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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family notes with sorrow the passing of Fred Spector, a member of the violin section from 1956 until 2003. He died earlier today, June 3, 2017, at his home in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. He was 92.

Fred Spector (J.B. Spector photo)

Solomon E. (Fred) Spector was born on March 11, 1925, on Chicago’s West Side and began violin lessons at the age of five with his uncle J.B. Mazur, concertmaster of the Czar’s Imperial Orchestra in Saint Petersburg. He attended Hyde Park High School and Chicago Musical College, and his teachers included CSO concertmaster John Weicher, Leon Sametini, and Paul Stassevitch for violin, and Henry Sopkin (who founded the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 1945) for conducting.

Spector flew as a U.S. Army bombardier and navigator in Japan during World War II and became the first American violinist to concertize there after the war ended. He returned to Chicago and became concertmaster of the Civic Orchestra, studied conducting with Rudolph Ganz, and later was a member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra.

Speaking to the Chicago Tribune in 1994, Spector said that he “was actually hired into the CSO twice. The first time was in 1948 when a music director by the name of Artur Rodzinski heard me play some solos and gave me a job. The audition process was different back then, too. But Rodzinski was fired right after that, and the CSO didn’t honor any of his contracts—including mine. So I was hired and fired within a few weeks. Eight years later, the CSO asked me to audition again. I was conducting Broadway shows then—at that time it was Top Banana with Phil Silvers.”

Fred Spector in the early 1970s (Terry’s photo)

Music director Fritz Reiner hired Spector in 1956 and he served the Chicago Symphony Orchestra until his retirement in 2003. A chamber music enthusiast, he also performed with numerous ensembles in the Chicago area and was a member of the Chicago Strings, the Chicago Symphony Quartet, and the Chicago Arts Quartet for many years. Spector also was assistant conductor of the Highland Park Music Theatre.

Among numerous collectibles reflecting his varied interests, Spector was the proud owner of an extensive library of books on violin and bow history. His collection of mutes for string instruments (one of the world’s largest) included some that he found during the Orchestra’s national and international tours. Spector was the proud owner of a Carlo Bergonzi violin that dated from 1733.

Also in 1994 for the Tribune, Spector added: “playing with the CSO—which is one of the best orchestras in the world—is really something. It’s extraordinary. Even after all these years, we play concerts that still excite me. Concerts that leave me saying, ‘That was special. Everything was marvelous.’ ”

Spector is survived by Estelle, his beloved wife of sixty-six years; their children Lea, Mia (Terry), J.B. (Martha), Julie, and Ari (Jeanne); grandchildren Matt (Eve) Temkin, Dan (Kari) Temkin, Erinn Cohen, Ross Cohen, Caitlynn Spector, Adam Spector; and great-grandson Charlie Temkin. He also is survived by his brother David (Carol).

Services will be Tuesday, June 6, 2017, at 11:30 a.m. at Goldman Funeral Group, Skokie Chapel (8851 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie). Interment to follow at Memorial Park Cemetery (9900 Gross Point Road, Skokie).

In lieu of flowers, the family asks to please consider a donation to The Village Chicago or 98.7WFMT.

Johan Botha, Tenor

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the death of tenor Johan Botha, who died earlier today in Vienna at the age of 51 following a long illness.

A remarkably versatile singer, Botha was known for a vast number of roles in works by Beethoven, Puccini, Strauss, Verdi, and Wagner, among others. During his nearly thirty-year career, he appeared regularly on many of the world’s opera stages, including La Scala; the Royal Opera House Covent Garden; the Metropolitan Opera; the Vienna Staatsoper, where he made his home; and Lyric Opera of Chicago, where he most recently appeared in Wagner’s Tannhäuser in 2015.

Born on August 19, 1965, in the northern South African city of Rustenburg, Botha studied at the Technical College Pretoria. He made his debut as Max in Weber’s Der Freischütz at the Staatstheater Roodepoort in 1989, and the following year traveled to Germany, where he sang with the Bayreuth Festival Chorus before making his debut as Gustavus in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera in Kaiserslautern. Botha made his United States debut in 1994, as Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina; and he first appeared with Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1998, as Enzo in Ponchielli’s La gioconda.

