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Jorja Fleezanis in 1975 (Terry’s Photography)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the passing of Jorja Fleezanis, a member of the Orchestra’s violin section during the 1975-76 season and a passionate, lifelong educator. She passed away at her home in Lake Leelanau, Michigan on September 10, 2022, at the age of seventy.

Born on March 19, 1952, in Detroit, Michigan, Fleezanis began violin instruction at the age of eight, and as a teenager, attended the Interlochen Center for the Arts on scholarship and performed with the Detroit Youth Orchestra. She furthered her studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music and Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Fleezanis’s teachers included Mischa Mischakoff (CSO concertmaster from 1930 until 1937) in Chicago; Donald Weilerstein and David Cerone in Cleveland; and Walter Levin in Cincinnati. She was assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Concert Associates Orchestra, concertmaster of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, and concerto soloist with the University of Cincinnati Philharmonia Orchestra.

According to a 1975 program book biography, “Of Greek descent and the only musician in her family, Detroit-born Jorja decided to shoot for the Chicago post as the test of her talent. She made it to the finals on three separate occasion, each time told by Maestro Solti personally that he would like her to audition again. Even after her third audition, Solti still wavered, calling for some further test. So she sat in with the Orchestra for a week—comfortable, exhilarated, totally in her element. At last Sir Georg was convinced and hired her on the spot.”

Following her season in Chicago, she later served as associate concertmaster with the San Francisco Symphony. In 1989, she won the audition as concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra, becoming (at the time) only the second woman in the United States to hold that title in a major orchestra when appointed. Fleezanis remained in that position for twenty years until her retirement in 2009, as the longest-tenured concertmaster in the Minnesota Orchestra’s history. During her time as concertmaster, two works were commissioned for her: John Adams’s Violin Concerto and John Tavener’s Ikon of Eros.

Jorja Fleezanis (Indiana University photo)

A passionate educator, Fleezanis was professor of orchestral studies at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music from 2009 until her retirement last year. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota’s School of Music from 1990 until 2009; at the Round Top International Festival Institute in Texas from 1990 until 2007; artist-in-residence at the University of California, Davis; guest artist and teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory from 1981 to 1989; and artist and mentor at the Music@Menlo Festival from 2003 until 2010. Fleezanis had been teacher and coach with the New World Symphony since 1988 as well as on the faculty of the Music Academy of the West since 2016. She was a visiting teacher at the Boston Conservatory, the Juilliard School, the Shepherd School of Music, and the Interlochen Academy and Summer Camp, along with serving as a frequent guest and clinician at the Britten Pears Centre at Snape Maltings in England.

A longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association, Jorja Fleezanis was preceded in death by her husband, American music critic and author Michael Steinberg.

This article also appears here.

Donald Peck in 1994 (Jim Steere photo)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the passing of Donald Peck, a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1957 until 1999 and principal flute for over forty years. He passed away earlier today, April 29, 2022. Peck was ninety-two.

Born on January 26, 1930, in Yakima, Washington, Donald Peck received his early musical training in Seattle, where he played in the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra. As a teenager, he performed with his first teacher, Frank Horsfall, in the Seattle Symphony. He was a scholarship student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he studied with William Kincaid. Peck performed with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., and spent three years in the U.S. Marine Band. He was principal flute of the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra for two years before Fritz Reiner invited him to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1957 as assistant principal flute. The following year, Reiner promoted Peck to principal flute, a chair he would hold for over forty years until his retirement in 1999.

Peck first appeared as soloist with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival in August 1959, in Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, and on subscription concerts in Orchestra Hall in November 1960, in Bach’s Second Orchestral Suite, both with Walter Hendl conducting. During his tenure, he appeared as soloist on more than 120 concerts directed by twenty-five conductors—including music directors Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim—in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and on tour.

Donald Peck in 1966 (Dorothy Siegel Druzinsky photo)

On April 18, 1985, Solti led the Orchestra in the world premiere of Morton Gould’s Flute Concerto, commissioned for Peck. In a preview article in the Chicago Tribune, John von Rhein described his playing as, “Lustrous and penetrating, tender and lyrical, charming and sensual, its hues would put a chameleon to shame. It is one of the most distinctive voices in the orchestral choir, blending well with any ensemble even as it serves a key role within the woodwind section. . . . as principal flutist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Peck has carried out that role with a combination of technical skill and musical understanding that has earned him widespread admiration. Within the fraternity of the flute he is considered to be without peer. No less a judge than Julius Baker, the longtime principal flutist of the New York Philharmonic [and principal flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1951 until 1953], pronounces Peck ‘the greatest flutist I’ve ever heard.'”

