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Emanuel Ax in 1980 (Nick Sangiamo photo)

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

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

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

Emanuel Ax in 2016 (Lisa Marie Mazzucco photo)

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

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

Happy, happy birthday!

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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony were given on April 6 and 7, 1950, in Orchestra Hall under the baton of guest conductor George Szell. Since then, the work has been led by music directors Rafael Kubelík, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim; principal conductor Bernard Haitink; principal guest conductors Carlo Maria Giulini and Pierre Boulez; and Ravinia Festival music directors James Levine and James Conlon; along with guest conductors Sir John Barbirolli, Lawrence Foster, Michiyoshi Inoue, Hans Rosbaud, and Michael Tilson Thomas.

The Orchestra has recorded the work on three notable occasions, as follows.

Carlo Maria Giulini, the Orchestra’s first principal guest conductor, led Mahler’s Ninth Symphony in December 1971 and March 1975 before returning in April 1976 to perform and record the work. Following the first concert of that residency, Karen Monson in the Chicago Daily News wrote that “each time the aristocratic maestro meets the transcendent symphony, the relationship becomes more and more special, Giulini and the Orchestra have delved into the deepest secrets of this music, and Thursday evening they delivered a performance so rich and complete . . .”

In the Chicago Tribune, Thomas Willis called the performance “one of Giulini’s great nights in Orchestra Hall.” Recording sessions were scheduled for the following week, and “by the time the tape is rolling, this could be the most heartfelt and compelling recorded version of Mahler’s grief-stricken penultimate symphony. . . . The Chicago Symphony players will take any risks for Giulini. If he wishes them to play softer than soft, applying bow to string, or breath to mouthpiece or reed, they proceed to just this side of bobble or discomfiting silence. . . . No other guest has such control over orchestral color and emotional variation.”

Deutsche Grammophon was on hand on April 5 and 6, 1976, to record the symphony in Medinah Temple. Günther Breest was the executive producer and Klaus Scheibe the recording engineer. The release won the 1977 Grammy Award for Best Classical Orchestral Performance from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Eighth music director Sir Georg Solti first led the Orchestra in Mahler’s symphony at Orchestra Hall and Carnegie Hall in April 1981 before taking it on the road to Lucerne, Paris, Amsterdam, and London later that year. Back in Chicago, Solti led a concert performance (benefiting the musicians’ pension fund) on April 28, 1982, and recorded the symphony on May 2 and 4 in Orchestra Hall.

Reviewing in Gramophone magazine, Richard Osborne noted: “When Solti conducted Mahler’s Ninth Symphony in London in the autumn of 1981 the critic of The Financial Times observed: ‘Solti obviously knew how this music should gobut not why.’ Such a reading would be an evident act of self-parody, for it is to this very theme—the modern world’s nightmarish preoccupation with sensation, spiraling, self-referring and impossible to assuage—that Mahler so fearlessly addresses himself in the symphony’s third movement, the Rondo Burleske. It’s clear, though, from the present recording, made in Orchestra Hall, Chicago in May 1982, that Solti’s sense of the music is a good deal more rooted than it appeared to be amid the unsettling razzmatazz of an end-of-tour London performance.

“The new performance has a measure of repose about it as well as much splendour. The second movement is robust and resilient as Mahler directs. There is defiance and obstinacy in the third movement, an awful power which illuminates the music rather than the orchestra’s known expertise.”

James Mallinson produced the recording, and James Lock was the engineer for London Records. The recording won 1983 Grammy awards for Best Orchestral Recording, Best Engineered Recording—Classical, and Best Classical Album.

Soon after being named as the Orchestra’s third principal guest conductor, Pierre Boulez was in Chicago to lead four performances of Mahler’s Ninth in November December 1995.

