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Amelia Earhart standing under the nose of her Lockheed Model 10E Electra on March 1, 1937 (public domain image)

On May 20 and 21, 1932, Amelia Earhart flew a Lockheed Vega 5B from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, to Culmore in Northern Ireland, becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. On January 11 and 12, 1935, she became the first aviator to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Oakland, California. And on July 2, 1937, Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan were reported missing over the Central Pacific Ocean during their attempt to fly around the globe.

Newly rediscovered image of what may be Noonan and Earhart on a dock in the Marshall Islands (National Archives photo)

However, a photographic image—recently rediscovered in the National Archives—may dispute that long-held belief. According to Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, produced by HISTORY, this image may prove that Earhart and Noonan actually survived. The program airs this Sunday, July 9; to watch a preview and read more, click here.

A little more than a month after Earhart’s January 1935 solo flight, she was in Chicago and presented a lecture on February 15 at Orchestra Hall entitled, “My Pacific Flight.”

Headline from the February 16, 1935, Herald & Examiner

“Women fliers have a definite place in the air transport service as pilots, Amelia Earhart, America’s first lady of the air, declared yesterday as she arrived in Chicago, her old home town,” William Westlake reported in the Herald & Examiner. “The arrival of the smiling modishly-attired former Hyde Park High School girl, who has twice flown the Atlantic and made a solo flight from Honolulu to Oakland, was without fanfare. . . . Tonight she speaks again at the South Shore Country Club, tomorrow night she talks at the LaGrange Sunday Evening Club, and then she is off to Kansas City and Omaha.”

In the Chicago Tribune, Wayne Thomis reported that the Orchestra Hall audience, comprised largely of women, heard Earhart speak, “deprecatingly of her flight’s value as an advancement for aviation. . . . Although Miss Earhart spoke appreciatively of a few grim moments when she took off with a heavy load of gasoline downwind from a muddy field on her Pacific flight, it was the lighter side of ‘my pleasant evening in the air’ that she stressed. There was a bit of pride, too, in her reference to the fact that she had flown exactly on her course throughout the 2,038-mile voyage although she made the flight by dead reckoning. Soon after leaving the islands behind, the commercial program broadcast from a Honolulu radio station on which she was tuned was interrupted, she said. ‘I was listening to the music and then the announcer said: “Miss Earhart has taken off on her flight to San Francisco.” And as I sat up there at 8,000 feet with the motor just in front of me, I thought: “How impertinent of that radio man to be telling me.” ’ ”

(According to Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon’s 1997 book Amelia: The Centennial Biography of an Aviation Pioneer, some of the music Earhart enjoyed included “the broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera from New York.” The Met’s performance history database indicates the Saturday, January 12, 1935, broadcast as Wagner’s Tannhäuser featuring Lauritz Melchior, Maria Müller, Dorothee Manski, Richard Bonelli, and Ludwig HofmannArtur Bodanzky conducted.)

Program book advertisement for the Metropolitan Opera’s 1897 residency at the Auditorium Theatre

During the Chicago Orchestra’s first decade, the ensemble frequently performed in the pit when the Metropolitan Opera’s touring company traveled through the Midwest.

One of the most extensive residencies during that era occurred during the 1896-97 season, when the Met collaborated with the Orchestra over a six-week period—from February 22 through April 3, 1897—spending four weeks in the Auditorium Theatre followed by a two-week tour to Saint Louis, Louisville, and Cincinnati. Together they gave over forty performances of fifteen different operas, including Bizet’s Carmen; Flotow’s Martha; Gounod’s Faust, Philemon and Baucis, and Romeo and Juliet; Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana; Massenet’s Le Cid; Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine and Les Huguenots; Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Verdi’s Aida and Il trovatore; and Wagner’s Lohengrin, Siegfried, and Tristan and Isolde.

The touring company included some of the most important singers of the day, many performing multiple roles, including: Emma Calvé as Carmen, Marguerite, and Santuzza; Jean de Reszke as Don José, Faust, Lohengrin, Siegfried, and Tristan; and his brother Édouard de Reszke as King Marke, Leporello, Mephistopheles, Ramfis, and the Wanderer. Other singers included Mathilde Bauermeister, David BisphamGiuseppe CampanariFélia Litvinne, and Eugenia Mantelli, among many others, and Metropolitan Opera house conductors were Enrico Bevignani, Luigi Mancinelli, Louis Saar, and Anton Seidl.

