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Current music director Riccardo Muti and former music directors Daniel Barenboim, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, and Sir Georg Solti are squarely included, along with principal guest conductors Claudio Abbado, Pierre Boulez, and Carlo Maria Giulini; principal conductor Bernard Haitink; and Ravinia Festival music directors James Levine and Seiji Ozawa.
According to the article, “A great conductor illuminates music you thought you knew in a way that you couldn’t possibly have imagined.” Indeed.
In the spring of 1976, the major American political parties had not yet hosted their conventions to nominate candidates for president. But on May 11—the day after the first of three concerts at Carnegie Hall by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Sir Georg Solti—Donal Henahan of The New York Times had a suggestion:
“Solti’s Chicagoans Stimulate a Yen to Yell”
It is pretty well agreed now, among decibel collectors, that the audiences at Chicago Symphony concerts make more noise than anybody. If you happen to pass Carnegie Hall tomorrow or Friday night and notice that sturdy old monument rocking slightly on its foundations, do not worry: It is only the Chicago orchestra’s fans going happily mad over a performance conducted by Sir Georg Solti. (Don’t run out to buy tickets, by the way; Chicago Symphony concerts are invariably sold out as soon as they are announced.)
The sheer fervor, somewhat resembling religious fanaticism, that characterizes the New York ovations for Chicago/Solti, is a phenomenon worth some sociologist’s study. Of course, the Chicago Symphony is one of the world’s great orchestras, and Sir Georg is undeniably one of the world’s most exciting conductors. The cheering is, therefore, aimed at real quality.
But the Dionysian frenzy that many observers have commented upon goes beyond ordinary enthusiasm into the category of the demonstration. Chicago players and Sir Georg himself have confessed that the intensity of these ovations in New York takes them aback. Thoughtful musicians cross their fingers, in fact. They have seen reputations rise and fall, for what seems too little reason either way, and know how capricious and irrational audiences can be.
The Chicago/Solti phenomenon has been compared to the cult that grew up around Toscanini and his NBC Symphony a generation ago, to the Stokowski fan clubs of his Philadelphia Orchestra years and to the von Karajan mystique in some sectors of the musical world today. Unsophisticated music listeners, with the help of judicious publicity agents, love to fasten upon an idol, to proclaim this or that artist “the greatest” and fall prostrate at mention of the holy name. Other and wiser folk simply like to cheer what they regard as the best. Cheering is an emotional purgative, a primal scream that often seems to do the screamer more good than the
Beyond the obvious fact of its lofty quality, there are several arguable rationalizations for the kind of hysteria regularly generated by the Chicago under Sir Georg. When the orchestra made its first Carnegie Hall appearances under him six years ago, many knowledgeable New Yorkers were simply flattened by what they heard. The Chicago Symphony—unlike the Cleveland under Szell, the Boston under Leinsdorf, the Philadelphia under Ormandy—had not been a regular visitor.
Fritz Reiner, who built the orchestra to its current level in the late 1950s, hated touring. He refused to do the kind of barnstorming to high prestige places that would have made the Chicago Symphony’s greatness apparent to more than the blessed few who heard it regularly in its own Orchestra Hall during Dr. Reiner’s ten‐year regime.
The fact, which Sir Georg readily admits, is that the Chicago Symphony as it stands (or sits) is largely the product of the Reiner years. The Solti genius has consisted in making splendid use of a ready‐made instrument. Not the least amazing thing about the Chicago’s current status as a symbol of excellence is that of all major American orchestras it is the oldest: Most of the players date back to the Reiner years before.
Another possible factor in the Chicago’s popularity is the high percentage of opera fans who frequent these concerts. One of Sir Georg’s first smash successes at Carnegie came in 1971 with a concert performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, and he subsequently offered four other operatic attractions. His sixth, on Friday night, will be The Flying Dutchman.