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Wynne Delacoma wrote that Boulez led “one of classical music’s most profound meditations on relentless death and tumultuous life” as a “study in musical clarity, elegant balances, and proportion. . . . Many conductors play up the contrasts, creating dramatic mood shifts. Boulez and the CSO were after something more subtle.” John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune added that Boulez “[filtered] the work through his own modernist sensibility. Granted, there are ambiguities and uncertainties in this symphony that resist so rational an approach. But there are also levels of purely musical meaning few other conductors have uncovered. The otherworldly stillnesses, the demonic humor, the desolate nostalgia, the strange lapses into folkish banality registered that much more strongly because the hand organizing them was so calm and precise. . . . Let us hope the studio sessions capture in full the splendor of the live performances.”

For Deutsche Grammophon, the work was recorded at Medinah Temple on December 2 and 4, 1995. Roger Wright was the executive producer, Karl-August Naegler recording producer and editor, Ulrich Vette was the balance engineer, and Jobst Eberhardt and Stephan Flock were recording engineers. The release won the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony no. 9 on May 17, 18, 19, and 22, 2018.

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Australia 1988 logo

Sir Georg Solti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first trip to Australia in March 1988, sharing podium duties with Michael Tilson Thomas. The thirteen-concert tour included stops in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney.

Following the performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony on the second concert of the tour, Peter Wombwell in the Perth Sunday Times described the performance “at the fingertips of one of the world’s greatest conductors, Sir Georg Solti, with, arguably, the finest of all orchestras, the Chicago Symphony. . . . In every section the commitment was ineffable and thus, while it is difficult to single out any particular players, one cannot but refer to the beauty of violin tone of the co-concertmaster Samuel Magad, the viola of Charles Pikler, and the oboe of Ray Still. . . .The growing quiet and calm of the finale was handled by Sir Georg with unfailing control so that this glorious memorial to a composer who enriched the turn-of-the-century music touched the hearts of all who were privileged to hear such an exceptional performance.”

Solti and the Orchestra onstage in Perth (Jim Steere photo)

Solti and the Orchestra onstage at the Perth Concert Hall (Jim Steere photo)

Several of the concerts included performances of Karel Husa’s Trumpet Concerto, which had received its world premiere in Chicago on February 11, just prior to the tour. Principal trumpet Adolph Herseth was soloist. The concerto was made possible by an endowment fund established by the family of Edward F. Schmidt in his memory, and it was dedicated to Herseth, Solti, and the Orchestra.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

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Ernest Ansermet and the Orchestra onstage at the Ravinia Festival on July 3, 1936 (Ravinia Festival photo)

Ernest Ansermet and the Orchestra onstage at the Ravinia Festival on July 3, 1936 (Ravinia Festival photo)

On July 3, 1936, Ernest Ansermet and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra inaugurated the first season of the Ravinia Festival* with a program that included Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, Clouds and Festivals from Debussy’s Nocturnes, and Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird.

“Three days ago the last seat in the pavilion was sold. The audience was socially brilliant and musically responsive, so that a full-length Beethoven symphony and the most sonorous of the preludes which Wagner wrote for any of his music-dramas evoked a veritable tumult of applause,” wrote Glenn Dillard Gunn in the Herald & Examiner following that first concert. “For the next five weeks the Chicago Symphony will continue the season begun last night, playing on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings and offering programs quite as serious as those presented in Orchestra Hall during the winter season.”

July 3, 1936

July 3, 1936

Several notable conductors made their Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuts at the Ravinia Festival, including future music directors Riccardo Muti, Georg Solti, Jean Martinon, Fritz Reiner, and Artur Rodzinski; future festival music directors James Conlon, Christoph Eschenbach, James Levine, and Seiji Ozawa; and prominent guest conductors Sir Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein, Josef Krips, Erich Leinsdorf, Kurt Masur, Pierre Monteux, Eugene Ormandy, George Szell, and Michael Tilson Thomas.

“I look around at the beauty of the park, the acoustics and proportion of the Pavilion . . . and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in residence,” commented James Levine in the 1985 book Ravinia: The Festival at Its Half Century. “Look at how these people work during the Festival weeks—putting on performances of difficult music under extreme weather conditions sufficiently well to be worthy of recording, finishing one concert and getting up the next morning to rehearse for another. . . . Most of the people around Ravinia seem to find a rejuvenation synonymous with summer from the change of pace, the change of style, the challenge of new repertoire, and the opportunity to work from a different vantage point. It’s that kind of thinking, that buoyant spirit, which has been prevalent throughout the unique history of Ravinia. And it’s that spirit which makes Ravinia truly magical!”

