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Under the leadership of chorus directors Margaret Hillis and Duain Wolfe, the Chicago Symphony Chorus has won ten Grammy awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in the category of Best Choral Performance.*

Recordings have been led by music directors Sir Georg Solti and Riccardo Muti, principal guest conductor Pierre Boulez, and Ravinia Festival music director James Levine on RCA, London, Deutsche Grammophon, and CSO Resound.

1977 – Best Choral Performance–Classical
VERDI Requiem
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Medinah Temple on June 1 and 2, 1977, for RCA
Thomas Z. Shepard, producer
Paul Goodman, recording engineer

1978 – Best Choral Performance–Classical
BEETHOVEN Missa solemnis in D Major, Op. 123
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Victor Aitay, violin
Lucia Popp, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Mallory Walker, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Medinah Temple on May 16, 17, and 18, 1977, for London
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson, John Dunkerley, and Michael Mailes, balance engineers

1979 – Best Choral Performance–Classical
BRAHMS A German Requiem, Op. 45
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano
Bernd Weikl, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Medinah Temple on May 15 and 16, 1978, for London
James Mallinson, recording producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and Colin Moorfoot, balance engineers

1982 – Best Choral Performance–Classical
BERLIOZ The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano
Kenneth Riegel, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Malcolm King, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Medinah Temple on May 4, 5, 6, and 7, 1981, for London
James Mallinson, recording producer
James Lock and Simon Eadon, balance engineers

1983 – Best Choral Performance
HAYDN The Creation
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Sylvia Greenberg, soprano
Norma Burrowes, soprano
Rudiger Wohlers, tenor
James Morris, bass-baritone
Siegmund Nimsgern, bass
David Schrader, harpsichord
Frank Miller, cello
Joseph Guastafeste, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on November 9, 10, and 11, 1981, for London
Paul Myers, recording producer
James Lock and John Dunkerley, balance engineers

1984 – Best Choral Performance
BRAHMS A German Requiem, Op. 45
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Håkan Hagegård, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on July 5 and 6, 1983, for RCA
Thomas Z. Shepard, producer
Paul Goodman, recording engineer
John Newton and Thomas MacCluskey, engineers

1986 – Best Choral Performance
ORFF Carmina burana
James Levine, conductor
June Anderson, soprano
Philip Creech, tenor
Bernd Weikl, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on July 9 and 10, 1984, for Deutsche Grammophon
Steven Paul, producer
Cord Garben, recording supervisor
Klaus Scheibe, recording engineer
Jürgen Bulgrin, editing

1991 – Best Performance of a Choral Work
BACH Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Felicity Lott, soprano
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
Hans Peter Blochwitz, tenor
William Shimmell, baritone
Gwynne Howell, bass
Richard Webster, organ
John Sharp, cello
Willard Elliot, bassoon
Joseph Guastafeste, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on January 25, 26, and 28, 1990, for London
Michael Haas, recording producer
Stanley Goodall and Simon Eadon, balance engineers

1993 – Best Performance of a Choral Work
BARTÓK Cantata profana
Pierre Boulez, conductor
John Aler, tenor
John Tomlinson, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on December 16, 1991, for Deutsche Grammophon
Alison Ames, executive producer
Karl-August Naegler, recording producer
Rainer Maillard, balance engineer
Oliver Rosalla, editing

2010 – Best Choral Performance
VERDI Messa da Requiem
Riccardo Muti, conductor
Barbara Frittoli, soprano
Olga Borodina, mezzo-soprano
Mario Zeffiri, tenor
Ildar Abdrazakov, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on January 15, 16, and 17, 2009, for CSO Resound
Christopher Alder, producer
Christopher Willis, recording engineer
David Frost and Tom Lazarus, mixing
Silas Brown and David Frost, stereo mastering

*The name of the category has changed slightly over the years; see here for details.


Title page for the first printed edition of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra

Guest conductor George Szell led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra on December 2 and 3, 1948, almost exactly four years following the work’s premiere on December 1, 1944, with Serge Koussevitzky leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In the Chicago Daily News, Clarence Joseph Bulliet called the work, “violent and awesome in its contrasts, sometimes as stormy as the most sensational of modern music. Then it calmed down to rival in delicacy the classicism of Haydn and Beethoven between which it was programmed at Orchestra Hall Thursday night.” (Haydn’s Oxford Symphony opened the concert, followed by the Bartók and Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto, that featured the debut of Seymour Lipkin.) Felix Borowski, writing for the Chicago Sun, added, that Bartók’s Concerto was, “of more than ordinary worth . . . Modern, indeed it is, but there are ideas—often very beautiful ideas—in the course of it. The orchestration is rich and colorful, frequently with new and beguiling textures.”