Boito’s Mefistofele was performed once during the residency, on March 2, 1897, with the following cast:

Mefistofele Pol Plançon, bass
Faust Giuseppe Cremonini, tenor
Margherita and Elena Emma Calvé, soprano
Wagner and Nereo Igenio Corsi, tenor
Marta and Pantalis Eugenia Mantelli, mezzo-soprano
Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Carlo Corsi, director
Luigi Mancinelli, conductor 

Pol Plançon, photographed in Paris in 1881 by Wilhelm Benque

In the Chicago Tribune, the reviewer described Plançon—who also performed the role of Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faust on the tour—”M. Plançon as Mefistofele was forceful and majestic. In much of the detail he was the creature of Gounod’s libretto, but for one important exception, Boito’s Devil is thoroughly Italian. He is more noisy, impetuous, vindictive. The French composer has treated his subject with greater elevation of satire. Gounod’s French suavity and politeness never forsook him even when he set about depicting the Devil. Boito, true to Italian instinct, made his a personage terrifying, from the melodramatic point of view,. His Mefistofele never for a moment is allowed to forget what a bad person he is, and that is the chief thing he has to do in this entire opera. He is like a picture by [Gustave] Doré, red drapery, piercing eyes, and a background of smoke.”

For more details on the Metropolitan Opera’s Chicago residencies, check out the company’s performance history database.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Chicago Children’s Choir, and bass Riccardo Zanellato in the Prologue to Boito’s Mefistofele on June 22, 23, 24, and 25, 2017.

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

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James Levine in the early 1970s (Metropolitan Opera photo)

James Levine in the early 1970s (Metropolitan Opera photo)

As a last-minute replacement conductor for the opening concert of the Ravinia Festival’s thirty-sixth season on June 24, 1971, James Levine led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Mahler’s Second Symphony. Having just made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera leading Puccini’s Tosca on June 5, he conducted both the rehearsals and the performance of the Mahler without a score.

In the Chicago Daily News, Bernard Jacobson reported that the reverberations of Mahler’s symphony “were matched at the end of the performance by the ovation that greeted conductor James Levine. And indeed, this gifted twenty-eight-year-old musician earned every last resounding cheer. He had taken the concert over at a week’s notice from István Kertész (who was himself a replacement for the originally scheduled Eugene Ormandy), and everything he did was proof of thorough preparation, fine artistic judgment, and the ability to communicate ideas to an orchestra and, through it, to the audience.”

By February 1972, the Metropolitan announced that Levine would become its first principal conductor, and that October, Ravinia announced that he would be the festival’s second music director, succeeding Kertész, who had served as principal conductor from 1970 through the 1972 season.

Levine launched the first of his twenty years at the Ravinia Festival on June 27, 1973, leading the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Beethoven’s Missa solemnis. His tenure was marked with an astonishing range of repertoire: cycles of symphonies by Brahms and Mahler; Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Beethoven’s piano concertos; choral masterworks by Berlioz, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Orff, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky; and concert performances of operas by Bellini, Donizetti, Mozart, Puccini, Saint-Saëns, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, and Wagner, all with the leading singers of the day.

Carmina burana

Levine amassed an extensive discography with the Orchestra and Chorus (including several Grammy winners) on Deutsche Grammophon, Philips, and RCA, recorded at Orchestra Hall and in Medinah Temple, including Beethoven’s five piano concertos with Alfred Brendel; Berg’s Violin Concerto and Rihm’s Time Chant with Anne-Sophie Mutter; Brahms’s four symphonies and A German Requiem with Kathleen Battle and Håkan Hagegård; Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (conducting from the keyboard); Holst’s The Planets; Mahler’s symphonies no. 3 with Marilyn Horne, no. 4 with Judith Blegen, and no. 7; and Schubert’s Ninth Symphony.

Twenty years to the day of his first concert as music director, Levine capped his tenure on June 27, 1993, leading the Orchestra and Chorus in Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

This article also appears here.

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Less than a month after its inaugural concerts, the Chicago Orchestra was in the pit at the Auditorium Theatre for performances by the Metropolitan Opera Company (under the auspices of the Abbey-Grau Company) from November 9 until December 12, 1891. Conducting duties were shared by Auguste Vianesi and Louis Saar, the Orchestra’s first guest conductors.