*Ravinia Park had opened on August 15, 1904, and Frederick Stock and the Orchestra first performed at the park’s theater on November 20, 1905. The Orchestra appeared there semiregularly through August 1931, after which the park was closed for most of the Great Depression.

This article also appears here.

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (Michael Wilson photo)

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (Michael Wilson photo)

This week we mark the tenth anniversary of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson‘s last appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, as mezzo-soprano soloist in Mahler’s Symphony no. 2 in March 2006.

Michael Tilson Thomas, who conducted those performances, remembers his friend and colleague: “None of us suspected that the Mahler 2 concerts would be Lorraine’s last performances. She was in great spirits and very engaged in the wonder of the whole experience. In between the performances I was playing piano for her in rehearsals of Mahler’s Rückert Lieder which we were to record only a few weeks later. One day we found a precious half hour of free time in the hall and played through the entire piece on stage. No one was present, but the performance that she gave in that empty hall was one of total commitment. It was beyond beautiful. It was confessional in a way that was overwhelming and somehow made me concerned for her. She was giving absolutely everything. After we went through the cycle we talked a bit about the song Liebst du um Schönheit? (Do you love beauty?). She was still finding her way with the song, which speaks so simply, so confessionally about love. I suggested that she think less about the process of singing it. She said, ‘Thank you Michael. I’ve got it. I’ll just feel it. I’ll just be it.’ She sang it again. It was a miracle. That miracle was what Lorraine was all about.”

On April 22, 23, and 24, 1999, she made her debut as soloist (as Lorraine Hunt) with the Orchestra in the world premiere of John Harbison‘s Four Psalms, led by Christoph Eschenbach. Lisa Saffer, Frank Kelley, and James Maddalena also were soloists, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by Duain Wolfe.

In the Chicago Tribune, John von Rhein praised her “deep expressivity,” and in the Chicago Sun-Times, Wynne Delacoma added that Harbison’s opening prelude—a Hebrew prayer for mezzo-soprano—was “a masterstroke. Making her CSO debut, Hunt was an immediately galvanizing presence. Her voice was powerful and expressive, with gleaming high notes and a dusky, impassioned lower register. Lingering over her final lines, endlessly decorating each syllable as she implored God to transform her dreams, she seemed reluctant to end her conversation with the Lord.”

March 7, 2006

March 7, 2006 (David Robertson replaced James Levine and the program remained unchanged)

Hunt Lieberson—she married composer Peter Lieberson later in 1999—returned to Orchestra Hall on March 7, 2006, as soloist in her husband’s Neruda Songs with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. David Robertson conducted. (Robertson replaced James Levine, who had been injured in an onstage fall during the previous week.)

“The other happy development was the presence of acclaimed mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. She has dropped out of several announced engagements in recent seasons, reportedly due to health issues. That she was on hand as scheduled as soloist in the lush Neruda Songs, written for her by her husband Peter Lieberson, was a kind of musical bonus,” wrote Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times. “Hunt Lieberson is a singer who inhabits the music rather than merely singing it, and her anguish in Sonnet XLV, whose first line reads, ‘Don’t go far off, not even for a day,’ was wrenching. In the final poem, a serene meditation on death, the glowing richness of her seductive mezzo created a sense of profound peace.”

Lieberson's Neruda Songs (Nonesuch release)

Lieberson’s Neruda Songs (Nonesuch release)

“Lieberson’s orchestral song cycle, a setting of five poems by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, deals with different facets of love: simple adoration, the joy and mystery of nature, the terror of separation, the struggle between yearning and contentment,” added von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “The composer wrote the cycle as an extended love letter to his wife, who sang them affectingly. It is a haunting, exquisitely crafted piece, mostly quiet and reflective, with luminous vocal lines that nestle in the delicate orchestration as one does in the arms of one’s beloved. Hunt Lieberson once more proved why she is America’s most indispensable classical singer. Her voice rose from a smoky sigh to an ecstatic peal in an instant; she didn’t just sing these poignant songs, she became them.”