Also for Peck, William Ferris wrote his Flute Sonata and Lee Hoiby dedicated his Pastorale Dances for Flute and Orchestra. He regularly performed as a guest artist with other orchestras, including appearances at the Pablo Casals Festival with concerts in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and in Carnegie Hall. In Australia, Peck recorded Mozart’s flute concertos for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and he regularly appeared at the Carmel Bach Festival in California, the Victoria International Festival in Canada, the Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming, and the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts, along with numerous other orchestras from coast to coast.

As principal flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Peck performed on over three hundred recordings under twenty-two conductors for twelve labels. In his retirement, he recorded works for flute and piano with Melody Lord for the Boston label. Peck also was a longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association.

Peck served on the faculties of DePaul and Roosevelt universities, where he taught flute and woodwind ensemble. A frequent lecturer and guest teacher, he gave master classes at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music in New York, at the Rotterdam Conservatory in Holland, for the Osaka Flute Club in Japan, at the Sydney Flute Association in Australia, and at over thirty universities and music groups throughout the United States and Canada. For many years, Peck played a flute—fashioned in platinum-iridium—handmade for him by Powell Flutes of Boston.

In 1997, the National Flute Association honored Peck with a lifetime achievement award. Indiana University Press published Peck’s memoir, The Right Place, The Right Time! Tales of Chicago Symphony Days in 2007, and the Chicago Flute Club’s biennial international flute competition is named in his honor.

Near the end of his tenure as principal flute, Peck spoke again with von Rhein for the Chicago Tribune. “The flute has the potential for more color and brilliance [and] the woodwind section can be most exquisite, like glittering jewels. . . . I have been a very lucky person, having performed with wonderful musicians and done so much. What more could I want?”

Donald Peck warming up backstage, on tour with the CSO in the 1990s (Jim Steere photo)

Plans for a memorial service will be announced at a later date, and memorial gifts may be made to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

This article also appears here.

Margaret Hillis founded the Chicago Symphony Chorus during the 1957-58 season and served as its director until 1994. (Terry’s Photography)

On October 1, 2021, we celebrate the centennial of Margaret Hillis (1921–1998), the founder and first director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. She led the ensemble for thirty-seven years—from 1957 until 1994—influencing the development of symphonic choruses to a level of precision, polish and refinement akin to the orchestras with which they perform. Hillis’s achievements with the Chicago Symphony Chorus have served as a model which others continue to emulate.

Hillis was born to a prestigious family in Kokomo, Indiana. Her grandfather, Elwood Haynes, invented stainless steel and one of the first automobiles, and her father, Glenn Hillis, was a successful lawyer who narrowly lost the 1940 race for the governorship of Indiana. She was raised to believe she could do whatever she set out to accomplish, and her dream, from the time she was child, was to become an orchestral conductor. However, society had other plans for her. Hillis’s aspiration was not an option for women of her generation. Unable to pursue a direct route for her desired career, she would find her way to the podium through the “back door,” opting to pursue choral conducting instead.

During her youth, Hillis taught herself to play many instruments, settling upon double bass as she entered her formal musical studies at Indiana University. She briefly left college in December 1942 to become a civilian flight instructor with the US Navy, teaching young pilots to fly during World War II. After the war, Hillis completed her degree, and in 1947, she headed to the Juilliard School to study with Robert Shaw, a leader in the field of choral conducting. She was advised that this could be her only way to a conducting career. As one who had been steeped in orchestral music throughout her life, Hillis bravely pursued choral conducting, requiring her to learn an entirely new set of skills. She would quickly adapt, and after only a few short years, she formed her own ensemble in New York—the American Concert Choir—and quickly gained the respect of audiences and critics alike.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s sixth music director, Fritz Reiner, would soon discover Hillis’s outstanding work, and he invited her to start a chorus in Chicago. On March 13, 1958, the newly formed Chicago Symphony Chorus made its debut in Mozart’s Requiem with Bruno Walter conducting. During Hillis’s time as director of the Chorus, the ensemble regularly appeared with the CSO in Chicago and on tour, performing in Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and in their 1989 European debut at London’s Royal Albert Hall and Salzburg’s Grosses Festspielhaus. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy events during Hillis’s directorship occurred on October 31, 1977, when she replaced Sir Georg Solti on short notice at Carnegie Hall for a performance of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, garnering international attention. 

