliburn. William Schuman, composer and then-president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, delivered the eulogy, calling Reiner, an “artist who set an example for all his colleagues.”

Martinon had programmed the Thanksgiving week concerts (on Thursday evening and Friday afternoon, November 28 and 29) to include Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Mozart’s Requiem (Margaret Hillis and the Chicago Symphony Chorus had been rehearsing the two works since early September). Reiner’s seventy-fifth birthday—December 19, 1963—was to have been celebrated with him leading the Orchestra in four weeks of subscription concerts in late December and early January. It was only appropriate to designate the Stravinsky and Mozart concerts as memorials to Reiner, and the program page for the November 21 and 22 concerts included an announcement. A four-page program insert was prepared to be used for the following week’s concerts and included tributes from Martinon and Shepard, a chronology of Reiner’s career, and a list of his previous orchestral affiliations.

On Thursday evening November 21, Martinon led Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto, Henze’s Third Symphony, and Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with Byron Janis. The program was scheduled to be repeated the following afternoon, Friday, November 22, 1963.

Stay tuned for part 2 . . .

Reiner memorial insert, pages two and three

Reiner memorial insert, pages two and three

Reiner memorial insert back cover

Reiner memorial insert back cover

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Theodore Thomas

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