Early in his tenure as sixth music director, Fritz Reiner first led the Orchestra in his friend and countryman’s work on October 13 and 15, 1955. “This wonderful score, a network of nerves spun and controlled by the most brilliant of nervous energies, was played as only great orchestras can play,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “It is a superb work and a Reiner triumph.”

The following week, Reiner and the Orchestra committed their performance to disc on October 22; for RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton the recording engineer. In February 2016, Gramophone listed this release as one of the “finest recordings of Bartók’s music,” noting the “sheer fervour of Reiner’s direction . . . taut and agile . . . [his] precision and control is immediately apparent.”

The Orchestra has since recorded the work on five additional occasions, as follows:

During his year as principal conductor of the Ravinia Festival, Seiji Ozawa recorded the work in Orchestra Hall on June 30 and July 1, 1969, for AngelPeter Andry was the executive producer, Richard C. Jones the producer, and Carson Taylor was the recording engineer. Eighth music director Sir Georg Solti conducted the Concerto for London on January 19 and 20, 1981, in Orchestra Hall. James Mallinson was the producer and James Lock the balance engineer.

James Levine, Ravinia’s second music director, led sessions in Orchestra Hall on June 28, 1989, for Deutsche Grammophon. Steven Paul was executive producer, Christopher Alder the recording producer, and Gregor Zielinsky was balance engineer. During the 1990 tour to the Soviet Union, Hungary, and Austria, Solti conducted the Orchestra in an all-Bartók program, video recorded at the Budapest Convention Centre on November 28, 1990, for London. Humphrey Burton directed the production, and Katya Krausova was producer, Eric Abraham the executive producer, and Michael Haas the audio producer.

Most recently, Pierre Boulez recorded the work in Orchestra Hall on November 30, 1992, for Deutsche Grammophon. Roger Wright was the executive producer, Karl-August Naegler the recording producer, Rainer Maillard the balance engineer, and Jobst Eberhardt and Reinhild Schmidt were recording engineers. The release won 1994 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Orchestral Performance.

Guest conductor Rafael Payare makes his subscription concert debut leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra on January 18 and 20, 2018.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has recorded each of Brahms’s four symphonies multiple times and also has recorded the complete cycle on three different occasions. A complete listing is below.

During his tenure as Ravinia Festival music director, James Levine recorded the symphonies with the Orchestra for RCA at Medinah Temple. The recordings were produced by Thomas Z. Shepard and Paul Goodman was the recording engineer. Jay David Saks also co-produced the First Symphony, which was recorded in July 1975. The remaining three were recorded in July 1976.

Eighth music director Sir Georg Solti also led the Orchestra in sessions at Medinah Temple. For London, the four symphonies (along with the Academic Festival and Tragic overtures) were produced by James Mallinson; Kenneth Wilkinson, Colin Moorfoot, and Michael Mailes were the engineers. The Third and Fourth symphonies were recorded in May 1978, and the First and Second were recorded in January 1979. The set won 1979 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Classical Orchestral Recording from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Daniel Barenboim, the Orchestra’s ninth music director, recorded the four symphonies (along with the Academic Festival and Tragic overtures and the Variations on a Theme by Haydn) live at Orchestra Hall for Erato. Vic Muenzer was producer, Lawrence Rock was the sound engineer, assisted by Christopher Willis; and Konrad Strauss was the mastering engineer. All four symphonies were recorded live in 1993: the First and Third in May, the Fourth in September, and the Second in October.

Recordings of the individual symphonies by other conductors are listed below.

Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68

Rafael Kubelík, conductor
Recorded by Mercury in Orchestra Hall in April 1952
David Hall, recording director
C. Robert Fine and George Piros engineers

Günter Wand, conductor
Recorded live for RCA in Orchestra Hall in January 1989
Norman Pellegrini and David Frost, producers
Mitchell Heller, recording engineer
John Purcell, post-production engineer

Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90

Frederick Stock, conductor
Recorded by Columbia in New York’s Liederkranz Hall in November 1940

Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall in December 1957
Richard Mohr, producer

Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Recorded by Angel in Medinah Temple in October 1969
Peter Andry, producer
Carson Taylor, balance engineer

Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform Brahms’s four symphonies at Orchestra Hall in May. Details here and here.



Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s first music director, died on January 4, 1905. For many years after, the Orchestra would dedicate the first concerts of the new year to his memory, frequently performing works closely associated with their founder. We continue that tradition on this week’s radio broadcast, as Frank Villella, director of the CSO’s Rosenthal Archives, co-hosts a retrospective of works that Thomas introduced to audiences in the United States, both with the Chicago Orchestra and other ensembles.


BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Recorded by Erato in Orchestra Hall, September 1993

In 1879, the University of Breslau in Poland bestowed upon Johannes Brahms an honorary doctorate, and to show his appreciation, he composed the Academic Festival Overture the following summer. The composer himself led the first public performance at the university in January 1881, and later that year on November 29, Thomas led the U.S. premiere in New York.

Daniel Barenboim, early in his tenure as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ninth music director, recorded Brahms’s complete symphonies, along with the Tragic Overture, Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and the Academic Festival Overture, all for Erato Records.


WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
Artur Rodzinski, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, December 1947

In the nineteenth century, Thomas was Richard Wagner’s greatest advocate in the United States, both before and after he founded the Chicago Orchestra. During his fourteen seasons as music director, he programmed Wagner’s music on nearly half of his concerts, both in Chicago and with the Orchestra on tour. Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of the Prelude from Tristan and Isolde in New York on February 10, 1866, less than a year after the opera’s first complete performances in Munich; and he also gave the first U.S. performance of the Prelude paired with the Liebestod in Boston on December 6, 1871. Thomas programmed these two works together fifteen times on subscription concerts during his tenure as music director.

Artur Rodzinski was the Orchestra’s fourth music director for only one season (1947–48). One of his great successes was a concert performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in November 1947, featuring soprano Kirsten Flagstad in her first operatic appearance in the United States since the end of World War II. The legendary Chicago Tribune critic Claudia Cassidy called the performance “the dawn of a new operatic day in Chicago.” A month later, Rodzinski and the Orchestra recorded the Prelude and Liebestod for RCA.


ELGAR Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 (Enigma)
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Recorded by London in Medinah Temple, May 1974

Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations with the Chicago Orchestra on January 3, 1902, and it was such a crowd-pleaser that he programmed it a second time later that season. A few years later in April 1907, second music director Frederick Stock invited the composer himself to lead several of his works, including In the South, the first Pomp and Circumstance March, and the Enigma Variations. The Chicago Tribune reported that, “The men of the Orchestra gave him their closest attention and heartiest sympathy yesterday, and the result was a performance of the three compositions which was technically and tonally of highest worth. Sir Edward himself seemed genuinely pleased and his assertion after the concert that the ‘work of the Orchestra surpassed all his fondest expectations’ evidently was the expression of his true feeling.”

Sir Georg Solti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director, recorded the Enigma Variations on May 15, 1974, at Medinah Temple for London Records.

STRAUSS Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, March 1954

During the summer of 1883, Thomas visited Europe and according to his Memoirs—edited by his widow, Rose Fay Thomas—the conductor, “had met, in Munich, a young and almost unknown composer, one Richard Strauss, who has recently finished writing a symphony. Thomas secured the first movement of the work, and was so much impressed with it that he requested young Strauss to let him have the other movements, promising to bring out the whole work in a concert of the Philharmonic Society.” Thomas kept that promise and in New York in December 1884, he led the world premiere of the Second Symphony in F minor—the first music of Richard Strauss to be performed in the United States. Strauss would later send new scores, and Thomas introduced several works to the United States with the Orchestra, including Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote, along with Ein Heldenleben, first performed in Chicago on March 9, 1900.

Near the end of his first season as sixth music director, Fritz Reiner made his first recordings with the Orchestra for RCA. In Orchestra Hall on March 6, 1954, they recorded Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Ein Heldenleben, with violin solos performed by then-concertmaster John Weicher. Reiner’s CSO recordings of music by Strauss have never been out of print, and in 2013, Sony re-issued Reiner’s complete CSO catalog on RCA, a boxed set of sixty-three CDs.


TCHAIKOVSKY Final Waltz and Apotheosis from The Nutcracker, Op. 71
Morton Gould, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, January 1966

Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of a suite from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker on October 22, 1892, on the first concert of the Orchestra’s second season. The program note described Tchaikovsky as the “composer, who, in his fifth symphony, has led us into the highest realms of art and stirred our very soul,” and the note described the selections from the ballet as “miniature pictures painted with infinite grace and care,” showing the composer, “in one of his playful and trifling moods.”