In addition to Hillis’s success with the Chicago Symphony Chorus, she was recognized in her role of “breaking the glass ceiling” for women pursuing orchestral conducting careers. She was the first woman to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the first to regularly conduct a major symphony orchestra, and she contributed generously to the choral profession, establishing the American Choral Foundation, presiding as a founding member of the Association of Professional Vocal Ensembles (now Chorus America), and serving on the National Council of the National Endowment for the Arts. She also established the Do-It-Yourself Messiah tradition and was instrumental in the founding of the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts series, both of which continue to thrive.

Throughout her career, Hillis tirelessly campaigned for the sustenance of professional singers, and she was equally passionate about teaching, serving on faculties of Northwestern and Indiana universities and leading countless conducting workshops. She received many honorary doctoral degrees and numerous recognitions—including nine Grammy awards—however, her greatest achievement was the rich legacy she established as she transformed the choral landscape. 

Though Margaret Hillis would earn the respect of the world’s major conductors along with the admiration and affection of many musicians, colleagues, and music lovers, her journey was not an easy one. She deftly circumvented the constant barriers in fields where women were not welcome. Despite the obstacles, Hillis’s legacy lives on, in the continued success of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, in more frequent appearances of women conducting orchestras and in professional choruses that flourish throughout the world.

Cheryl Frazes Hill is associate director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. She is the author of the forthcoming biography Margaret Hillis: Unsung Pioneer from GIA Publications.

This article also appears here.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the loss of Clarendon Van Norman, former principal horn, who died on Sunday, April 18, 2021, at home in Monroe Township, New Jersey. He was ninety.

Music Director Jean Martinon and Associate Conductor Walter Hendl with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on October 24, 1963, during Clarendon Van Norman’s first season as principal horn

Born in Galesburg, Illinois, on August 23, 1930, Van Norman attended Galesburg High School, and after graduating in 1948, he began studies at the Juilliard School in New York City. After serving as a sergeant in the Airmen of Note in the United States Air Force during the Korean War from 1950 to 1954, he graduated from Juilliard in 1957. Van Norman also earned a doctorate in education from Columbia University, graduating in 1965.

Van Norman served as principal horn in the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra for two seasons before seventh music director Jean Martinon invited him to the same position in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, beginning in the fall of 1963. After serving for two seasons, he joined the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, performing as co-principal horn and third horn until his retirement in 1990.

In his retirement, Van Norman was a member of the Long Island Antiquarian Book Dealers Association, Rotary International, and the First Presbyterian Church in Levittown, New York, where he helped with various church committees. He also was an antiquarian book dealer, taught in his private horn studio, and was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association.

Clarendon Van Norman is survived by his wife of forty-three years, Linda Van Norman, along with his two sons, Mark (Shenan) and Thomas (Kali), daughter May (Terrence) Van Norman, and sister Marilyn Van Norman, as well as six grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his daughter Diane and son Steven Emery. Services will be private.

Gail Niwa makes her subscription concert debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Schumann’s Piano Concerto on February 9, 1995 (Jim Steere photo)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the loss of pianist Gail Niwa, who passed away on February 9, 2021, at home in New York City, following a long illness. She was sixty-one.

