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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!

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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.

 

Irwin Hoffman

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the death of Irwin Hoffman, a titled conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1964 until 1970. Hoffman died yesterday at the age of 93.

On August 13, 1964, Merrill Shepard, then-president of The Orchestral Association, announced that Hoffman had been engaged as the CSO’s new assistant conductor, beginning with the 1964-65 season. Hoffman was to serve the Orchestra and assist music director Jean Martinon in a variety of capacities, including conducting rehearsals and concerts (including youth concerts), leading the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, as well as new score review.

Hoffman’s debut program with the Orchestra was as follows:

December 17 & 18, 1964
VILLA-LOBOS Uirapurú
BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 1
Victor Aitay, violin
MAHLER Symphony No. 1 in D Major

Program book announcement from January 1968

Program book announcement from January 1968

Martinon promoted Hoffman to associate conductor the following year. He would serve in that capacity for three seasons, and in January 1968, Association president Louis Sudler announced that Hoffman would be acting music director for the 1968-69 season. (On December 17, 1968, the Association announced that Georg Solti would become the Orchestra’s eighth music director, beginning with the 1969-70 season.)

For the 1969-70 season, Hoffman’s title was conductor and he led several weeks of subscription and popular concerts. In subsequent seasons, he returned as a guest conductor and most recently led the Orchestra in January 1977 with the following program:

January 12, 13, 14 & 15, 1977
January 17, 1977 (Uihlein Hall, Milwaukee)
KAY Of New Horizons
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
Esther Glazer, violin
PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100

Irwin Hoffman with score

Hoffman made his conducting debut at the age of seventeen with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Robin Hood Dell. He also studied at the Juilliard School and later with Serge Koussevitzky at the Tanglewood Music Festival. Hoffman has held titled positions with several orchestras, including the Grant Park Music Festival; Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; Martha Graham Dance Company; Florida Gulf Coast Symphony, later the Florida Orchestra; Bogotá Philharmonic in Colombia; Costa Rican National Symphony Orchestra; and the Santiago Philharmonic Orchestra in Chile.

Kurt Loft of the Florida Orchestra has posted a beautiful tribute here.

Irwin Hoffman

On November 26, 2014, we celebrate the ninetieth birthday of Irwin Hoffman, a titled conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1964 until 1970.

On August 13, 1964, Merrill Shepard, then-president of The Orchestral Association, announced that Hoffman had been engaged as the CSO’s new assistant conductor, beginning with the 1964-65 season. Hoffman was to serve the Orchestra and assist music director Jean Martinon in a variety of capacities, including conducting rehearsals and concerts (including youth concerts), leading the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, as well as new score review.

Hoffman’s debut program with the Orchestra was as follows:

December 17 & 18, 1964
VILLA-LOBOS Uirapurú
BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 1
Victor Aitay, violin
MAHLER Symphony No. 1 in D Major

Program book announcement from January 1968

Program book announcement from January 1968

Martinon promoted Hoffman to associate conductor the following year. He would serve in that capacity for three seasons, and in January 1968, Association president Louis Sudler announced that Hoffman would be acting music director for the 1968-69 season. (On December 17, 1968, the Association announced that Georg Solti would become the Orchestra’s eighth music director, beginning with the 1969-70 season.)

For the 1969-70 season, Hoffman’s title was conductor and he led several weeks of subscription and popular concerts. In subsequent seasons, he returned as a guest conductor and most recently led the Orchestra in January 1977 with the following program:

January 12, 13, 14 & 15, 1977
January 17, 1977 (Uihlein Hall, Milwaukee)
KAY Of New Horizons
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
Esther Glazer, violin
PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100

Irwin Hoffman with score

Hoffman made his conducting debut at the age of seventeen with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Robin Hood Dell. He also studied at the Juilliard School and later with Serge Koussevitzky at the Tanglewood Music Festival. Hoffman has held titled positions with several orchestras, including the Grant Park Music Festival; Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; Martha Graham Dance Company; Florida Gulf Coast Symphony, later the Florida Orchestra; Bogotá Philharmonic in Colombia; Costa Rican National Symphony Orchestra; and the Santiago Philharmonic Orchestra in Chile.

Happy birthday, maestro!

Ray Still - 1950s

Orchestral and chamber musician, soloist with countless ensembles, and lifelong teacher and coach Ray Still—a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s oboe section for forty years, serving as principal for thirty-nine years—died peacefully on March 12, 2014, surrounded by family in Woodstock, Vermont. He was 94.

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 is 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 his wife of almost 72 years, Mary Brock Still, and his son James Still.

Services will be private and details for a memorial in Chicago are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Institute for Learning, Access, and Training at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

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.”

More information can be found at www.raystill.com.

Gina DiBello

Gina DiBello

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra recently announced Riccardo Muti‘s appointment of Gina DiBello to the Orchestra’s first violin section. She previously had served as principal second violin of the Minnesota Orchestra and as section first violin with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, following studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music and The Juilliard School in New York.

Joseph DiBello (© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2010)

Joseph DiBello (©Todd Rosenberg Photography)

Gina is a Chicago native and has a deep connection to the Orchestra, as she also is the daughter of CSO bass Joseph DiBello (and Lyric Opera of Chicago violin Bonita DiBello), marking only the second father-daughter combination in our history.

Joseph originally studied the bass but initially pursued a career as a pharmacist. He later resumed his musical studies and from 1969 until 1973, he served as principal bass of Philadelphia Lyric Opera and the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. In 1973, he was appointed to the bass section of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and in 1976 Sir Georg Solti invited him to join the bass section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Lynne Turner (©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2010)

Lynne Turner (©Todd Rosenberg Photography)

Lynne Turner—currently in her fifty-first season as second harp—also is a CSO legacy, as she is the daughter of former CSO violin Sol Turner (1905–1979). At the age of twenty-one, Lynne was appointed in 1962 by then-music director Fritz Reiner, following her studies with Alberto Salvi in Chicago and with Pierre Jamet at the Paris Conservatory.

Sol Turner

Sol Turner

Sol Turner, a native of Russia, began his career as a violinist with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago from 1927 until 1931 (serving as concertmaster in 1928 and 1929), followed by twelve years in the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Désiré Defauw appointed him to the CSO’s first violin section in 1943 and he served until 1949, when he left to perform with Chicago’s NBC studio orchestra. Sol returned to the CSO in 1963 and was rostered until his death in 1979.

Joseph Vito

Joseph Vito

But we also have to mention the father-daughter combination of Joseph Vito (1887–1970) and Geraldine Vito Weicher (1915–2006). Joseph served as principal harp from 1927 until 1957, and Geraldine was second harp from 1940 until 1957. However, during that time the position of second harp was hired only on an as-needed basis and was not a fully rostered position until the beginning of the 1957-58 season.

Joseph began his career as a harpist at the age of nine, and at twenty, debuted with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Emil Paur. He regularly performed with both the San Francisco and Cincinnati symphony orchestras before Frederick Stock hired him as principal harp for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1927.

Geraldine Vito Weicher

Geraldine Vito Weicher

Geraldine studied with her father, and she was a member of the Civic Orchestra from 1935 until 1938. She was also married to John Weicher (1904–1969), who spent forty-six years with the Orchestra from 1923 until 1969, serving as concertmaster, assistant concertmaster, principal second violin, personnel manager, and conductor of the Civic Orchestra.

Fathers and sons? Sisters? Brothers? Stay tuned . . .

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