Sir Georg, you remember, had been artistic director of London’s Covent Garden opera house, and his renown as an opera conductor fattened considerably when he completed the first Ring cycle ever produced on commercially available recordings, for London Records. And, since opera enthusiasts on the whole are famous—or notorious, as you wish—for treating their heroes and heroines to hysterical ovations, Chicago/Solti has not suffered from being attractive to the opera set.
Another and probably more disputable conjecture: there existed in New York at the time of the Chicago/Solti arrival on the scene, a considerable number of people who yearned to hear concerts led by an unashamedly passionate “maestro,” preferably someone cast in the Toscanini mold. To some extent, Leonard Bernstein in his early years with the Philharmonic fulfilled the needs of this sizable and vocal constituency.
But when Pierre Boulez took charge of the Philharmonic these New Yorkers missed their former feeling of audience participation. They came to regard themselves as disenfranchised musical citizens. Mr. Boulez seemed to them more acoustical scientist than performer, and his analytical talents and objective approach to music were largely unappreciated. For this emotional breed of listener, the coming of Chicago/Solti offered a chance not merely to applaud but also—almost in the political sense of the word—to demonstrate. It was as if they were sending a message.
The yen to yell can come to be as important to certain audiences as the music itself. Opera fans, in particular, seem to regard their demonstrations of affection and approbation as part of the performance, and that can be obnoxious when carried too far. But any continuing audience, such as the one attracted by the Chicago/Solti concerts, is also acting out a communal claim to eliteness. It is proclaiming its own superior taste and knowledge, as well as showing the performers how much they are appreciated: We happy few who know what’s what, we proud melomaniacs, we who make (and can easily break) heroes, salute.
In any event, the Chicago Solti ovations are likely to go down among the legends of New York’s cultural life. And perhaps the explanation is simpler than suggested here. When the inevitable ranting and raving is heard at Carnegie Hall, it may merely be one sector of the musical electorate voting for its concept of what orchestral concerts should be. The Chicago Symphony for President, as it were. Well, we could do worse.
The 1976 U.S. presidential election was held on November 2, 1976. Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, the Democratic party candidate, ran against and defeated incumbent president Gerald Ford, the Republican candidate.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the loss of Deborah Guscott, who was a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus’s alto section for twenty-eight seasons. Having most recently performed in Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet and Verdi’s Falstaff this past April under Riccardo Muti, she died on August 10, 2016, following a long illness.
A graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Guscott joined the Chicago Symphony Chorus at the invitation of founder and longtime director Margaret Hillis in 1987. For nearly thirty years, she regularly performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under three music directors—Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, and Muti—as well as Pierre Boulez, Bernard Haitink, James Levine, Christoph Eschenbach, and James Conlon, among many others. Guscott appeared on numerous recordings—several of them Grammy Award winners—and performed in Orchestra Hall, Medinah Temple, and Carnegie Hall; at the Ravinia Festival; and on tour with the Orchestra and Chorus to London, Salzburg, and Berlin.
Guscott was a fixture on the Chicago vocal scene, performing with countless ensembles, including the Grant Park Chorus, Light Opera Works, Music of the Baroque, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Ravinia Festival Orchestra, Bach Week Festival, Oriana Singers, and Chicago a cappella, among many others. She was a soloist on several occasions for the Do-it-Yourself Messiah under Hillis and with the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest under its music director Jay Friedman. An active liturgical musician, Guscott worked at many churches and temples in the Chicagoland area, most recently as music director and cantor at both Saint Domitilla Parish in Hillside and Divine Providence Parish in Westchester.
Duain Wolfe, director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus since 1994, described his longtime colleague: “An alto with a particularly rich, luscious sound, Deb contributed significantly to the highly lauded sound of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. We are all very grateful for her gifts, both as an important musician in our ranks and as a strong, positive force who always found the silver lining in every cloud. Deb’s indomitable spirit has been an inspiration to all of us, and we will miss her greatly.”