He is survived by his wife and two sons.

Botha appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on two occasions, as follows:

September 13, 1996 (Royal Albert Hall, London)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Deborah Voigt, soprano
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
Johan Botha, tenor
René Pape, bass
BBC Singers
London Voices
Terry Edwards, director

April 24, 26, and 28, 2001 (Orchestra Hall)
VERDI Requiem
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Margaret Jane Wray, soprano (April 24)
Deborah Voigt, soprano (April 26 and 28)
Violeta Urmana, mezzo-soprano
Johan Botha, tenor
René Pape, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the loss of Deborah Guscott, who was a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus’s alto section for twenty-eight seasons. Having most recently performed in Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet and Verdi’s Falstaff this past April under Riccardo Muti, she died on August 10, 2016, following a long illness.

Deborah Guscott (Jennifer Girard photo)

Deborah Guscott (Jennifer Girard photo)

A graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Guscott joined the Chicago Symphony Chorus at the invitation of founder and longtime director Margaret Hillis in 1987. For nearly thirty years, she regularly performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under three music directors—Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, and Muti—as well as Pierre Boulez, Bernard Haitink, James Levine, Christoph Eschenbach, and James Conlon, among many others. Guscott appeared on numerous recordings—several of them Grammy Award winners—and performed in Orchestra Hall, Medinah Temple, and Carnegie Hall; at the Ravinia Festival; and on tour with the Orchestra and Chorus to London, Salzburg, and Berlin.

Guscott was a fixture on the Chicago vocal scene, performing with countless ensembles, including the Grant Park ChorusLight Opera Works, Music of the Baroque, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Ravinia Festival Orchestra, Bach Week FestivalOriana Singers, and Chicago a cappella, among many others. She was a soloist on several occasions for the Do-it-Yourself Messiah under Hillis and with the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest under its music director Jay Friedman. An active liturgical musician, Guscott worked at many churches and temples in the Chicagoland area, most recently as music director and cantor at both Saint Domitilla Parish in Hillside and Divine Providence Parish in Westchester.

Duain Wolfe, director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus since 1994, described his longtime colleague: “An alto with a particularly rich, luscious sound, Deb contributed significantly to the highly lauded sound of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. We are all very grateful for her gifts, both as an important musician in our ranks and as a strong, positive force who always found the silver lining in every cloud. Deb’s indomitable spirit has been an inspiration to all of us, and we will miss her greatly.”

Music director of the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest—and CSO principal trombone—Jay Friedman added, “Deb Guscott was my go-to contralto for the past twenty years in many solo roles from opera to oratorio. She possessed a true contralto voice, something rare and perfect for Mahler, Wagner, and many other great masters. Deb was a fun person and a joy to work with—always upbeat and willing to rehearse at a moment’s notice—and she will be greatly missed.”

Christopher Bell, director of the Grant Park Chorus since 2002, shared his thoughts with the musicians of his chorus: “I was privileged to have Deb—a well known and beloved singer in Chicago—in the Grant Park Chorus and honored to be able to call her a friend. My abiding memory of my last visit with her will be of much laughter and hilarity, as we shared many memories and reminiscences. The Chicago singing community is a strong and closely knit one, and I know that you, like me, are saddened and shocked by this loss of one of our own. Today, I am thinking of you all and sharing your sorrow.”

There will be a service in her memory given at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica (3121 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago 60612) on Saturday, September 3, 2016, beginning at 11:00 a.m. The upcoming Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performances of Brahms’s A German Requiem on November 10, 11, and 12, 2016—a work that Guscott performed on many occasions with the Chorus—will be dedicated to her memory.

One of Guscott’s many solo performances with the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest under Friedman was of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony on November 16, 2003. A live recording of her singing the fourth movement—Urlicht—is available in the link below.