Wagner's Lohengrin (sung in Italian) was the first opera presented in collaboration with the Chicago Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera on November 9, 1891

Wagner’s Lohengrin (sung in Italian) was the first opera presented in collaboration with the Chicago Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera on November 9, 1891

The singers who appeared were among the most famous of the day, including sopranos Emma Albani, Lilli Lehmann, and Marie Van Zandt, and mezzo-soprano Sofia Scalchi. During the residency, several prominent singers made their U.S. debuts, including soprano Emma Eames, tenor Jean de Reszke, baritones Edoardo Camera and Jean Martapoura, and basses Edouard de Reszke and Jules Vinche. A staggering number of operas were performed, including Bellini’s Norma and La sonnambula; Flotow’s Martha; Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice; Gounod’s Faust and Romeo and Juliet; Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana; Meyerbeer’s Dinorah and Les Huguenots; Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Thomas’s Mignon; Verdi’s Aida, Rigoletto, and act 1 of La traviata; and Wagner’s Lohengrin. The residency also included the Metropolitan Opera Company’s first performance of Verdi’s Otello, on November 23.* The cast included Jean de Reszke in the title role, Albani as Desdemona, and Camera as Iago.

During Theodore Thomas’s tenure as music director, the Metropolitan returned in March 1894, March 1896, February-April 1897, November 1898, and November 1899.

* There only had been four previous performances of Otello (all with tenor Francesco Tamagno, who had created the title role at La Scala on February 5, 1887) in Chicago, given under the auspices of Henry Abbey’s Grand Italian Opera Company on January 2 and 3, and March 12 and 14, 1890 (Abbey was not the official impresario at the Metropolitan that season). The Grand Italian Opera Company also gave three performances (also with Tamagno) at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on March 24, 29, and April 4, 1890, while the resident German company was on tour.

This article also appears here.

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Maria Callas (Angus McBean photo)

Maria Callas (Angus McBean photo)

Maria Callas was scheduled to appear with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Civic Opera House on January 15, 1957, in a benefit concert sponsored by the Alliance Française de Chicago for Hungarian relief following the recent Soviet invasion. Karl Böhm was to conduct, and the program would include several opera arias and a few orchestral selections.

However, as reported extensively in the press, there were several disputes between Callas and Böhm, and they were unable to come to an agreement regarding the program. Four days before the concert, it was announced that Böhm had withdrawn, having “reached a stalemate in program arrangements with the soprano.” Fausto Cleva, a house conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, was quickly engaged as his replacement; Callas arrived in Chicago three days before the concert, but by some accounts was more than two hours late for the first rehearsal.

January 15, 1957

January 15, 1957

The concert was notable for a variety of reasons. “Returning to the still reverberating scene of her American opera debut [in the title role of Bellini’s Norma in November 1954] to sing her first American concert on that same Civic Opera House stage, she knew the audience was wondering what really had happened to that stratospheric voice, of late winning headlines for the wrong reasons,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “So she took that voice, rammed it down their throats, and looked justifiably triumphant when they cheered.”

Cleva and the Orchestra began the concert with Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide, and Callas performed arias from Bellini’s Norma and La sonnambula, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Meyerbeer’s Dinorah, and Verdi’s Il trovatore (not all of the program is confirmed, as there are discrepancies between the program book and newspaper accounts). Near the end of the first half of the program, “Callas showed her mettle. She put down her bouquet, rested a foot on the podium, folded her arms, and sang ‘In questa reggia’ from Puccini’s Turandot, [which] as all operagoers know, is plain dynamite,” continued Cassidy. “It meant that a superb singer who is also an artist, and so doubly valuable, sang that cold, cruelly beautiful aria with every ounce of strength she could summon, driving it like nails into the consciousness of the audience. It was not beautiful, for it was forced to a degree altogether perilous to the human voice so mistreated. But it was, for sheer courage and determination, for winning at all costs, magnificent.”

This article also appears here.