Morton Gould, a frequent guest conductor on Popular concerts in the 1960s, recorded selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker at Orchestra Hall on January 31, 1966, for RCA. A six-disc set of Gould’s complete recordings with the Orchestra was released by Sony in February 2016.

In May 2016, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra celebrated 100 years of recording.




Sir Georg Solti and soloists (standing) Herbert Lippert, Karita Mattila, Ben Heppner, and Alan Opie; (seated) José van Dam, Iris Vermillion, and René Pape (Jim Steere photo)

Sir Georg Solti and soloists (standing) Herbert Lippert, Karita Mattila, Ben Heppner, and Alan Opie; (seated) José van Dam, Iris Vermillion, and René Pape (Jim Steere photo)

In September 1995, Sir Georg Solti led three concert performances of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Orchestra Hall. The performances were split: the first two acts on one concert and the third act on a separate concert over the course of two open dress rehearsals and four concerts. Principal soloists included Karita Mattila, Iris Vermillion, Ben Heppner, Herbert Lippert, José van Dam, Alan Opie, and René Pape, along with the Chicago Symphony Chorus prepared by Duain Wolfe.

“Last weekend you could call the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, without fear of contradiction, the best and most prestigious Wagnerian pit band in the world of opera,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “Even as Solti blockbusters go, [these concerts] were an extraordinary experience—painstakingly prepared and powerfully executed. . . . It would be no exaggeration to call this a milestone in Solti’s Wagnerian career to rank with his historic recording of the Ring.”

WAGNER Die Meistersinger

The subsequent London Records release won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. The award marked Solti’s thirty-first Grammy, more than any other recording artist in any genre. He received seven awards in addition to his twenty-four awards with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Solti and producer John Culshaw also received the first NARAS Trustees’ Award in 1967 for their “efforts, ingenuity, and artistic contributions” in connection with the first complete recording of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen with the Vienna Philharmonic. Solti also received the Academy’s 1995 Lifetime Achievement Award.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.




Pierre Boulez leads the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists at the Berlin Philharmonie on April 1, 1999

Pierre Boulez leads the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists at the Berlin Philharmonie on April 1, 1999

At the Berlin Philharmonie on April 1, 1999—following two performances at Orchestra Hall on March 24 and 26—Pierre Boulez led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron. “The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the equally formidable Chicago Symphony Chorus (appearing for the first time in Germany), Chris Merritt and David Pittmann-Jennings [in the title roles], chorus director Duain Wolfe, and, on top of it, a relaxed yet excited Pierre Boulez . . . led the ensemble effortlessly through the work,” praised Manuel Brug in Die Welt. The Orchestra “played the sometimes harsh notes without any brash force in beauty, glimmer, and warmth as if it were a score by Strauss. . . . The difficulty was handled like a walk in the park, especially with the almost perfect pronunciation of the Chorus, with magnificent presence.”

“The concert of the century!” proclaimed Klaus Geitel in the Berliner Morgenpost. “Under the truly magnificent leadership of Pierre Boulez, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its affiliated phenomenal chorus performed Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron: the ‘old testament’ of new music. . . . One should not expect to hear Schoenberg’s most demanding piece in comparable perfection ever again.”

Moses und Aron

The Orchestra and Chorus, under the direction of Sir Georg Solti, had performed Schoenberg’s opera twice previously at Orchestra Hall: on November 11, 12, and 13, 1971 (also with a run-out to Carnegie Hall on November 20), and again on April 19 and 21, 1984. Later that month, the opera was recorded at Orchestra Hall for London Records.

In Gramophone, Arnold Whittall observed that Solti’s “faith in Schoenberg’s most ambitious dramatic project remains undimmed and he believes that, with increasing familiarity, the music becomes ‘clearer, less complicated, and more expressive and romantic’ . . . [explaining the] abiding fascination of Schoenberg’s last attempt to bring a great philosophical issue to dramatic life.” The recording won the 1985 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.




Cover of the program book for the April 8 and 12, 1991, performances of Verdi's Otello at Orchestra Hall

Cover of the program book for the April 8 and 12, 1991, performances at Orchestra Hall

To conclude his twenty-two seasons as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director in 1991, Sir Georg Solti led concert performances of Verdi’s Otello at Orchestra Hall on April 8 and 12 and at Carnegie Hall on April 16 and 19. Principal soloists included soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa as Desdemona, tenor Luciano Pavarotti as Otello, and baritone Leo Nucci as Iago. All four performances were recorded live by London Records.