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McBurney

Gerard McBurney (Dan Rest photo)

On November 13, 2005—under the leadership of Martha Gilmer, vice president of artistic administration, and composer and writer Gerard McBurney—the Chicago Symphony Orchestra launched Beyond the Score with an in-depth analysis followed by a complete performance of Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben. Daniel Harding conducted.

“The introduction deftly mixed vintage photos projected onto a huge overhead screen, excerpts from Strauss’s letters, commentary from his contemporaries, and short excerpts from the tone poem itself,” wrote Wynne Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times. “The pacing was seamless, the information on Strauss and his era coming in easily digestible but never watered-down nuggets. When the CSO played the entire work straight through after intermission, the large audience couldn’t help but feel like newly minted connoisseurs. Enjoying subtleties well below the surface beauties of Strauss’s tone poem, they were attentive, at times rapt. McBurney and his colleagues at the CSO succeeded brilliantly with the most difficult aspect of these kinds of programs: keeping the focus on the music.”

In May 2006, McBurney officially joined the staff of the CSOA as artistic programming advisor. Since then, the Beyond the Score concept evolved into freer and more vivid presentations and collaborations with a wide variety of art collections, scholars, libraries, folk musicians, and actors from all over the world.

A Pierre Dream

A Pierre Dream, November 14, 2014 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Highlights of the series have included thorough analyses of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Holst’s The Planets, and Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony. Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead and Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde were presented as seamless dramatizations, and Pierre Boulez led Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin and closely advised on Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire. Concertmaster Robert Chen was featured in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade; and Gwendolyn Brown, an alumna of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center, performed Negro spirituals as part of Dvořák’s New World Symphony. In 2014, McBurney—collaborating with architect Frank Gehry—presented a special and comprehensive examination of music by Pierre Boulez.

This article also appears here.

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Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

On October 28 and 29, 1954, soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf made her American and Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuts in Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs and the closing scene from his final opera, Capriccio. Fritz Reiner conducted.

Schwarzkopf “is both a soprano with a historically beautiful voice of its kind and a musician of transcendent intelligence. She knows most intimately what her texts are about, feels them deeply, and possesses the extraordinary vocal capacity to color with each word, each mood, each musical phrase,” raved Roger Dettmer in the Chicago American. “Here was artistry of the utmost fulfillment of an exquisite and cherished kind heard rarely in a lifetime of listening.”

October 28 and 29, 1954

October 28 and 29, 1954

“It has seemed to me that it took Miss Schwarzkopf a long time to come here,” commented Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “But exactly the right time, too. For it brought her here when Reiner, a kind of Straussian magician, had restored to the Orchestra its old, deep layered glow, and had added an immaculate polish strictly his own. Good things go together, and it is worthwhile to wait.”

The capacity crowd on October 28 included another legendary soprano—Maria Callas—also preparing to make her American debut, in town for the title role in Bellini’s Norma during Lyric Theatre of Chicago’s first season.*

*The company’s name was changed to Lyric Opera of Chicago for the 1955–56 season.

This article also appears here.

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CSO050911: Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing at Millennium Park September 11, 2005 in Chicago, Illinois, including the performance of Aaron Copeland's "Lincoln Portrait" with narration by U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D, Illinois) © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2005

Senator Barack Obama onstage with William Eddins and the Orchestra at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, September 11, 2005 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

On September 11, 2005—the fourth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks and barely two weeks after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina—the Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave a free concert as part of Millennium Park’s Blockbuster Weekend, which also featured season-opening outdoor performances by Lyric Opera of Chicago and Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

William Eddins led The Star-Spangled Banner, William Schuman’s arrangement of Ives’s Variations on America, Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, and Rimsky- Korsakov’s Sheherazade. The narrator for Lincoln Portrait was freshman U.S. Senator Barack Obama.