Music director of the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest—and CSO principal trombone—Jay Friedman added, “Deb Guscott was my go-to contralto for the past twenty years in many solo roles from opera to oratorio. She possessed a true contralto voice, something rare and perfect for Mahler, Wagner, and many other great masters. Deb was a fun person and a joy to work with—always upbeat and willing to rehearse at a moment’s notice—and she will be greatly missed.”
Christopher Bell, director of the Grant Park Chorus since 2002, shared his thoughts with the musicians of his chorus: “I was privileged to have Deb—a well known and beloved singer in Chicago—in the Grant Park Chorus and honored to be able to call her a friend. My abiding memory of my last visit with her will be of much laughter and hilarity, as we shared many memories and reminiscences. The Chicago singing community is a strong and closely knit one, and I know that you, like me, are saddened and shocked by this loss of one of our own. Today, I am thinking of you all and sharing your sorrow.”
There will be a service in her memory given at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica (3121 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago 60612) on Saturday, September 3, 2016, beginning at 11:00 a.m. The upcoming Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performances of Brahms’s A German Requiem on November 10, 11, and 12, 2016—a work that Guscott performed on many occasions with the Chorus—will be dedicated to her memory.
One of Guscott’s many solo performances with the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest under Friedman was of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony on November 16, 2003. A live recording of her singing the fourth movement—Urlicht—is available in the link below.
On November 13, 2005—under the leadership of Martha Gilmer, vice president of artistic administration, and composer and writer Gerard McBurney—the Chicago Symphony Orchestra launched Beyond the Score with an in-depth analysis followed by a complete performance of Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben. Daniel Harding conducted.
“The introduction deftly mixed vintage photos projected onto a huge overhead screen, excerpts from Strauss’s letters, commentary from his contemporaries, and short excerpts from the tone poem itself,” wrote Wynne Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times. “The pacing was seamless, the information on Strauss and his era coming in easily digestible but never watered-down nuggets. When the CSO played the entire work straight through after intermission, the large audience couldn’t help but feel like newly minted connoisseurs. Enjoying subtleties well below the surface beauties of Strauss’s tone poem, they were attentive, at times rapt. McBurney and his colleagues at the CSO succeeded brilliantly with the most difficult aspect of these kinds of programs: keeping the focus on the music.”
In May 2006, McBurney officially joined the staff of the CSOA as artistic programming advisor. Since then, the Beyond the Score concept evolved into freer and more vivid presentations and collaborations with a wide variety of art collections, scholars, libraries, folk musicians, and actors from all over the world.
Highlights of the series have included thorough analyses of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Holst’s The Planets, and Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony. Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead and Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde were presented as seamless dramatizations, and Pierre Boulez led Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin and closely advised on Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire. Concertmaster Robert Chen was featured in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade; and Gwendolyn Brown, an alumna of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center, performed Negro spirituals as part of Dvořák’s New World Symphony. In 2014, McBurney—collaborating with architect Frank Gehry—presented a special and comprehensive examination of music by Pierre Boulez.
This article also appears here.
In March 1898, Theodore Thomas and the Chicago Orchestra embarked on a monthlong tour through Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. In New York, the tour included six concerts at the Metropolitan Opera House, one at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Orchestra’s debut in Carnegie Hall on March 7.
The program for Carnegie was entirely comprised of music by French composers, featuring the U.S. premiere of Franck’s Variations symphoniques and Saint-Saëns’s Fifth Piano Concerto, both with Raoul Pugno as soloist. Composer Alexandre Guilmant also appeared, as organ soloist in his Adoration, Allegro, and Final à la Schumann, as well as Lefebvre’s Méditation. Berlioz’s Overture to King Lear, Franck’s Le chasseur maudit, Saint-Saëns’s Le rouet d’Omphale, and Massenet’s Suite from Les Erinnyes rounded out the program.