Born in Chicago in 1959, Gail was the daughter of two professional musicians. Her mother (and first teacher) Eloise was an accomplished pianist and pedagogue, and her father Raymond was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s violin section from 1951 until 1997. David Niwa, Gail’s brother, also is a skilled violinist with degrees from the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School, and he currently serves as assistant concertmaster of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. Together, the Niwa family claims a singular distinction: all four have been soloists with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

At the age of eight, Gail Niwa was a second-place winner (tying with cellist Gary Hoffman) in the CSO’s youth auditions on December 11, 1967, and she subsequently made her debut with the Orchestra on youth concerts on February 19 and April 8, 1968, performing the third movement of Haydn’s Piano Concerto no. 11 in D major with Irwin Hoffman conducting. She later appeared with the Orchestra on special Music is the Message concerts for high school students, performing Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto on March 7, 1972, and Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor (along with David Lackland) on April 8, 1975, both under the baton of Henry Mazer. A graduate of William Howard Taft High School, Niwa was a two-time Chicago City Parks tennis champion.

Gail Niwa and Gary Hoffman receive their youth soloist awards from Louis Sudler, president of the Orchestral Association, and Irwin Hoffman, associate conductor on December 11, 1967

On scholarship to the Juilliard School, Niwa earned bachelor and master’s degrees as a student of Adele Marcus. She was awarded first prize at the 1987 Washington International Competition, which led to her recital debut at the Kennedy Center. In 1991, She became the first woman to win the top prize at the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, receiving not only the gold medal but also the audience and chamber music prizes. This led to her debut at New York’s Alice Tully Hall in October of that year. Recognized as an excellent chamber musician, she received the award for best accompanist at the 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition for violinists in Moscow.

She gave recitals in Athens, Miami, Montreal, Seoul, Toronto, and at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and she also performed as soloist with the Augusta, Memphis, San Luis Obispo, Utah, Reno, and Grant Park symphony orchestras, and performed Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with the California Philharmonic. Niwa also appeared with the Highland Park Strings, Kammergild Chamber Players in Saint Louis, the Ocean State Chamber Players, and the Banff Festival Chamber Orchestra, and she was a member of the Partita and Chelsea chamber ensembles in New York. With violinist David Kim, she made recordings for the Musical Heritage Society and Teldec labels, and with CSO bassoon Bruce Grainger on the Centaur label.

On April 4, 1993, Niwa made her Orchestra Hall recital debut on the Allied Arts series, performing the following program:

BACH/Busoni Chaconne from Unaccompanied Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004
CHOPIN Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58
SZYMANOWSKI Shéhérazade and Sérénade de Don Juan from Masques, Op. 34
TCHAIKOVSKY Dumka, Op. 59
LYAPUNOV Lezghinka, Transcendental Etude, Op. 11, No. 10

“It was easy to hear why the young Chicago pianist already has racked up so many competition victories,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “She plays with the kind of confident fluency that makes competition juries take notice. . . . Taste, elegance, and musical intelligence were the hallmarks of Niwa’s Chopin sonata [and] the afternoon’s finest playing came in two of Szymanowski’s Masques [that] emerged here in all their exotic coloration, with plenty of intensity and atmosphere.”

On April 25, 1994, Niwa, along with Philip Sabransky—a former student of Eloise Niwa and the son of CSO violin Jerry and founding Chorus member Martha Sabransky—joined the Orchestra at Medinah Temple for recording sessions for Disney’s Fantasia 2000. Together they recorded the finale from Saint-Saëns’s The Carnival of the Animals with James Levine conducting.

Niwa was back in Orchestra Hall for her subscription concert debut on February 9, 11, and 14, 1995, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as soloist in Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Sir Georg Solti on the podium. “She reveled in Schumann’s lyricism, especially in the concerto’s first movement, lingering over the expressive opening theme, stretching its rhythmic outlines to the limit,” commented Wynne Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times. “The CSO, in turn, provided unusually sumptuous accompaniment [and] the second movement was a relaxed, expansive conversation between soloist and sections of the Orchestra.”

At the University of Southern California, she served as assistant professor of piano and was founder and artistic director of Chamber Music at Great Gorge in northwest New Jersey.

Niwa is survived by her partner Glenn Powell, son Matthew, and brother David (Mariko). There are no immediate plans for services. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in her memory.

On March 12, 2020, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra celebrates the centennial of orchestral and chamber musician, soloist with countless ensembles, and lifelong teacher and coach Ray Still (1920–2014), a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s oboe section for forty years, serving as principal for thirty-nine years.

