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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68

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

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

Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90

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

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

Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

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

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

Jacqueline du Pré On January 26, 2015, we celebrate the seventieth birthday of the remarkable English cellist Jacqueline du Pré, who performed and recorded with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1969 and 1970.

According to her husband—and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ninth music director from 1991 until 2006—Daniel Barenboim in his autobiography A Life in Music: “Jacqueline’s way of playing did not really change from the time she was a teenager . . . Even then, she played with incredible intensity and vivacity. Obviously she continued to develop, but the basic personality and character of her cello playing was established at a very early age. Of all the great musicians I have met in my life, I have never encountered anyone for whom music was such a natural form of expression as it was for Jacqueline. With most musicians you feel that they are human beings who happen to play music. With her, you had the feeling that here was a musician who also happened to be a human being. Of course, one had to eat and drink and sleep and have friends. But with her the proportions were different—music was the centre of her existence.”

Tragically, her performing career was cut short and she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in October 1973. Du Pré died in London on October 19, 1987, at the age of forty-two.

Du Pré only performed and recorded with the Orchestra on a handful of occasions, but those occasions were notable not only for her playing but also because of the conductors with whom she shared the stage.

In February 1969, Pierre Boulez made his first guest conducting appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The first week included Daniel Barenboim’s subscription concert debut as piano soloist, and on the second week’s program, Jacqueline du Pré made her debut with the Orchestra, as soloist in Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor.

Later that same year in November, Georg Solti made his first conducting appearances as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director. The centerpiece of that program was Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor with du Pré as soloist.

DB & du Pré Medinah Temple recording - Nov 11 1970

Barenboim and du Pré during a recording session break at Medinah Temple on November 11, 1970 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

In November 1970, du Pré and Barenboim appeared in a series of concerts at Michigan State University as part of a festival celebrating the bicentennial of Ludwig van Beethoven. The pair presented an evening of chamber music on November 2, and Barenboim gave an all-Beethoven piano recital the following night. On November 4, Barenboim made his conducting debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the first piece on the program was Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. Two days later, du Pré was soloist in Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto. The complete programs are here.

In the Lansing State Journal after the November 4 concert, Winnifred Sherburn commented: “Miss du Pré, cello soloist with the symphony, must be heard and seen to be believed. Her beautiful playing of the Dvořák Concerto for Violoncello enthralled the capacity audience. Barenboim, who conducted, gave the most sensitive support, perfectly controlling the ensemble. The effect was that of a large orchestra listening to a solo instrument with the closest attention. . . . Though loosely knit, the music was brilliant and dramatic and Miss du Pré played it gloriously with all her wonderful tone, technique, and style.” The complete review is here.

Dvorak CSO du Pré

Later that week in the Journal, Mary Perpich wrote: “But it was Miss du Pré that took the audience’s hearts with her unique rendering of the Saint-Saëns concerto. She is fascinating to watch. Looking almost childlike in her full-length evening gown of purple and green with her long, blonde hair pulled back from her face, the 25-year-old master musician perched on a chair next to her husband and began her thoroughly captivating performance. And while she played she seemed to go into a trance, caressing the cello lovingly as if it were a newborn child, head moving gently from side to side, she and her instrument produced beautifully tempered music. She broke the spell only twice to watch her husband a cue and smile triumphantly at the orchestra concertmaster. The audience brought her back for five bows before she finally left [the] stage.” The complete review is here.

On November 11, 1970, at Medinah Temple, du Pré recorded Dvořák’s Cello Concerto and Silent Woods with Daniel Barenboim leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. For Angel Records, Peter Andry was the producer and Carson Taylor was the balance engineer. The recording has been in print ever since.

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Theodore Thomas

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Last week, Symphony Center welcomed more than 17,500 audience members, including many Chicago Public Schools students who received free tickets and busing in celebration of the 100th season of the Orchestra’s concert series for children. Share your stories of the CSO School and Family concerts through the link in our description. Guest actors from The Second City joined the CSO to guide the audience in understanding the inner workings of the orchestra. Edwin Outwater led the orchestra in selections from Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, and Grieg’s Suite No. 1 from Peer Gynt. Photos from Saturday’s Family Matinee concerts by @toddrphoto.
CSO Concertmaster Robert Chen leads his fellow orchestra members in an all-Mozart program. The program is bookended with familiar works, opening with Eine kleine Nachtmusik and closing with Symphony No. 25. Chen is soloist in Violin Concerto No. 3 (Strassburg), and CSO Principal Flute Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson makes his CSO solo debut with Flute Concerto No. 2. Link to tickets is in our bio. 📸: @toddrphoto
Curated by Mead Composer-in-Residence Missy Mazzoli, the 2018/19 season of MusicNOW continues with a program titled “Chicago’s Own,” featuring works from four composers with Chicago roots—Suzanne Farrin, Morgan Krauss, Drew Baker and Sky Macklay—as well as Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason. CSO Viola Weijing Wang is soloist in Suzanne Farrin’s Uscirmi di braccia, and CSO Cello Katinka Kleijn is soloist in Daníel Bjarnason’s three movement piece Bow to String. Conductor Alan Pierson leads an ensemble of musicians from the CSO and guest musicians. 📸: @toddrphoto

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