After the first performance in Orchestra Hall, John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune reported that “Solti had his Chicago Symphony playing this formidably difficult score as if it were a seasoned opera orchestra; every opera house should have such a band of virtuosi in residence. No minor contributions to the evening were made by the Chicago Symphony Chorus, superbly prepared by the redoubtable Margaret Hillis [along with guest chorus director Terry Edwards], and augmented by the Chicago Children’s Choir.”

Kiri Te Kanawa and Luciano Pavarotti onstage at Orchestra Hall

Kiri Te Kanawa and Luciano Pavarotti onstage at Orchestra Hall, April 8, 1991 (Jim Steere photo)

Donal Henahan, following the first Carnegie Hall concert, in The New York Times praised “The Chicago, never in our time less than a great orchestra, provided many thrills. In the stupendous opening scene, it and Margaret Hillis’s chorus unleashed every erg of sonic energy the hall could tolerate, vividly establishing the mood for violent events to come.” In London’s Financial Times, Andrew Porter noted, “I’ve never heard Solti’s famous excitability so completely harnessed to a disciplined, long-lined, marvelously vivid, engrossing account of the whole score.”

At the conclusion of the April 19 concert—Solti’s last as music director—von Rhein reported, “A mighty shout of approval immediately went up from the house.” This continued for several minutes until Solti took “co-concertmaster Rubén González by the hand and [led] him off the stage—a sign for the rest of the Orchestra to follow. . . . He will, of course, return to Chicago in the fall, and for many years thereafter, as CSO music director laureate. But no Solti farewell will ever seem as emotionally momentous as this one.”

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.




In January 1986, Chicago Bears fever invaded Orchestra Hall.

DOWNS Bear Down, Chicago Bears

According to Norman Pellegrini (longtime WFMT program director as well as producer and host of CSO radio broadcasts): “At the end of a Tchaikovsky–Liszt orchestral concert with Sir Georg Solti conducting [on January 23] . . . applause kept the maestro returning to center stage. Suddenly, members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus—wearing Bears sweatshirts—streamed onstage, and Solti led the Orchestra and Chorus in a rousing rendition of the Bears’ fight song, “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” [written by Al Hoffman under the pseudonym Jerry Downs in 1941]. The audience joined in singing, and in the two repeats of the concert, the same thing happened with even more ‘performers’ onstage. Backstage people, Chicago Symphony Orchestra staff, and others—including Lady Valerie Solti—crowded in to sing along.”

On January 26, 1986, the Bears beat the New England Patriots Super Bowl XX, 46–10.

Solti and the Orchestra recorded the fight song—along with The Star-Spangled Banner (also with the Chorus) and John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever—for London Records on January 27. It was released a few months later on a tremendously popular album in conjunction with the annual Marathon fundraiser. A live version from January 23 also was released on Chicago Symphony Chorus: A Fortieth Anniversary Celebration in the spring of 1998, in conjunction with the annual Radiothon fundraiser.

This article previously appeared here and also appears here.


MENDELSSOHN Wedding MarchThe commercial recording legacy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—under second music director Frederick Stock—began on May 1, 1916. For the Columbia Graphophone Company (at an undocumented location in Chicago), they recorded Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre; and Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies, Heart Wounds and The Last Spring.

Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and Grieg’s The Last Spring were each on the first 80-rpm disc issued in October 1916, and a Columbia Records sales brochure raved, “The deepest glories vibrant in such a familiar composition as Mendelssohn’s Wedding March are unguessed until interpreted by such an orchestra as this. From the first trumpet fanfare to the great central crescendo is very joy and glory articulate! . . . There can be no pleasure beyond enjoying such music as the Chicago Symphony here brings to every music-loving home.”


To commemorate this legacy, this collage of record and CD labels is on display in the first floor of Symphony Center’s Rotunda through the end of the Orchestra’s current—the 125th—season. Details of all of the recordings included are below (all recordings were made at Orchestra Hall unless otherwise noted).

BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4-2Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 11, 1942, performing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with George Szell conducting. On July 22 and 24, Schnabel and the Orchestra recorded the Fourth along with Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto at Orchestra Hall for Victor Records. Frederick Stock conducted these, his last, recording sessions with the Orchestra; he died a few short months later on October 20.

