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Detail of title page for Boulez's Notations VII

Detail of title page of the score to Boulez’s Notations VII

According to Phillip Huscher, “Pierre Boulez composed the original Notations for piano in 1945, when the twenty-year-old composer was still a student of Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory. Boulez wrote twelve pieces, each twelve measures long (the number was central to the manifesto of the time). These Notations are concise, highly polished studies, each a precise and taut exploration of a single musical idea. Although Boulez quickly put them aside and moved on to greater challenges, they are among the works with which he opened a new chapter in the history of music.”

Boulez orchestrated the first four Notations in 1977 and 1978, and these versions were premiered by the Orchestre de Paris in 1980 with Daniel Barenboim conducting. Claudio Abbado led the Chicago Symphony’s first performances in October 1984, and Boulez himself conducted them with the Orchestra in October 1987. Near the end of the centennial season, music director designate Daniel Barenboim first led the Chicago Symphony in the four Notations in April 1991, and shortly thereafter, a second set of four orchestrations was commissioned for the Orchestra by the Edward F. Schmidt Family Commissioning Fund.

Teldec release

Daniel Barenboim and the Orchestra recorded Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Debussy’s La mer, and Boulez’s Notations VII for Teldec in January 2000

Boulez completed the first of these in 1997, and on January 14, 1999, the Orchestra gave the world premiere of Notations VII. Barenboim conducted the eight-minute work, followed by Pierre Boulez giving a brief discussion on his compositional process that included Barenboim performing the original piano version. Barenboim then conducted the work a second time. “What was abrupt in 1945 is now languorous; what was crude is now done with a lifetime’s experience and expertise; what was simple is fantastically embellished, even submerged,” wrote Paul Griffiths in The New York Times. “Boulez suggested the metaphor of long-buried grain sprouting, but one might rather think of an oyster making a pearl. As if irritated by the original piano piece, the composer has given it a sumptuous, dense, and opalescent coating, not only expanding it but also, in a way, withdrawing its shock. . . . The violent new influences of 1945 are, in the recomposition, being wiped away.”

Following the premiere, Barenboim led numerous performances of the five Notations in Chicago as well as on tour in Carnegie Hall, Berlin, Cologne, and Lucerne, and he included them during his farewell concerts as music director in June 2006. No. VII was recorded by Teldec in 2000.

This article also appears here.

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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.

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In addition to his twenty-two-year tenure as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1969-1991), Sir Georg Solti held a number of notable posts with other orchestras and opera companies.

At the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in 1952, leading Wagner’s Das Rheingold

His first official post was with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, where he served as music director from 1946 until 1952. Subsequently, he was also Generalmusikdirektor and Impresario for the Frankfurt Opera from 1952 until 1961.

Shortly after his guest conducting debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1959, he was invited by Dorothy Chandler—then the chairman of the Philharmonic’s board—to become their music director beginning the following year. He accepted.

Also in 1959, following the tremendous success in a production of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, he was invited to become music director by their chairman, the Earl of Drogheda.

In Solti’s words: “To his great surprise, I explained to him that although I was honored by the offer, I did not want the job, and that my refusal had nothing to do with the salary. I had accepted the directorship of the Los Angeles Philharmonic because I felt that I had spent enough time as an opera conductor and wanted to concentrate on symphonic music, and privately, I was not certain that I would be able to do justice to both Los Angeles and London if I accepted both jobs.”

While in Los Angeles for concerts in January 1960, Solti met with Bruno Walter who insisted he take the offer from Covent Garden. Solti took Walter’s advice and telegrammed his acceptance to David Webster (general manager of the Royal Opera House). They agreed that his residence would start in the fall of 1961, one year after the beginning of his tenure in Los Angeles.

At the same time, twenty-three-year-old Zubin Mehta had been invited to be an assistant conductor in Los Angeles. For the 1961-62 season, Fritz Reiner had been engaged to guest conduct the Philharmonic, but after his heart attack in October 1960, he canceled all engagements. According to Solti: “Without consulting me, Mrs. Chandler decided that Reiner’s concerts should be given to Mehta. In June 1960, while I was in London on Covent Garden business, I received a telegram from Mrs. Chandler, saying, ‘With your kind permission I have engaged Zubin Mehta as chief guest conductor of the Philharmonic.’ I was horrified. I had nothing at all against Mehta, who was an outstandingly talented young conductor, but the fact that the chairman of my new orchestra’s board had engaged a chief guest conductor without asking my opinion was intolerable. . . . I cabled back to say that under these conditions, I was unable to honor my contract in Los Angeles.”

Receiving applause with members of the Frankfurt Opera on tour in Paris in 1959, following a performance of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro

Solti went on to serve as music director at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden from 1961 until 1971. He also served as music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for the 1961-62 season.

During Solti’s one season in Dallas, he was approached by two members of the CSO’s Orchestral Association, Eric Oldberg (chairman of the board) and Seymour Raven (general manager). Fritz Reiner had announced his retirement at the conclusion of the 1962-63 season and they were searching for a possible replacement. Solti was concerned about not being able to honor his commitment to Covent Garden and wasn’t able to accept an offer.

In 1967, new general manager John Edwards, “came to tell me that Jean Martinon, Reiner’s successor, would be leaving the orchestra the following year and to ask whether I would be willing to become music director. I was certainly willing, but I thought that the job might be too much for me, inasmuch as I was still committed to Covent Garden. I suggested sharing responsibilities with [Carlo Maria] Giulini, who had worked often in Chicago and was much liked there.” After some negotiation, it was agreed that Solti would be music director and Giulini would become the CSO’s first principal guest conductor beginning in the fall of 1969.

Solti also served as music director of the Orchestre de Paris from 1972 until 1975 and as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 1979 until 1983.

Finally, Sir Georg Solti founded the World Orchestra for Peace in 1995 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations. He only conducted the orchestra’s inaugural concert on July 5, 1995, in Geneva, Switzerland. According to Sir Georg, “I was delighted to be involved in this event, as the UN is an organization in which I firmly believe, although I wish it could have more power and be allowed to function more effectively. Fittingly, the orchestra’s seventy-nine outstanding musicians came from forty-five orchestras in twenty-four countries. We played Rossini’s William Tell Overture as a tribute to Switzerland, our host country; Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the composer’s death; and the final scene from [Beethoven’s] Fidelio, for its theme of liberation.”

Text excerpted from Memoirs by Sir Georg Solti.

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