Ray Still - 1950s

Born on March 12, 1920, in Elwood, Indiana, Still began playing clarinet as a teenager. During the Great Depression, his family moved to California, where he was able to regularly hear performances of the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a volunteer usher. After hearing the masterful technique and elegant phrasing of Henri de Busscher—principal oboe in Los Angeles from 1920 until 1948—Still switched to the oboe.

Still graduated from Los Angeles High School and at the age of nineteen joined the Kansas City Philharmonic as second oboe in 1939, where he was a member until 1941 (and also where he met and married Mary Powell Brock in 1940). For the next two years, he studied electrical engineering, served in the reserve US Army Signal Corps, and worked nights at the Douglas Aircraft factory. During the height of World War II, Still joined the US Army in September 1943 and served until June of 1946.

Immediately following his honorable discharge from the Army, Still enrolled at the Juilliard School where he studied with Robert Bloom. The following year in 1947, he began a two-year tenure as principal oboe with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of William Steinberg. Beginning in 1949, Still was principal oboe of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for four years.

Fritz Reiner and the newest members of the Orchestra in the fall of 1953. From left to right: Nathan Snader, violin; Juan Cuneo, violin; Joseph Golan, violin; Alan Fuchs, horn; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; Ray Still, oboe; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; and János Starker, cello.

Fritz Reiner and the newest members of the Orchestra in the fall of 1953. From left to right: Nathan Snader, violin; Juan Cuneo, violin; Joseph Golan, violin; Alan Fuchs, horn; Ray Still, oboe; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; and János Starker, cello.

In the fall of 1953, Still auditioned for Fritz Reiner, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s recently named music director. Reiner invited him to be the Orchestra’s second-chair oboe and the following year promoted him to the principal position. Still would serve the Orchestra in that capacity—under music directors Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim—until his retirement in 1993.

Still appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as soloist on countless occasions, including the Orchestra’s first performances of works for solo oboe by Albinoni, Bach, Barber, Mozart, Richard Strauss, and Telemann. His extensive discography includes Bach’s Wedding Cantata on RCA with Kathleen Battle as soloist and James Levine conducting, and Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C minor on Deutsche Grammophon with Claudio Abbado conducting.

Still performed with numerous other ensembles including the Juilliard, Vermeer, and Fine Arts string quartets; he recorded with Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, and Lynn Harrell; and regularly appeared at many music festivals, including those at Aspen, Stratford, and Marlboro, among others.

A tireless educator, Still taught at the Peabody Institute from 1949 until 1953, Roosevelt University from 1954 until 1957, and at Northwestern University for forty-three years until 2003. Throughout his tenure with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he coached members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. At the invitation of Seiji Ozawa, he spent the summers of 1968 and 1970 as a visiting member of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in Tokyo, where he held coaching sessions for the wind section, conducted chamber music classes, and lectured at Toho University.

Ray Still - 1970s

Following his retirement from Northwestern, he moved to Annapolis, Maryland—where he continued to give master classes and lessons—with his beloved wife Mary and son James to live near his daughter Susan. In 2013, he moved to Saxtons River and later Woodstock, Vermont, where he lived near Susan, his granddaughter Madeline, and her two daughters. Still died in Woodstock, on March 12, 2014, surrounded by family. He was 94 and was survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Mimi and Kent Dixon of Springfield, Ohio; his son and daughter-in-law, Tom and Sally Still of Big Timber, Montana; his daughter and son-in-law, Susan Still and Peter Bergstrom of Saxtons River, Vermont; six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death in 2012 by Mary, his wife of almost 72 years, and his son James Still.

When interviewed for an article in the Chicago Tribune in 1988, Still was asked why he thought the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was the world’s greatest. His reply: “It’s like a great baseball team. We have a blend of youth and experience, and they work very well together. A lot of orchestras have this. The thing that makes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra very unusual is the tremendous—I hate to use the word—discipline. There is a certain pride, and I think it goes back to the days of Theodore Thomas, the founder. There is something about the tradition of this Orchestra and the level the main body of musicians has come to expect of itself. There’s just a longer line of tradition.”

The Still family has recently updated www.raystill.com, which now includes a new edition of his book Playing the Oboe, along with a gallery of photos and a complete discography.

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

Wishing Donald Peck—a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1957 until 1999 and principal flute for over forty years—a very happy ninetieth birthday!