The reviewer in Harper’s Bazaar praised the performances of both Pugno and Guilmant, “and the enjoyment of the afternoon was increased by the good work done by the Chicago Orchestra.” The New York Times added, “The Orchestra was heard to great advantage in Saint-Saëns’s symphonic poem, which was played with consummate finish, and Mr. Thomas’s accompaniments to the soloists were a source of joy.” And the New York Tribune heralded the concert as “an exhibition of virtuosity.”
The Orchestra has returned to Carnegie Hall on numerous occasions, under music directors Frederick Stock, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, and Riccardo Muti; principal guest conductors Carlo Maria Giulini, Claudio Abbado, and Pierre Boulez; principal conductor Bernard Haitink; chorus director and conductor Margaret Hillis; and associate conductor Henry Mazer.
This article also appears here.
Following performances in Chicago, Pierre Boulez led the Orchestra, Chorus (prepared by Margaret Hillis and singing in Hungarian), and soloists tenor John Aler and bass John Tomlinson in recording sessions for Bartók’s Cantata profana on December 16, 1991. Later that week, Boulez and the Orchestra recorded The Wooden Prince on December 20 and 21. Deutsche Grammophon paired both works and released the recording in early 1993.
“Boulez provides what is by far the best studio recording the [Cantata profana] has ever had . . . truly state-of-the-art in terms of sound,” wrote Rob Cowan in the March 1993 issue of Gramophone. “Boulez is able to command a shimmering hushed pp, yet the battle-hardy Allegro molto with its hectoring syncopations and warlike percussion, is full of grit and muscle. . . .The Chicago Symphony Chorus egg the proceedings on with tireless zeal.”
Regarding The Wooden Prince, Cowan continued: “Again, the soft music is wonderfully atmospheric: the ppp muted violins in the prelude have a ghostly pallor that is so typical of this orchestra’s quiet string playing, yet when all are enraged at full throttle, the effect is shattering. Detail is legion throughout: the basses, brass, and drums have immense presence (the Dance of the Trees issues an ominous growl), there’s plenty of percussion glitter in the chirpy Dance of the Princess with the wooden prince, and the work’s lyrical close is beautifully blended.”
On March 1, 1994, the recording was awarded four Grammy awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Orchestra’s performance of The Wooden Prince was recognized in the Best Orchestral Performance category, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was awarded Best Performance of a Choral Work for its rendering of the Cantata profana. Rainer Maillard was recognized for his work in the Best Engineered Recording–Classical category, and the entire release won for Best Classical Album.
This article also appears here.
At the Berlin Philharmonie on April 1, 1999—following two performances at Orchestra Hall on March 24 and 26—Pierre Boulez led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron. “The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the equally formidable Chicago Symphony Chorus (appearing for the first time in Germany), Chris Merritt and David Pittmann-Jennings [in the title roles], chorus director Duain Wolfe, and, on top of it, a relaxed yet excited Pierre Boulez . . . led the ensemble effortlessly through the work,” praised Manuel Brug in Die Welt. The Orchestra “played the sometimes harsh notes without any brash force in beauty, glimmer, and warmth as if it were a score by Strauss. . . . The difficulty was handled like a walk in the park, especially with the almost perfect pronunciation of the Chorus, with magnificent presence.”
“The concert of the century!” proclaimed Klaus Geitel in the Berliner Morgenpost. “Under the truly magnificent leadership of Pierre Boulez, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its affiliated phenomenal chorus performed Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron: the ‘old testament’ of new music. . . . One should not expect to hear Schoenberg’s most demanding piece in comparable perfection ever again.”
The Orchestra and Chorus, under the direction of Sir Georg Solti, had performed Schoenberg’s opera twice previously at Orchestra Hall: on November 11, 12, and 13, 1971 (also with a run-out to Carnegie Hall on November 20), and again on April 19 and 21, 1984. Later that month, the opera was recorded at Orchestra Hall for London Records.
