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In October 1958, Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra embarked on a two-week Eastern tour with stops in Ann Arbor, Cleveland, Syracuse, Rochester, Burlington, Boston, Philadelphia, New Brunswick, and Washington, D.C.

Fritz Reiner (Oscar Chicago photo)

Fritz Reiner (Oscar Chicago photo)

In Nancy Jordan Fako’s book Philip Farkas and His Horn, the Orchestra’s principal horn recounts the October 14 concert: “One incident that I think is worth repeating is a series of concerts we gave with Reiner in 1958 where we played in New York and several other cities, but the most notable concert was in Boston. This particular concert consisted of an overture by Berlioz, I believe it was the Corsair, and I know it was the Brahms Third Symphony, and after intermission we did [Strauss’s] Ein Heldenleben. The concert started off brilliantly, as the Berlioz would require, but as the concert progressed, it became apparent that we were about to give a flawless performance. Nothing happened! There were no cracked notes, no bad entrances, no bad intonation. Nothing! Nothing out of perfection! It went on and on, till the middle of Ein Heldenleben we all began to realize that were giving the perfect performance. And that is when the tension began mounting, much the same as the pitcher realizes in the eighth inning that he has a perfect no-hitter in the making, where each pitch becomes even more intense. At any rate, we finished the concert. It was an absolutely flawless production, even with Heldenleben. The audience was amazed and we were awed in our own ability. And as we came offstage, I saw Reiner standing in the wings at Symphony Hall in Boston and he was shaking hands with each and every musician as they came out. It finally came to my turn to shake hands and I noticed that Dr. Reiner was crying with tears running down his face, so I took the liberty to ask him why. He answered, ‘Well, we just had a perfect concert. All my life I have waited for a perfect concert and tonight we had one.’ Well, we all got backstage and everyone was elated. It was like we had just won the World Series. And who came backstage but Arthur Fiedler who had been in the audience, and he was shouting, ‘You’re not men, you’re gods.’ ”

October 14, 1958, Symphony Hall in Boston

October 14, 1958, Symphony Hall in Boston

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Helen Kotas

In 1941, Frederick Stock appointed Helen Kotas to the position of principal horn, making her the first woman to hold a rostered position in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She was the first female to secure such a position—in fact, the first woman to be hired as principal of any section, except harp—in a major U.S. orchestra.

While still a student, earning a degree in psychology from the University of Chicago (which she received in 1936), Kotas served as a member of the Civic Orchestra and principal horn in the Woman’s Symphony Orchestra. Stock hired her as a regular extra horn at the beginning of the Orchestra’s fiftieth season in 1940, although she was not under contract. In 1940 and 1941, Kotas performed in Leopold Stokowski’s All-American Youth Orchestra’s summer tours; also in 1941, Fritz Reiner offered her the third-chair seat in the horn section of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Oct 1941 (Pottag, Erickson, Mourek, Verschoor, Kotas

Kotas surrounded by the rest of the horn section in October 1941: Max Pottag, Frank Erickson, Joseph Mourek, and William Verschoor

Shortly after her audition in Pittsburgh, Stock auditioned Kotas for principal horn to fill the vacancy left by Philip Farkas when he left to join the Cleveland Orchestra. Stock offered her the job and contacted Reiner, who agreed to release her from the Pittsburgh commitment. Kotas would serve as principal until 1947, when Farkas returned to the Orchestra. She moved to third chair for one season and left the Orchestra in 1948; she married University of Chicago pathologist Edwin Hirsch the following year.

Kotas later was principal horn of the Grant Park Orchestra from 1950 until 1958, and she also served as principal horn of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra from 1954 until 1959, and third horn until 1965, after which she largely retired from performing.

The first woman listed on the Orchestra’s roster was Mrs. Lawrence (Anna) Winch, second harp for the 1892–93 season. Other women subsequently performed as second harp; however, the position was not contracted and rostered full-time until the beginning of the 1957–58 season, when Carol Baum was hired as second harp. The first rostered woman in the string section was cellist Alice Lawrence in the 1942–43 season, and the first in the wind section was flutist Caroline Solfronk Vacha in the 1943–44 season.

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Bartok Bloch

Happy (almost) 100th birthday, maestro!

Rafael Kubelík and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra made a series of landmark recordings in Orchestra Hall for Mercury Records during our fifth music director’s brief tenure. A complete list of those recordings is below.

BARTÓK Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta
April 1951

BLOCH Concerto grosso No. 1
April 1951
George Schick, piano

Dvorak

BRAHMS Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
April 1952

DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 (From the New World)
November 1951

HINDEMITH Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Weber
April 1953

MOZART Symphony No. 34 in C Major, K. 338
December 1952

MOZART Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504 (Prague)
December 1952

Mussorgsky

MUSSORGSKY/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition
April 1951

SCHOENBERG Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16
April 1953

SMETANA Má Vlast
December 1952

TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36
November 1951

TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 (Pathétique)
April 1952

Tchaikovsky
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On its From the Archives series, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra also released several Kubelík-conducted works, all originally recorded for radio broadcast between 1950 and 1991.

BARBER Capricorn Concerto for Flute, Oboe, Trumpet, and Strings, Op. 21
December 2 & 5, 1982
Donald Peck, flute
Ray Still, oboe
Adolph Herseth, trumpet

BRITTEN Sinfonia da requiem, Op. 24
November 3 and 4, 1983

A Tribute to Rafael Kubelik

BRUCKNER Symphony No. 6 in A Major
December 9 & 11, 1982

DELLO JOIO Variations, Chaconne, and Finale
December 2 & 5, 1982

DVOŘÁK Husitzká Overture, Op. 67
October 18, 1991

DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88
December 8, 1966

HARRIS Symphony No. 5
December 2 & 5, 1982

KUBELÍK Sequences for Orchestra
November 9, 1980

MARTINŮ Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano, and Timpani
March 20 & 22, 1980
Mary Sauer, piano
Donald Koss, timpani

MOZART Finale (Allegro) from Horn Concerto No. 3 in E-flat Major, K. 447
September 27, 1950
Philip Farkas, horn

MOZART Masonic Funeral Music, K. 477
March 15, 1980

A Tribute to Rafael Kubelik II

MOZART Mass in C Major, K. 317 (Coronation)
March 15, 1980
Lucia Popp, soprano
Mira Zakai, mezzo-soprano
Alexander Oliver, tenor
Malcolm King, bass

RAVEL Le tombeau de Couperin
November 3 and 4, 1983

ROSSINI Overture to Tancredi
November 27, 1951

ROUSSEL Symphony No. 3 in G Minor, Op. 42
November 3, 4, & 6, 1983
(Released on Chicago Symphony Orchestra: The First 100 Years)

SUK Meditations on an Ancient Czech Chorale, Op. 35 (Holy Wenceslaus)
December 25, 1951

WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
December 22 and 23, 1966

WALTON Belshazzar’s Feast
March 30, 1952 (University of Illinois Auditorium; Urbana, Illinois)
Nelson Leonard, baritone
University of Illinois Choir and Men’s Glee Club
Paul Young, director
University of Illinois Women’s Glee Club
John Bryden, director
University of Illinois Brass Bands
Lyman Starr and Haskell Sexton, directors

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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