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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the loss of Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki, who died on Sunday at his home in Krakow following a long illness. He was eighty-six.

Krzysztof Penderecki (Adam Kumiszcza photo)

“The death of Krzysztof Penderecki is a great loss for the music world,” wrote Riccardo Muti today from his home in Ravenna. “In the late 1970s with the Philharmonia Orchestra, I conducted his Symphony no. 1—a piece of extreme modernity—in London and in other European cities. In 2007, I was fortunate to meet him in person in Ravenna while he was conducting the Luigi Cherubini Orchestra in a concert dedicated entirely to his music. Later in 2016, he returned to conduct the ensemble at the Cathedral of Orvieto, Italy, where he led some of his compositions and Dvořák’s New World Symphony. Penderecki was a great musician—open to the contemporary music world—who was passionate to work with the young generation. He was an extraordinary human being and a person of great kindness. His passing is a great mourning to the music world.”

Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s most recent performances of the composer’s music—The Awakening of Jacob—to open the 127th season of subscription concerts on September 23 and 26, 2017.

In 2000, the composer himself was in Chicago to lead the Orchestra and Chorus in performances of his Seven Gates of Jerusalem, a work commissioned for the 3,000th anniversary of Jerusalem and premiered there in 1997. In a preview article in the Chicago Tribune, John von Rhein wrote, that the forces required to perform the work “are much larger than in any of Penderecki’s previous works. The symphony calls for five vocal soloists and a speaker, three choruses, a large onstage orchestra (including four percussion groups) and a smaller ensemble of woodwinds and brass stationed at the rear of the hall.” The complete program was as follows:

March 16, 17, and 18, 2000
SCHUBERT Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, D 485
PENDERECKI Seven Gates of Jerusalem
Krzysztof Penderecki, conductor
Bozena Harasimowicz-Haas, soprano
Izabella Klosíinska, soprano
Jadwiga Rappé, alto
Jorma Silvasti, tenor
Romauld Tesarowicz, bass
Alberto Mizrahi, speaker
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director

“An air of hammering declamation permeated Seven Gates,” wrote Wynne Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times. “The chorus announced its presence with stern, massed song in the work’s opening bars. Several of the movements had a steady, pacing rhythm that moved forward with the implacable force of an invading army. There were a few moments of respite. . . . The fifth movement, the exultant ‘Laude, Ierusalem Dominum (Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem)’ came closest to breaking away from big, somber gestures. Rhythms were more animated, percussion and individual instruments galloped and surged with nervous energy.”

The Orchestra performed music by Penderecki on a number of other occasions, as follows (all performances in Orchestra Hall):

Krzysztof Penderecki (Bruno Fidrych photo)

December 30, 1970; January 1 and 2, 1971
PENDERECKI Polymorphia
Aldo Ceccato, conductor

December 6 and 7, 1973
PENDERECKI Capriccio for Violin and Orchestra
Michael Gielen, conductor
Wanda Wilkomirska, violin

November 21, 22, and 23, 2002
PENDERECKI Symphony No. 4
Lorin Maazel, conductor

March 17, 19, and 22, 2011
PENDERECKI Concerto grosso for Three Cellos and Orchestra
Charles Dutoit, conductor
Katinka Kleijn, cello
Kenneth Olsen, cello
John Sharp, cello

Numerous tributes have been posted online at the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and The Guardian, among several others.


Solti leading a Verdi Requiem recording session at Medinah Temple in June 1977

Sir Georg Solti twice led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Verdi’s Requiem, with concerts in Orchestra Hall and Carnegie Hall.

April 24 and 26, 1975, at Orchestra Hall (special non-subscription concerts)
April 30, 1975, at Carnegie Hall
Leontyne Price, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Luciano Pavarotti, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

May 31, 1977, at Orchestra Hall (Musicians’ Pension Fund concert)
Leontyne Price, soprano
Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

The work was recorded in Medinah Temple on June 1 and 2, 1977.

John Warrack‘s review in Gramophone magazine noted: “Much credit for bringing four strong and distinctive artists into a unified performance, of distinctive character, clearly resides with Solti. Either he now takes a less hectic, more consolatory view of the work, or he has let the quality of his soloists make this the shaping element of the performance. He is fortunate in an outstanding choir and orchestra, and in a recording that encompasses all the vehemence of the ‘Dies irae’ and also the cool sound of the three flutes accompanying Dame Janet’s beautiful singing of the ‘Agnus Dei’, without any sense of a change of perspective.

“There are sections where he has allowed the choir to let vehemence do duty for real emphasis—a case in point is the ‘Te decet hymnus’—and the renewal of the main ‘Dies irae’ theme has a slight note of an automatic return to a sensational moment, rather than a re-intensification of the moment of Judgement.

“But this is a fine performance, and one which can stand beside any which has been recorded. To choose between this and the Giulini performance listed above is not really reasonable: Giulini has qualities which are unique, and close to the heart of the work; Solti has his own qualities, and is favoured with at least two incomparable performances among his soloists. We are fortunate to have both interpretations recorded.”

(Warrack refers to Carlo Maria Giulini‘s 1964 recording of Verdi’s Requiem on Angel with the Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra. The soloists were Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda, and Nicolai Ghiaurov. Solti also recorded the Requiem in November 1967 for London Records with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera Chorus. Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Luciano Pavarotti, and Martti Talvela were the soloists.)

Thomas Z. Shepard produced the recording, and Paul Goodman was the engineer for RCA (this was one of the few records Solti made independent of London/Decca). The recording won the 1977 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance (other than opera) from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

the vault

Theodore Thomas


The opinions expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

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