Donald Peck in 1994 (Jim Steere photo)

Peck received his early musical training in Seattle, where he played in the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra. As a teenager, he performed with his first teacher, Frank Horsfall, in the Seattle Symphony. He was a scholarship student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he studied with William Kincaid. Peck performed with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., and spent three years in the U.S. Marine Band. He was principal flute of the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra for two years before Fritz Reiner invited him to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1957 as assistant principal flute. The following year, Reiner promoted Peck to principal flute, a chair he would hold for over forty years until his retirement in 1999.

Peck first appeared as soloist with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival in August 1959, in Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, and on subscription concerts in Orchestra Hall in November 1960, in Bach’s Second Orchestral Suite, both with Walter Hendl conducting. During his tenure, he appeared as soloist on more than 120 concerts directed by twenty-five conductors—including music directors Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim—in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and on tour.

On April 18, 1985, Solti led the Orchestra in the world premiere of Morton Gould’s Flute Concerto, commissioned for Peck. In a preview article in the Chicago Tribune, John von Rhein described his playing as, “Lustrous and penetrating, tender and lyrical, charming and sensual, its hues would put a chameleon to shame. It is one of the most distinctive voices in the orchestral choir, blending well with any ensemble even as it serves a key role within the woodwind section. . . . as principal flutist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Peck has carried out that role with a combination of technical skill and musical understanding that has earned him widespread admiration. Within the fraternity of the flute he is considered to be without peer. No less a judge than Julius Baker, the longtime principal flutist of the New York Philharmonic [and principal flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1951 until 1953], pronounces Peck ‘the greatest flutist I’ve ever heard.'”

Donald Peck in 1966 (Dorothy Siegel Druzinsky photo)

Also for Peck, William Ferris wrote his Flute Sonata and Lee Hoiby dedicated his Pastorale Dances for Flute and Orchestra. He regularly performed as a guest artist with other orchestras, including appearances at the Pablo Casals Festival with concerts in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and in Carnegie Hall. In Australia, Peck recorded Mozart’s flute concertos for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and he regularly appeared at the Carmel Bach Festival in California, the Victoria International Festival in Canada, the Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming, and the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts, along with numerous other orchestras from coast to coast.

As principal flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Peck performed on over three hundred recordings under twenty-two conductors for twelve labels. In his retirement, he has recorded works for flute and piano with Melody Lord for the Boston label.

Peck has served on the faculties of DePaul and Roosevelt universities, where he taught flute and woodwind ensemble. A frequent lecturer and guest teacher, he has given master classes at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music in New York, at the Rotterdam Conservatory in Holland, for the Osaka Flute Club in Japan, at the Sydney Flute Association in Australia, and at over thirty universities and music groups throughout the United States and Canada. For many years, Peck played a flute—fashioned in platinum-iridium—handmade for him by Powell Flutes of Boston.

In 1997, the National Flute Association honored Peck with a lifetime achievement award. Indiana University Press published Peck’s memoir, The Right Place, The Right Time! Tales of Chicago Symphony Days in 2007, and the Chicago Flute Club’s biennial international flute competition is named in his honor.

Near the end of his tenure as principal flute, Peck spoke again with von Rhein for the Chicago Tribune. “The flute has the potential for more color and brilliance [and] the woodwind section can be most exquisite, like glittering jewels. . . . I have been a very lucky person, having performed with wonderful musicians and done so much. What more could I want?”

Happy, happy birthday!

Emanuel Ax in 1980 (Nick Sangiamo photo)

Wishing a very happy seventieth birthday to the remarkable American pianist Emanuel Ax! A longtime Chicago favorite—in recital, as a chamber musician, and as soloist with orchestra—he has appeared in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival on near-countless occasions.

Following first place triumphs at the Michaels Award of Young Concert Artists and the Artur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, Ax made his local debut at Ravinia on July 23, 1975, substituting for an indisposed Alexis Weissenberg. Performing an all-Chopin program, “the young Polish-American master took the evening by storm,” according to Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “Still in his middle twenties . . . there is nothing of the poseur in him, no excess mannerism, no youthful sentimentality, no histrionic display. He walks onstage, settles solidly onto the bench, shakes a hand to limber up, and begins to play. At that moment, or within a few seconds, a transformation of near miraculous proportions takes place. . . . This is quite possibly the outstanding poet-performer of his generation.”