(Hunt Lieberson had recorded the songs live with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Levine in November 2005. The subsequent release on Nonesuch earned a 2007 Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Performance.)

March 16, 17, and 18, 2006

March 16, 17, and 18, 2006

The following week, Hunt Lieberson shared the stage with soprano Celena Shafer and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe) on March 16, 17, and 18, 2006, in Mahler’s Symphony no. 2. Tilson Thomas conducted. (You can listen to her performance of the Urlicht here.)

In the Chicago Tribune, von Rhein wrote, “Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s entry in the Urlicht was so soft, so gentle, as to hold the audience at rapt attention. The mezzo-soprano sang as if utterly transfixed, appropriately so to suggest the simple voice of a child who believes she’s in heaven.” And in the Chicago Sun-Times, Delacoma added, “Floating on the air with the warmth of a low, vibrant cello, her opening solo was full of sympathy at humankind’s grief. Like a wise mother comforting an inconsolable child, her voice was soft but firm, never denying the pain of death but holding out the hope of resurrection.”

Less than four months later, Hunt Lieberson lost her battle with breast cancer on July 3, 2006, at the age of 52. Her appearances in Chicago in March were her last public performances.

Countless tributes—including Alex Ross in The New Yorker, Lloyd Schwartz on NPR, and Marc Geelhoed in Slate, among many others—were published. Peter Sellars, one of her most frequent collaborators, described her singing: “Her voice [fills] the room and you don’t know where it’s coming from. . . . It can be piercing and shocking in its intensity, and then this incredible balm of compassion and tenderness, of generosity that is poured out of her voice like a kind of liquid that is there to heal.”

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On a personal note . . .

I was lucky not only to be in the audience when Hunt Lieberson sang her husband’s Neruda Songs on March 7 but also to be onstage in the Chorus for the three performances of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony.

Hunt Lieberson's program biography

Hunt Lieberson’s March 2006 program biography

On March 14, the day before our first session with the Orchestra, the Chorus had a rehearsal with Michael Tilson Thomas—what we call the conductor’s piano rehearsal. Only occasionally do the soloists also attend this rehearsal, so we were surprised to see Hunt Lieberson and Shafer walk in as well. From the Chorus’s usual seats in the terrace (behind the Orchestra) during a performance, we don’t have a great vantage point to hear soloists; but for this rehearsal, they were facing us, just a few feet away.

Tilson Thomas started at the first chorus entrance, “Aufersteh’n.” The mezzo-soprano solo begins a few minutes later and when Hunt Lieberson stood, she didn’t just rehearse—she performed. She threw herself into the music with urgency and demanded our attention, even though the performance didn’t seem to be for us. It was immediate, raw, electric.

During the break, she sat alone, studying her score. I approached her, asked if I could say hello, and expressed how much I had admired her performance of the Neruda Songs. I inquired if the performances in Boston had been recorded, and we talked about the possibility that they would be released. And, of course, I said how much I was looking forward to the Mahler. Throughout, she was very gracious.

To say now that those performances were special is an understatement. The experience and privilege of having shared the stage with her will always remain.

This week Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s First Symphony, almost exactly one hundred years since Frederick Stock first conducted it in Chicago.

Program page for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's first performances of Mahler's First Symphony

Program page for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of Mahler’s First Symphony

That first performance of the symphony (sandwiched between Handel’s Concerto grosso, op. 6, no. 2 and Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Josef Hofmann) on November 6, 1914, left Ronald Webster of the Chicago Daily Tribune a bit puzzled: “The Mahler symphony is less important but more interesting to talk about because it is strictly earthy. There is a suggestion in the program notes that Mahler was not wholly serious in this symphony. It was obvious yesterday that he was not serious at all. Even the finale is not serious, though it is tiresome, being too long. But it is the quality of the humor which is likely to cause people to turn up their noses. The humor is a little coarse, definitely ironical, of a barnyard kind and healthy. Mahler is himself partly to blame for such ideas about him. Definite conceptions such as his (though he may not have been serious about them either) are death to all mystic attitude toward this work. . . . He suggests that the first movement is nature’s awakening at early morning. One suspects that Mahler included in nature the cows and chickens as well as the cuckoo and the dewy grass.” The complete review is here.