Obama's autograph on a copy of Copland's Lincoln Portrait

Obama’s autograph on a copy of Copland’s Lincoln Portrait

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Wynne Delacoma wrote: “When September 11 comes around each year, the craving for a moment of proverbial silence—a chance to slow down, remember, and mourn—is strong. Sunday’s concert, led by former CSO resident conductor William Eddins and featuring Senator Barack Obama as narrator in Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, provided just that kind of beneficent moment. Despite the steamy weather, a large crowd filled the pavilion’s seats and lawn, giving the CSO in general, and Obama in particular, vociferous applause. . . . Obama brought an orator’s skill without an actor’s slick veneer to Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. The comforting quality of his voice gave added emotional resonance to Lincoln’s words. The CSO was a powerful surging force behind him, alternately sinking into meditation and swelling to majestic heights.”

This article also appears here.

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Helen Kotas

In 1941, Frederick Stock appointed Helen Kotas to the position of principal horn, making her the first woman to hold a rostered position in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She was the first female to secure such a position—in fact, the first woman to be hired as principal of any section, except harp—in a major U.S. orchestra.

While still a student, earning a degree in psychology from the University of Chicago (which she received in 1936), Kotas served as a member of the Civic Orchestra and principal horn in the Woman’s Symphony Orchestra. Stock hired her as a regular extra horn at the beginning of the Orchestra’s fiftieth season in 1940, although she was not under contract. In 1940 and 1941, Kotas performed in Leopold Stokowski’s All-American Youth Orchestra’s summer tours; also in 1941, Fritz Reiner offered her the third-chair seat in the horn section of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Oct 1941 (Pottag, Erickson, Mourek, Verschoor, Kotas

Kotas surrounded by the rest of the horn section in October 1941: Max Pottag, Frank Erickson, Joseph Mourek, and William Verschoor

Shortly after her audition in Pittsburgh, Stock auditioned Kotas for principal horn to fill the vacancy left by Philip Farkas when he left to join the Cleveland Orchestra. Stock offered her the job and contacted Reiner, who agreed to release her from the Pittsburgh commitment. Kotas would serve as principal until 1947, when Farkas returned to the Orchestra. She moved to third chair for one season and left the Orchestra in 1948; she married University of Chicago pathologist Edwin Hirsch the following year.

Kotas later was principal horn of the Grant Park Orchestra from 1950 until 1958, and she also served as principal horn of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra from 1954 until 1959, and third horn until 1965, after which she largely retired from performing.

The first woman listed on the Orchestra’s roster was Mrs. Lawrence (Anna) Winch, second harp for the 1892–93 season. Other women subsequently performed as second harp; however, the position was not contracted and rostered full-time until the beginning of the 1957–58 season, when Carol Baum was hired as second harp. The first rostered woman in the string section was cellist Alice Lawrence in the 1942–43 season, and the first in the wind section was flutist Caroline Solfronk Vacha in the 1943–44 season.

This article also appears here.

Congratulations to our friends at the Auditorium Theatre as they celebrate 125 years! First opening its doors on December 9, 1889, the Auditorium hosted a gala program that evening that culminated with an appearance by soprano Adelina Patti, one of the most celebrated singers of the day. She performed, unaccompanied, John Howard Payne‘s Home, Sweet Home, “so well that President Benjamin Harrison rose from his seat and smote his right hand with his left as everybody else was doing” (according to the Chicago Tribune).

Theodore Thomas and the Chicago Orchestra onstage at the Auditorium Theatre in November 1897

Theodore Thomas and the Chicago Orchestra onstage at the Auditorium Theatre in November 1897

Less than two years later, the Auditorium Theatre became the first home of the Chicago Orchestra (as we were then called) when Theodore Thomas led our first concerts on October 16 and 17, 1891. It would remain the Orchestra’s primary venue until Orchestra Hall opened its doors on December 14, 1904.

To commemorate the anniversary, a gala concert this evening features members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, among many others.

Congratulations on your first 125 years!

Richard Kanter headshot

Richard Kanter, a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s oboe section from 1961 until 2002, passed away on Friday evening, October 10. He was 79.

A native Chicagoan, Kanter was born in 1935 and began studying the oboe at the age of fourteen with CSO oboe and english horn Robert Mayer. After graduating from high school, he received a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where his teachers included Marcel Tabuteau and John de Lancie; he also studied with CSO principal oboe Ray Still and Robert Bloom. While a student, Kanter played principal oboe for the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra for one season and english horn with the Grant Park Symphony for several summers.