Ax made two debuts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra the following year in 1976, on May 20 and 21 in Orchestra Hall, performing Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto under the baton of Henry Mazer, and on July 29 at the Ravinia Festival, as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20 with Andrew Davis on the podium. According to Alan Artner in the Chicago Tribune, media reports following Ax’s competition wins had compared the young pianist to Vladimir Horowitz and Sviatoslav Richter. “But to have actually heard him in Liszt’s Second Concerto was to discover that Ax in n a class virtually by himself. . . . His performance was intelligent, wholly refreshing . . .”

Emanuel Ax in 2016 (Lisa Marie Mazzucco photo)

Since then, Ax has been one of the most frequent guest artists in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as with visiting orchestras, and as a chamber musician and recitalist with an astounding array of collaborators. He has worked with conductors David Afkham, Daniel Barenboim, James Conlon, James DePreist, Sir Mark Elder, Christoph Eschenbach, Lawrence Foster, Bernard Haitink, Daniel Harding, Mariss Jansons, Bernhard Klee, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Itzhak Perlman, David Robertson, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Leonard Slatkin, Sir Georg Solti, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Christoph von Dohnányi. Ax also has collaborated with Yefim Bronfman, Robert Chen, Evelyn Glennie,
Benjamin Hochman, Aleksey Igudesman, Richard Hyung-ki Joo, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma, Anthony McGill, Orli Shaham, Raimi Solomonow, Isaac Stern, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Orion Weiss. With visiting orchestras, he also has performed in Orchestra Hall with the Cleveland Orchestra, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Juilliard Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

Ax returns to the Ravinia Festival this summer, as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on August 2, 2019, in Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto with Rafael Payare on the podium. He will be back in Orchestra Hall next season on March 2, 2020, for an all-Beethoven chamber music concert, collaborating with violinist Leonidas Kavakos and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Happy, happy birthday!

Civic Music Student Orchestra, onstage at Orchestra Hall in March 1920 (William T. Barnum photo)

We recently received an extraordinary donation to our collections: a mounted photograph—in remarkable condition—of the Civic Music Student Orchestra onstage in Orchestra Hall from March 1920. This image appeared in the Civic’s first program book (see here), and previously, the only copies in our collections were quite grainy and not the best quality.

In this newly acquired image, clearly visible—downstage, front and center—is the Civic’s founding leadership: (standing) Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Frederick Stock and (seated, left to right) assistant conductors Eric DeLamarter (the CSO’s assistant and associate conductor from 1918 until 1936) and George Dasch (a member of the CSO’s violin and viola sections from 1898 until 1923).

Mildred Brown in the early 1920s (Image courtesy of the Archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis, Rochester, Minnesota)

Also clearly visible in the assistant concertmaster chair is Mildred Brown, the previous owner of this artifact. The photograph came to us from the archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester, Minnesota, where Brown—later Sister M. Ancille—lived from 1924 until her death in 1963. The handwriting at the bottom of the image reads, “Mildred Brown (Sr. Ancille), Assistant concert mistress, Front & center,” and an arrow points to her.

Born in Chicago on March 23, 1894, Brown earned a master’s degree in violin at the Chicago Musical College in 1915, where she studied with Alexander Sebald, and Leon Sametini, along with Chicago Symphony Orchestra assistant concertmaster Hugo Kortschak. She also attended the Juilliard School where she was a student of Franz Kneisel.

February 8, 1923

Brown was a member of the Civic Orchestra for its first season in 1919-20, one of fourteen women on the ensemble’s roster. At Stock’s invitation, she returned to the Civic in 1922-23, this time as concertmaster—the first woman to hold that position in the ensemble. During that season, Stock also invited her to be a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a Popular concert on February 8, 1923. Brown performed Wieniawski’s Fantaisie brillante (based on themes from Gounod’s Faust).