Despite that critic’s early apprehensions, the symphony soon became a staple in the Orchestra’s repertoire and has been led—at Orchestra Hall, the Ravinia Festival, and on tour—by a vast array of conductors, including: Roberto Abbado, Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, James Conlon, Christoph von Dohnányi, Gustavo Dudamel, Christoph Eschenbach, Adam Fischer, Carlo Maria Giulini, Bernard Haitink, Irwin Hoffman, Paul Kletzki, Kirill Kondrashin, Rafael Kubelík, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Igor Markevitch, Henry Mazer, Eugene Ormandy, Seiji Ozawa, George Schick, Leonard Slatkin, Sir Georg Solti, William Steinberg, Klaus Tennstedt, Michael Tilson Thomas, Edo de Waart, Bruno Walter, and Jaap van Zweden.

And the Orchestra has recorded the work six times, as follows:

Giulini 1971Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Recorded by Angel at Medinah Temple in March 1971
Christopher Bishop, producer
Carson Taylor, engineer
Giulini’s recording won the 1971 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance—Orchestra from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Abbado 1981Claudio Abbado, conductor
Recorded by Deutsche Grammophon at Orchestra Hall in February 1981
Rainer Brock, producer
Karl-August Naegler, engineer

Solti 1983Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Recorded by London at Orchestra Hall in October 1983
James Mallinson, producer
James Lock, engineer

Tennstedt 1990Klaus Tennstedt, conductor
Recorded by EMI at Orchestra Hall in May and June 1990
John Fraser, producer
Michael Sheady, engineer

Boulez 1998Pierre Boulez, conductor
Recorded by Deutsche Grammophon at Orchestra Hall in May 1998
Karl-August Naegler, producer
Rainer Maillard and Reinhard Lagemann, engineers

Haitink 2008Bernard Haitink, conductor
Recorded by CSO Resound at Orchestra Hall in May 2008
James Mallinson, producer
Christopher Willis, engineer

For more information on Muti’s performances of Mahler’s First this week, please visit the CSO’s website.

Revised program book cover for the November 28 and 29, 1963, subscription concerts

Revised program book cover for the November 28 and 29, 1963, subscription concerts

November 22, 1963, already was a memorable day for Mary Sauer (currently the Orchestra’s principal keyboard), as it was her and her husband Richard’s fifth wedding anniversary. While on her way to Orchestra Hall for the Friday afternoon matinee concert, she heard the news of the events in Dallas: President John F. Kennedy had been shot at 12:30 p.m. CST while riding in a motorcade in Dealey Plaza. It was unconfirmed whether or not the president was still alive.

CSO flute and piccolo Walfrid Kujala recalled, “I remember emerging from the State Street subway around 1:00 p.m. on my way to Orchestra Hall and seeing a crowd hovering around a television display in the front window of a Palmer House store. That’s where I first learned about Kennedy’s assassination.” And CSO principal trombone Jay Friedman remembered, “I heard about it before I took the stage; it was announced on television earlier that day.”

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

The CSO matinee concert was scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m., not even two hours after the president had been shot and shortly after Walter Cronkite had confirmed the news of Kennedy’s death at 1:38 p.m. Just before the concert began, an announcement was made from the stage (presumably by general manager Seymour Raven) and there was significant reaction of shock from the audience, including audible gasps, cries, and even screams.