PROKOFIEV Scythian Suite-2 WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod-2The Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave the U.S. premiere of Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite under the baton of the composer on December 6, 1918. On March 16, 1945, third music director Désiré Defauw recorded the work for RCA.

Fourth music director Artur Rodzinski led the Orchestra in a complete performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde—with Set Svanholm and Kirsten Flagstad in the title roles—at the Civic Opera House on November 16, 1947. A month later on December 14, he led the Orchestra in recording sessions for the Prelude and Liebestod at Orchestra Hall.

STRAUSS Ein HeldenlebenMUSSORGSKY Pictures at an ExhibitionFor Mercury Records, fifth music director Rafael Kubelík led the Orchestra’s first recording of Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on April 23 and 24, 1951. Principal trumpet Adolph Herseth performed the opening fanfare.

On March 6, 1954, sixth music director Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra recorded together for the first time: Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Ein Heldenleben for RCA. (Reiner’s complete CSO catalog recently was re-released by RCA.)

BARTOK Music for Strings, Percussion, and CelestaBRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 2At the third annual Grammy awards ceremony on April 12, 1961, the Orchestra’s recording of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta received the award for Best Classical Performance–Orchestra. Reiner had conducted the RCA release. That same evening, the Orchestra’s recording of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto—also on RCA and with Erich Leinsdorf conducting—earned the award for Best Classical Performance–Concerto or Instrumental Soloist for Sviatoslav Richter. These were the first two Grammy awards earned for recordings by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

SCHUMANN Piano ConcertoPROKOFIEV Alexander NevskyReiner led the Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by its founder Margaret Hillis), and mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias in Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky for RCA—the first recording collaboration with the Orchestra and the Chorus—on March 7, 1959, at Orchestra Hall.

Two years after winning the prestigious 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Van Cliburn made his first recording with the Orchestra on April 16, 1960: Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Reiner conducting for RCA. (A complete list of Cliburn’s appearances and recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra can be found here.)

MARTIN Concerto for Seven WindsOn March 19, 1966, seventh music director Jean Martinon led the Orchestra in recording sessions for Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra for RCA. Featured soloists were CSO principals Clark Brody (clarinet), Willard Elliot (bassoon), Donald Peck (flute), Dale Clevenger (horn, in his first week on the job), Ray Still (oboe), Adolph Herseth (trumpet), Donald Koss (timpani), and Jay Friedman (trombone). (Martinon’s complete CSO catalog recently was re-released by RCA.)

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 6-2NIELSEN Clarinet Concerto-2Benny Goodman recorded Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto with the Orchestra on June 18, 1966, for RCA. Morton Gould conducted. (Gould’s complete CSO catalog recently was re-released by RCA.)

At Medinah Temple on February 20 and 21, 1968, Leopold Stokowski and the Orchestra recorded Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 6  for RCA.

BERLIOZ Romeo and Juliet-2RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Sheherazade-2Carlo Maria Giulini—the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first principal guest conductor—recorded selections from Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet for Angel on October 13 and 14, 1969, at Medinah Temple.

The Orchestra made its second recording of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade on June 30 and July 1, 1969, at Medinah Temple for Angel. Seiji Ozawa, the Ravinia Festival’s first music director, conducted and concertmaster Victor Aitay was violin soloist.

DVORAK Cello Concerto-2MAHLER Symphony no. 5During eighth music director Georg Solti‘s first season as music director, the Orchestra performed Mahler’s Fifth Symphony at Carnegie Hall on January 9, 1970, and were called back for twelve curtain calls. Beginning on March 26 at Medinah Temple, Solti and the Orchestra committed their performance to disc—their first recording together—for London Records.

Daniel Barenboim, who would later become ninth music director, made his first recording with the Orchestra on November 11, 1970, at Medinah Temple. For Angel, he led sessions for Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with his wife Jacqueline du Pré as soloist. (A summary of du Pré’s association with the Orchestra is here.)

MAHLER Symphony No. 8-2Before the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed the first concert of its first tour to Europe in 1971, Solti led recording sessions for Mahler’s Eighth Symphony at the Sofiensaal in Vienna on August 30, 31, and September 1. Soloists included Heather HarperLucia Popp (more about Popp’s performances with the Orchestra is here), Arleen AugérYvonne MintonHelen WattsRené KolloJohn Shirley-Quirk, and Martti Talvela. The recording won three 1972 Grammy awards for Album of the Year–Classical, Best Choral Performance–Classical (other than opera) (for the Chorus of the Vienna State OperaSingverein Chorus, and Vienna Boys’ Choir), and Best Engineered Recording–Classical.