Reiner memorial insert front cover

Reiner memorial insert front cover

Just before the opening of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s seventieth season, our sixth music director Fritz Reiner suffered a heart attack on October 7, 1960. He canceled his remaining appearances for the calendar year to recuperate and was able to return to the CSO podium in March 1961 to lead the season’s final five weeks of concerts. However, his health continued to decline and he was forced to curtail many of his conducting duties, and it was announced on April 20, 1962, that he would become “musical adviser” for the 1962-63 season. Two weeks later on May 3, The Orchestral Association announced that Jean Martinon would become the Orchestra’s seventh music director beginning with the 1963-64 season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for part 2 . . .

Reiner memorial insert, pages two and three

Reiner memorial insert, pages two and three

Reiner memorial insert back cover

Reiner memorial insert back cover

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During his twenty-two years as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1969 until 1991), Sir Georg Solti shared the podium with several other titled conductors, who served in a variety of capacities.

Irwin Hoffman

Irwin Hoffman was appointed assistant conductor by Jean Martinon in 1964 and was promoted to associate conductor the following year. After Martinon’s departure and before Solti’s arrival, Hoffman served as the CSO’s acting music director for the 1968-69 season and held the title of conductor for the 1969-70 season.

Carlo Maria Giulini

Carlo Maria Giulini was the CSO’s first principal guest conductor, serving in that capacity for three seasons, beginning in 1969-70. A frequent guest conductor, Giulini appeared and recorded (for Angel and Deutsche Grammophon) with the Orchestra numerous times between 1955 and 1978, after which he began his tenure as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (An excellent biography of Giulini—Serving Genius—was recently published by the University of Illinois Press.)

Claudio Abbado

From 1982 until 1985, Claudio Abbado was the Orchestra’s second principal guest conductor. He also conducted and recorded (for Deutsche Grammophon) with the CSO numerous times between 1971 and 1991. Also during that time, he was music director at La Scala (1968 until 1986), principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (1979 until 1987), music director of the Vienna State Opera (1986 until 1991), and chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic (beginning in 1989).

Henry Mazer

A former protégé of Fritz Reiner, Henry Mazer was appointed by Solti in 1970 as associate conductor, and he served the CSO in that capacity for sixteen years until 1986. He became music director of the Taipei Philharmonic Orchestra in 1985.

Margaret Hillis

Founder and longtime chorus director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Margaret Hillis was hired by Fritz Reiner in 1957 and was the first woman to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in November of that year. Of course, she prepared the Chorus for virtually all choral concerts during Solti’s tenure as music director, worked very closely with Solti on countless recordings, and appeared frequently as a guest conductor with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Kenneth Jean

Michael Morgan

In 1986, Sir Georg Solti appointed two American-born associate conductors, Kenneth Jean and Michael Morgan. Each served the Orchestra until 1993. In 1986, Jean also became music director of the Florida Symphony Orchestra. Morgan was named music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony in 1990 and music director of the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra in 1997.

István Kertész

At the Ravinia Festival, two conductors served as titled conductors during Sir Georg Solti’s tenure. Fellow Hungarian István Kertész first led the CSO at Ravinia in 1967 and was principal conductor from 1970 until 1972. Prior to that, his posts included: chief conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra in Hungary, general music director of the Augsburg Opera, general music director of the Cologne Opera, and principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

James Levine

On June 24, 1971, twenty-eight-year-old James Levine replaced an indisposed Kertész in a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at the Ravinia Festival. (He had made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera only a few weeks earlier, on June 5). Shortly thereafter, he was named the festival’s music director beginning in the summer of 1973 and held the post for twenty years, until 1993. Levine has been the longtime music director of the Metropolitan Opera since 1976.

Daniel Barenboim

Daniel Barenboim first guest conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1970, and he subsequently was a frequent visitor on the podium and in recording (for Angel, Deutsche Grammophon, and Erato). On January 30, 1989, The Orchestral Association announced that he would become the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ninth music director, beginning in September 1991 (he had also succeeded Solti as music director of the Orchestra de Paris in 1975). Barenboim was given the title music director designate.

We have lost a legend.

Victor Aitay, who served the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for fifty seasons as assistant concertmaster (1954–1965), associate concertmaster (1965–1967), concertmaster (1967–1986), and concertmaster emeritus (1986–2003), passed away earlier today. He was 91.