Moments before, it had been decided to open the concert with the second movement—the funeral march—from Beethoven’s Third Symphony (Eroica) followed by the rest of the program as scheduled: Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto, Henze’s Third Symphony, and Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with Byron Janis, all led by Jean Martinon. Sauer recalls the emotion of the musicians as they took the stage: “The feeling was similar to when we were in Lucerne on September 11, 2001, deciding whether or not to continue with the concert. There was a tremendous sense of uncertainty, because the news was so fresh and still unfolding, and we did not know so many of the facts. But ultimately, needing to perform was the only answer. One of the beauties of music is you can immerse yourself in the performance and let the music be a retreat from the rest of the world. Performing allows you to escape from the stresses of life as well as being a powerful means of releasing and sharing of one’s emotions.”

According to newspaper accounts, a “self-imposed blackout on all regular [entertainment] programs and commercials on television since President Kennedy’s assassination last Friday was brought to a close last night with special memorial programs.” The Chicago Symphony Orchestra made its own contribution on Monday, November 25, taping a concert for broadcast at 4:00 p.m. on WGN-TV. The program was carried by ABC in the afternoon and rebroadcast (presumably only locally) later that evening at 10:15 p.m.

The television program contained works by Gluck, Bach, Beethoven, and Barber, all led by Martinon. The Bach was a repeat of the First Brandenburg Concerto from the previous week and the Barber was his Adagio for Strings. However, the other two works on the program remain unconfirmed, as no programs were printed and we do not have a copy of the broadcast in our collection. A logical choice for the Gluck might have been the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo ed Euridice; but the Orchestra had just performed the Overture to Iphigénie en Aulide on November 14 and 15. Also, Martinon and the Orchestra had performed Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on October 10 and 11 and the Seventh Symphony on November 14 and 15, so both interpretations would have been fresh.

Revised program page for November 28 and 29, 1963

Program page for November 28 and 29, 1963

Friedman also recalled being in a restaurant that day, along with principal trumpet Adolph “Bud” Herseth, principal tuba Arnold Jacobs, and fellow section trombone Robert Lambert, watching the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery on television. When the bugler played Taps, Friedman remembers Bud saying, “I wouldn’t want his job.” (That job was given to Army Sgt. Keith Clark.)

The subscription concert program for November 28 and 29, 1963—originally programmed by Jean Martinon months before and designated as a memorial to Fritz Reiner only days before—became a memorial for President John F. Kennedy. A new program cover was printed and the Reiner insert also was used.

Margaret Hillis had prepared the Chicago Symphony Chorus for both works; and the soloists in the Mozart were Adele Addison, Carol Smith, Walter Carringer, and William Warfield. According to Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune, “After the emotional exhaustion of these last black days, neither the austere beauty of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms nor the not-quite Mozart of the Requiem asked more of the listener than he had left to give. It was a quiet, beautifully played, wholly compassionate concert in Orchestra Hall.”

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A footnote: at virtually the same time on Friday afternoon, November 22, 1963, a nearly identical scenario was unfolding in Kennedy’s home state of Massachusetts. The Boston Symphony Orchestra‘s Friday afternoon matinee began at 2:00 p.m. EST, and their concert already was in progress when orchestra management received word of the events in Dallas. Near the end of the first half of the program, music director Erich Leinsdorf was informed and the decision was made to play the second movement of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. Their librarians (including William Shisler, whose recollection of the event is here) quickly distributed the music and Leinsdorf made an announcement from the stage. The entire event was captured on tape by WGBH and the audio can be heard here.

Thanks to Bridget Carr, archivist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Images of the revised program pages can be found here, as part of the BSO’s Archives fantastic project to digitize their program book collection.

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A second footnote: to commemorate the anniversary, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will perform Stravinsky’s Elegy for J.F.K. on November 21, 22, 23, and 24, 2013. Kelley O’Connor will be the mezzo-soprano soloist; the work also features CSO clarinetists John Bruce Yeh, Gregory Smith, and J. Lawrie Bloom. Michael Tilson Thomas conducts.

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To honor Sir Georg Solti’s seventy-fifth birthday, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus gave a gala concert of the highest order on October 9, 1987.