BEETHOVEN Fidelio BRUCKNER Symphony No. 6-2On December 13, 1977, Barenboim and the Orchestra recorded Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony for Deutsche Grammophon, part of a complete cycle of the composer’s symphonies that also included the Te Deum, Helgoland, and Psalm 150.

Following concerts in Orchestra Hall and Carnegie Hall, Solti led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (including Hildegard Behrens as Leonore and Peter Hofmann as Florestan) and in recording sessions for Beethoven’s Fidelio—”the first digitally recorded opera to be released,” according to Gramophone—at Medinah Temple on May 21, 22, 23, and 24, 1979.

ORFF Carmina Burana DOWNS Bear Down, Chicago BearsSecond music director of the Ravinia Festival, James Levine led the Orchestra, Chorus, Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus, and soloists (June Anderson, Phillip Creech, and Bernd Weikl) in sessions for Orff’s Carmina burana on July 9 and 10, 1984, for Deutsche Grammophon. The recording was awarded the 1986 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance (other than opera).

At the end of a subscription concert at Orchestra Hall on January 23, 1986, Solti led the Orchestra and Chorus in a spirited encore of  the Chicago Bears‘ fight song “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” in anticipation of the team’s Super Bowl victory. The day after the game, the work was recorded by London Records.

BRAHMS Double Concerto-2BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9-2Solti led recording sessions at Medinah Temple for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—the second time he and the Orchestra and Chorus had recorded the work—on September 28, 30, and October 7, 1986, for London. Soloists were Jessye Norman, Reinhild Runkel, Robert Schunk, and Hans Sotin. The release was awarded the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

Claudio Abbado, second principal guest conductor, led the Orchestra in Brahms’s Double Concerto with Isaac Stern and Yo-Yo Ma (future Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant) as soloists on November 7 and 8, 1986, for CBS Records.

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 7CORIGLIANO Symphony No. 1Closing the 97th season in June 1988, Leonard Bernstein led the Orchestra in performances of Shostakovich’s First and Seventh symphonies. Recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon, the release received the 1990 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

On March 15, 16, and 17, 1990, Barenboim led the world premiere performances of composer-in-residence John Corigliano’s Symphony no. 1, commissioned for the Orchestra. The live recording—Barenboim and the Orchestra’s first on the Erato label—was awarded two 1991 Grammy awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Contemporary Composition.

Fantasia 2000BARTOK The Wooden PrinceThe recording of Bartók’s The Wooden Prince and Cantata profana led by Pierre Boulez for Deutsche Grammophon—recorded on December 19, 20, and 21, 1991—was awarded four 1993 Grammy awards: Best Classical Album, Best Orchestral Performance, Best Performance of a Choral Work, and Best Engineered Recording–Classical. (A complete list of Boulez’s recordings with the Orchestra is here and his complete Grammy awards are here.)

Between 1993 and 1996, Levine led the Orchestra and Chorus in recording sessions at Medinah Temple for Disney‘s feature film Fantasia 2000. The movie was released on January 1, 2000.

VARESE Amerique etcFALLA Gardens of SpainShortly after being named the Orchestra’s third principal guest conductor, Boulez led sessions for Varèse’s Amériques, Arcana, Déserts, and Ionisation in December 1995 and 1996. The Deutsche Grammophon release was awarded the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

In May 1997 at Medinah Temple, the Orchestra recorded Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and The Three-Cornered Hat for Teldec. For Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Barenboim was piano soloist and Plácido Domingo conducted; for The Three-Cornered Hat, Jennifer Larmore was mezzo-soprano soloist and Barenboim conducted.

MAHLER Symphony no. 3BRAHMS Violin ConcertoA former Youth Auditions winner and member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Rachel Barton recorded Brahms’s and Joachim’s violin concertos for Cedille Records on July 2 and 3, 2002. Carlos Kalmar conducted.

In his first concerts as principal conductor on October 19, 20, and 21, 2006, Bernard Haitink led the Orchestra, women of the Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe), the Chicago Children’s Choir, and mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung in Mahler’s Third Symphony. The work is recorded as the inaugural release on CSO Resound.

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 4CSOR_SP_booklet_rainbow_nobox.inddIn May 2008, Haitink and the Orchestra recorded Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony for CSO Resound. The release was awarded the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

Boulez led the Orchestra in Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, Symphony in Three Movements, and Four Studies in February and March 2009 for CSO Resound. Soloists in the Pulcinella were Roxana Constantinescu, Nicholas Phan, and Kyle Ketelsen.

BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastiqueVR_booklet_CSOR_901_1008.inddOn January 15, 16, and 17, 2009, Riccardo Muti—in his first concerts as music director designate—led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (Barbara FrittoliOlga Borodina, Mario Zeffiri, and Ildar Abdrazakov) in Verdi’s Requiem. The subsequent CSO Resound recording was awarded 2010 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance.

Following his first concert as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s tenth music director (for more than 25,000 people in Millennium Park) in September 2010, Muti led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (Gérard Depardieu, Mario Zeffiri, and Kyle Ketelsen) in Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Lélio. The two-disc set was released on CSO Resound in September 2015.

VERDI OtelloBates and ClyneOn April 7, 9, and 12, 2011, Muti led concert performances—recorded by CSO Resound—of Verdi’s Otello at Orchestra Hall. Along with the Orchestra, Chorus, and Chicago Children’s Chorus, soloists included Aleksandrs Antonenko in the title role, Krassimira Stoyanova as Desdemona, and Carlo Guelfi as Iago.

In February 2012, Muti led world premieres by the Orchestra’s Mead Composers-in-Residence: Anna Clyne’s Night Ferry and Mason Bates’s Alternative Energy. Both works were recorded for CSO Resound and released as digital downloads.

LincolnFor Sony Classical, composer John Williams led the Orchestra and Chorus in recording sessions at Orchestra Hall for his soundtrack for the motion picture Lincoln. Director Steven Spielberg was on hand to supervise.

Cheers to the next 100!




Royal Albert Hall, August 28, 1989 (Jim Steere photo)

Royal Albert Hall, August 28, 1989 (Jim Steere photo)

On August 28, 1989, in London’s Royal Albert Hall, Sir Georg Solti led the Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus—in its European debut—in Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust. Soloists included mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, tenor Keith Lewis, bass-baritone José van Dam, and bass Peter Rose.

“I doubt that there will be a better Prom this year,” wrote Tom Sutcliffe in The Independent. “The sheer accuracy of the playing is astounding. . . . The crispness of the rhythms, the ability to switch mood in a phrase, ran throughout the ensemble— and of course when excitement or shock was needed, it sprang out instantly at Solti’s slightest indication, providing marvelous evidence of a long and deep relationship between instruments and conductor in which little needed to be said or shown for everything meant to be instantly understood. . . . And what a chorus the Chicago Symphony has, to comply with Solti’s needs, youthful, beautiful in tone and robust in attack, every word totally clear, understood and stylishly enunciated. Well, Solti’s chorus master is Margaret Hillis—simply the best.”

The Orchestra and Chorus also performed Berlioz’s Faust on August 30 in Salzburg’s Grosses Festspielhaus, and Solti and the Orchestra continued on through Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France, and the Netherlands before returning to London’s Royal Albert Hall* for the final concert of the tour on September 18.

The August 28 concert was recorded for television broadcast and later released by London Records on video.

Berlioz album

Also for London, Solti conducted the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (including mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, tenor Kenneth Riegel, bass-baritone José van Dam, and bass Malcolm King) in recording sessions of The Damnation of Faust in May 1981 at Medinah Temple. The recording was awarded the 1982 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance–Choral.

*The September 18 concert originally had been scheduled for London’s Royal Festival Hall. As a result of a pay dispute earlier that month, there was the prospect of a strike between the unions representing the technicians and box office staff and management at South Bank Centre. The concert was moved to Royal Albert Hall to avoid the possibility of Orchestra musicians crossing picket lines.

This article also appears here.


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CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti leads the Civic Orchestra of Chicago—the prestigious training ensemble of emerging professional musicians affiliated with the CSO—in an open rehearsal of Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 (Linz) at Symphony Center. 📷 @toddrphoto Our friends in the Chicago western suburbs always welcome us so warmly for our performances at Edman Memorial Chapel @wheatoncollegeil, and tonight was no exception. Riccardo Muti and the CSO performed a delightful program of Haydn and Mozart symphonies, as well as Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante featuring Concertmaster Robert Chen on violin and Paul Neubauer on viola. We look forward to being back here next season. 📷 @toddrphoto An emotionally riveting evening of Haydn and Mozart conducted by @riccardomutimusic featuring Robert Chen on Violin and Paul Neubauer on Viola. 📷: @toddrphoto #chicagosymphony


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