After graduation from Curtis, he served as first oboe for the U.S. Navy Band in Washington, D.C. for four years, traveling to every state in the continental United States. Following his military service, Kanter joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s oboe section at the invitation of Fritz Reiner in 1961, where he served for forty-one years—under music directors Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim—before retiring in 2002. In his retirement, Kanter was an active member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association, serving several years a member and officer of the board of directors. He also was an oboe and english horn coach with the Asian Youth Orchestra, based in Hong Kong.

Ray Still and Richard Kanter onstage at Orchestra Hall in the 1970s

Ray Still and Richard Kanter onstage at Orchestra Hall in the 1970s

Richard is survived by his beloved wife of forty-six years, Janet; his children David (Rebecca) Kanter and Rachel (Eric) Hoglund; and grandchildren. There will be a chapel service Tuesday, October 14, at 12:15 p.m. at Shalom Memorial Funeral Home, 1700 West Rand Road in Arlington Heights. Interment will follow at Shalom Memorial Park. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Magen David Adom. For information and to leave tributes and condolences, please call 847.255.3520 or visit www.shalom2.com.

Schoen, William (SRS)

Last evening we received word that William Schoen, a longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s viola section from 1964 until 1996, passed away yesterday, July 21, following a brief illness. He was 94.

Before coming to Chicago, Schoen served as principal viola of the Philadelphia Orchestra and was soloist with that ensemble under the baton of Eugene Ormandy. In 1964 he was invited by CSO music director Jean Martinon to be the Orchestra’s assistant principal viola, a post he held for twenty-four years. In 1988, he became assistant principal emeritus and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1996. Schoen made his debut as soloist with the CSO under Antonio Janigro, and also made solo appearances with maestros Martinon and James Levine.

Born in Czechoslovakia of Hungarian parents and raised in Cleveland, William Schoen received his bachelor of music degree from the Eastman School of Music. He was chosen by Leopold Stokowski to tour with the All-American Youth Orchestra and during the Second World War he served as a member of the United States Marine Band and Orchestra, was featured as a concerto soloist, and appeared numerous times with ensembles for Presidents Roosevelt and Truman at The White House. After the war he was solo viola of the Columbia Broadcasting System in New York for eight years. While in New York, Schoen was a member of the Guilet and Claremont string quartets, with which he toured and made many recordings.

Schoen received his master of music degree from Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University and later also served as a member of the faculty and a member of the Roosevelt Trio. In 1991, he was invited to be a recitalist and lecturer at the International Viola Congress in Ithaca, New York.

Schoen, William ca1960s

An active chamber musician, he performed with many of his CSO colleagues, frequently as a member of the Chicago Symphony String Trio. Schoen was a founding member of the Chicago Arts Quartet, which in addition to performances at the Bruckner Festival in Linz, Austria and at the Tokyo School of Music, the quartet gave many college concerts, appeared on the CSO’s Chamber Music Series, and was featured on WFMT radio broadcasts. As a member of Indiana University’s Berkshire Quartet, he performed at Music Mountain in Falls Village, Connecticut for several summers, and he also was a participant at the Marlboro Festival in Vermont.

Schoen and his wife Mona Reisman Schoen, a former member of the Lyric Opera Orchestra, performed in duo concerts, as soloists with orchestra, at university concerts, and at the Frank Lloyd Wright estates in Wisconsin and Arizona. In their retirement, the Schoens were active members of the CSO Alumni Association, and in 1998, the Chicago Viola Society awarded William Schoen their lifetime achievement award.

He is survived by his beloved wife Mona. Funeral services will be held this Thursday, July 24, at noon at Anshe Emet Synagogue, 3751 North Broadway in Chicago. Interment will be at Memorial Park Cemetery, 9900 Gross Point Road in Skokie immediately following.

An obituary was posted to the Chicago Tribune website on July 22, 2014.

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