Victor Aitay was born in Budapest in 1921 and entered the Franz Liszt Royal Academy—where faculty included Béla Bartók, Zoltan Kodály, Ernst von Dohnányi, and Leo Weiner—at the age of seven. After receiving an artist’s diploma there, he became concertmaster of the Hungarian Royal Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra and organized the Aitay String Quartet. He toured extensively throughout Europe with that ensemble and also performed in recital and as soloist with major orchestras.

During World War II, Aitay was among the tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews who survived the Holocaust because of the heroic efforts of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. He recounted the story to the Chicago Tribune’s John von Rhein in May 2001.

Aitay and Eva Vera Kellner were married just after the war on November 17, 1945. In 1946, they left Hungary along with their friend János Starker and other colleagues, and went to Vienna. They soon traveled to the United States, where Aitay auditioned for and was hired by Fritz Reiner, then music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. After two seasons (1946–1948) in Pittsburgh, he joined the orchestra of New York’s Metropolitan Opera beginning in 1948 and was rostered until 1955, serving as associate concertmaster from 1952 until 1955.

In 1954, again at the invitation of Fritz Reiner, he joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as assistant concertmaster. In 1965, Aitay was appointed associate concertmaster by Jean Martinon; two years later, Martinon promoted Aitay to the position of concertmaster. He served the Orchestra in that capacity until 1986, when he relinquished the chair to serve as concertmaster emeritus until his retirement in 2003.

Aitay also served as professor of violin at DePaul University, music director and conductor of the Lake Forest Symphony, and leader of the Chicago Symphony String Quartet. He was awarded an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from Lake Forest College, and an article about the CSO that he wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times was published in the book 20th Century Chicago.

Aitay’s beloved wife Eva preceded him in death in November 2008, and he is survived by his daughter Ava Aitay-Murray and granddaughter Ashley Murray. Services will be this Friday, July 27, 12:00 noon, at Piser Funeral Services, 9200 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie. Interment immediately following at Memorial Park Cemetery, 9900 Gross Point Road, also in Skokie. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the DePaul University School of Music, or the Merit School of Music.

Just before his retirement in October 2003, Victor wrote: “As I begin my fiftieth season with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, I find myself looking back on what I consider the most gratifying years of my life. It has given me great pride to be the concertmaster of this incredible orchestra, to play with the finest musicians, and to tour around the world several times. Making music with the world’s greatest conductors, soloists, and composers over the past half century has been a real privilege. As I move forward into new passages of my life, I will always carry with me rich and wonderful memories. These fifty years have been a beautiful symphony for me. Thank you.”

Addition: Here is a clip from a taping Victor made for the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, that includes a performance of the first movement Adagio from Bach’s Violin Sonata no. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001 (with thanks to Andrew Patner).

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Announcement for the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast of Wagner's Tannhäuser on December 17, 1960.

On December 17, 1960, Georg Solti made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, conducting the Paris version of Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The cast included Leonie Rysanek, Irene Dalis, Hans Hopf, Jerome Hines, and the house debut of Hermann Prey. (Twenty-two-year-old Teresa Stratas was scheduled to perform as the Shepherd, but she was replaced by Mildred Allen.)

According to Robert Sabin, reporting for Musical America: “In some ways, Tannhäuser is a severer challenge to the conductor than the Ring operas or Wagner’s other mature masterpieces, but Mr. Solti had solved every one of its ticklish problems of tempo, balance, phrasing and dramatic emphasis. Most notable were the fluidity of his tempos, the transparence of texture he achieved and the emotional vitality of his conception. True, the Bacchanale was pale and certain of the ensembles could have been weightier and more majestic. But this was a price willingly paid for the flow and clarity of Mr. Solti’s conception. He kept the audience absorbed every minute up to the last note and he richly deserved the prolonged ovations he received (in which the orchestra, be it noted, joined).”

The incredible MetOpera Database indicates that Solti conducted a total of thirty-seven performances with the company, including Tristan und Isolde, Otello, Boris Godunov, Aida, and Don Carlo. His final performances were two special concerts on March 27 and 28, 1964, given in memory of John F. Kennedy, that included a scene from Parsifal (with Jess Thomas, Jerome Hines, and Marcia Baldwin) and Verdi’s Requiem (with Leontyne Price, Rosalind Elias, Carlo Bergonzi, Cesare Siepi, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus).

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Theodore Thomas

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