Governor James R. Thompson opened the concert with welcoming remarks, and after the intermission, Mayor Harold Washington presented Sir Georg with the City of Chicago’s Medal of Merit. The concert program was as follows:

CORIGLIANO Campane di Ravello (world premiere)
Kenneth Jean, conductor

J. STRAUSS Overture to Die Fledermaus
Plácido Domingo, conductor

MOZART Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat Major, K. 365
Sir Georg Solti, conductor and piano
Murray Perahia, piano

STRAUSS Don Juan, Op. 20
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

Plácido Domingo and Kiri Te Kanawa perform a scene from Verdi’s Otello (Jim Steere photo)

VERDI Excerpts from Act 1 of Otello
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano
Plácido Domingo, tenor
Kurt R. Hansen, tenor
Joseph Wolverton, tenor
Richard Cohn, baritone
David Huneryager, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

The commemorative program contained letters and testimonials from numerous public officials, conductors, musicians, and industry professionals, including: Ronald Reagan, James R. Thompson, Harold Washington, Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Carlo Maria Giulini, Rafael Kubelík, John Corigliano, Christoph von Dohnányi, Rudolf Serkin, Henry Fogel, Michael Tilson Thomas, Christa Ludwig, Birgit Nilsson, Witold Lutosławski, Sir Charles Mackerras, Mstislav Rostropovich, Klaus Tennstedt, David Del Tredici, Leonard Bernstein, Leonard Slatkin, Werner Klemperer, José van Dam, Elliott Carter, Karel Husa, Isaac Stern, Morton Gould, Hans Werner Henze, Itzhak Perlman, Anja Silja, Erich Leinsdorf, Josef Suk, Plácido Domingo, Michael Tippett, Kiri Te Kanawa, Murray Perahia, Leontyne Price, András Schiff, Kenneth Jean, Andrzej Panufnik, Dame Janet Baker, Pierre Boulez, Yvonne Minton, Herbert Blomstedt, Mira Zakai, Margaret Hillis, Gunther Herbig, Ray Minshull, Ann Murray, Philip Langridge, Raymond Leppard, Vladimir Ashkenazy, George Rochberg, Gwynne Howell, Ardis Krainik, Michael Morgan, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Henry Mancini, and Barbara Hendricks.

Solti and Perahia as soloists in Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos (Jim Steere photo)

The concert was covered widely in the press, in the Chicago Tribune (here, here, and here) and Sun-Times (here and here), as well as Time, Newsweek, the Post-Tribune, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among many others.

____________________________________________________

Sir Georg Solti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first trip to Australia in March 1988, sharing podium duties with Michael Tilson Thomas.

March 3, 1988 – Perth Concert Hall, Perth
March 9, 1988 – Adelaide Festival Center, Adelaide
March 17, 1988 – Sydney Opera House, Sydney
March 19, 1988 – Brisbane Concert Hall, Brisbane
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
GLINKA Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla
HUSA Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra
Adolph Herseth, trumpet
BARTÓK Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin, Op. 19
BRAHMS Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

March 4, 1988 – Perth Concert Hall, Perth
March 7, 1988 –  Adelaide Festival Center, Adelaide
March 11, 1988 – Melbourne Concert Hall, Melbourne
March 16, 1988 – Sydney Opera House, Sydney
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
MAHLER Symphony No. 9

Michael Tilson Thomas and Solti at a press conference in Perth

March 5, 1988 – Perth Concert Hall, Perth
March 10, 1988 – Adelaide Festival Center, Adelaide
March 15, 1988 – Melbourne Concert Hall, Melbourne
March 18, 1988 – Sydney Opera House, Sydney
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b
IVES Symphony No. 3 (The Camp Meeting)
RACHMANINOV Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27

March 12, 1988 – Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
TCHAIKOVSKY 1812 Overture, Op. 49
TCHAIKOVSKY Romeo and Juliet
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64

Several of the concerts included performances of Husa’s Trumpet Concerto, which received its world premiere in Chicago just prior to the tour on February 11. The concerto was made possible by an endowment fund established by the family of Edward F. Schmidt in his memory, and it was dedicated to Herseth, Solti, and the Orchestra.

Adolph “Bud” Herseth and Sir Georg rehearse Husa’s Trumpet Concerto in Perth

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