After her first year in the Civic Orchestra, Brown embarked on a solo career and enjoyed considerable success. A press brochure itemized generous critical praise:

  • “Miss Brown has traveled far upon the road to success [performing] with so much brilliance, so much technical clarity with tone so pure and round. Hers is an admirable gift” (Felix Borowski, Chicago Record Herald).
  • “A young violinist of high attainments, both in the technical and interpretative sense (Eric DeLamarter, Chicago Tribune).
  • “She dashed into the finale with brilliance and carried it off with joyous abandon. Miss Brown has the right stuff in her and made such a ‘hit’ with the audience that she had to give an encore (Karleton Hackett, Chicago Evening Post)

    Sister M. Ancille in the early 1960s (Image courtesy of the Archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis, Rochester, Minnesota)

  • “Mildred Brown possesses all the attributes of the finished artist [with] rich tone and brilliant technique. . . . The difficult harmonic passages were played with security and in a flawless fashion” (Milwaukee Free Press).

While on tour in 1923, she performed a concert at the College of Saint Teresa in Winona, Minnesota and served as an instructor for its summer session. In January 1924, she joined the Sisters of Saint Francis. As a postulant, she directed the Teresan Orchestra and gave frequent concerts, and later—as Sister M. Ancille—she served on the faculties of the School of Musical Art and Lourdes High School (both in Rochester) and the College of Saint Teresa. She completed a second master’s degree in music from the University of Michigan in 1941 (likely attending for several summers, as it was common for Sisters teaching at the high school and college levels to continue work on advanced degrees by taking summer classes).

Sister Ancille died unexpectedly on November 19, 1963, at the age of sixty-nine. An obituary published in The Campanile (the college’s newspaper), she was remembered for “her performances as presentations of impeccable technique, finesse of style, and the artistry of a great musician, [always] striving for perfection. Sister Ancille had a reserve and repose that persons of all ages admired and respected. Her complete composure and graciousness exemplified the fullness of her life as a Franciscan. It seems, to us, very fitting that God called her home on the feast of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, the patron of all Third Order Franciscans.”

Mildred Brown in the second chair of the Civic Orchestra’s first violin section in 1920

Special thanks to the Archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Rochester, Minnesota, and congregational archivist Sister Marisa McDonald, OSF

Ruggiero Ricci in Prague in 1958 (CTK/Alamy photo)

On July 24, 2018, we celebrate the centennial of the birth of the remarkable American violinist Ruggiero Ricci (1918-2012), a frequent soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

A student of Louis Persinger, Ricci played his first solo recital at Carnegie Hall at the age of eleven and was a noted interpreter of Paganini. A celebrated teacher himself, Ricci also taught at the universities of Michigan and Indiana, the Juilliard School, and Salzburg Mozarteum.

Between 1951 and 1972, Ricci appeared with the Orchestra on numerous occasions in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and in Milwaukee, and a complete list of his appearances is below (all concerts in Orchestra Hall unless otherwise noted):

November 8 and 9, 1951
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218
Rafael Kubelík, conductor

August 5, 1954, Ravinia Festival
PAGANINI Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 6
Georg Solti, conductor

August 7, 1954, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Concerto for Vioin and Cello in A Minor, Op. 102 (Double)
Paul Tortelier, cello
Georg Solti, conductor

July 5, 1962, Ravinia Festival
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, Op. 47
STRAVINSKY Violin Concerto in D
Walter Hendl, conductor

Ruggiero Ricci in 1965 (Getty Images)

December 19 and 20, 1963
GINASTERA Violin Concerto, Op. 30
Walter Hendl, conductor

December 21, 1963
PAGANINI Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 6
Walter Hendl, conductor

June 30, 1964, Ravinia Festival
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
Seiji Ozawa, conductor

July 2, 1964, Ravinia Festival
LALO Symphonie espagnole in D Minor, Op. 21
André Previn, conductor

February 27, 1971
GLAZUNOV Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 82
WIENIAWSKI Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22
Irwin Hoffman, conductor

January 6 and 7, 1972
January 10, 1972 (Pabst Theater, Milwaukee)
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63
John Pritchard, conductor

On July 18, 2018, Riccardo Muti led the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini in a concert at the Ravenna Festival, in tribute to Ricci’s centennial. The program included Rossini’s Overture to Il viaggio a Reims, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and Paganini’s Violin Concerto no. 4 in D minor, featuring Wilfried Hedenborg—a violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic for almost three decades and a student of Ricci’s at the Mozarteum in Salzburg in 1989—as soloist.

 

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Theodore Thomas

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