In Gramophone, Arnold Whittall observed that Solti’s “faith in Schoenberg’s most ambitious dramatic project remains undimmed and he believes that, with increasing familiarity, the music becomes ‘clearer, less complicated, and more expressive and romantic’ . . . [explaining the] abiding fascination of Schoenberg’s last attempt to bring a great philosophical issue to dramatic life.” The recording won the 1985 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.
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.
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.
Pierre Boulez’s first conducting appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1969 were greatly anticipated. His book Notes of an Apprenticeship had recently been published in English, and the Orchestra would be performing his music—the U.S. premiere of Livre pour cordes (two movements from his Livre pour quatuor from 1948, reworked in 1968 for string orchestra)—for the first time.
The concerts also included the CSO debut of Jacqueline du Pré in Schumann’s Cello Concerto on February 27 and 28 and the CSO subscription concert debut of her husband, Daniel Barenboim, in Bartók’s First Piano Concerto on February 20, 21, and 22. (Barenboim first appeared with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on June 24, 1965, in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with André Previn conducting.)
In the Chicago Tribune, Peter Gorner wrote: “If Diogenes [the cynic] could have made it to Orchestra Hall last night, he would have blown out his lantern and become a believer. For there have existed few composers more honest than Debussy, Bartók, Webern, and [Boulez’s teacher at the Paris Conservatory] Olivier Messiaen. And there are few interpreters more honest than Pierre Boulez. Honesty depends upon conviction, and Boulez firmly believes in the classics of our century. He also is immensely qualified to spread the word, possessing a composer’s mind, a conductor’s savvy, and a poet’s soul.”
On Barenboim, Gorner continued: “The Bartók was his flashy First Piano Concerto, with the ubiquitous Daniel Barenboim as soloist, and a magnificent one at that. His technique made the concerto sound easier than it is, and he conjured the steely touch and native awareness of cumulative energy to make it work. The colloquy between percussion and piano in the andante which followed sounded flawless.”
In his review for the Chicago Daily News of the second week’s program, Bernard Jacobson wrote: “Boulez has emphasized that in its new form [Livre pour cordes] is far more than a mere arrangement of the original—it is a full-scale recomposition, tackling the same musical problems but in terms of an entirely different medium. The result is music of formidable textural complexity, great sonorous variety, and powerful dramatic impact. . . . Yet Boulez’s characteristic intellectual control has ensured that the myriad events cohere in a rigorous organization of immediately perceptible unity.”
And in the Chicago Tribune, regarding the “immensely gifted young cellist Jacqueline du Pré,” Thomas Willis added: “[She] plays for keeps all the time. Each note has maximum persuasive power. There is a total commitment of both physiological and musical resources. The melodic line is maximally weighted. When she is not playing, she is often reacting to the orchestral dialog—so much a part of the Schumann concerto.”
This article also appears here.
After his 1969 debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez returned as guest conductor in 1987 and, beginning in 1991, appeared annually in Chicago. During celebrations for his seventieth birthday, he was named the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s third principal guest conductor on March 30, 1995.
Boulez led the Orchestra in an extraordinary breadth of repertoire, including the music of Bartók, Berg, Berio, Bruckner, Carter, Debussy, Janáček, Ligeti, Mahler, Messiaen, Prokofiev, Rands, Ravel, Schoenberg, Scriabin, Strauss, Stravinsky, Varèse, and Webern, in addition to his own compositions. He conducted world premieres by the Orchestra’s composers-in-residence Shulamit Ran and Augusta Read Thomas, as well as by Philippe Manoury and Matthias Pintscher.
Boulez traveled with the Orchestra to New York’s Carnegie Hall and on tour to England, Germany, Hungary, and Japan. He curated several MusicNOW concerts; delivered lectures at the Art Institute of Chicago; collaborated in Beyond the Score presentations both in Chicago and in New York; and conducted the Civic Orchestra on several occasions, both in concert and in reading sessions of new music.
Several of his many recordings with the Orchestra were Grammy winners in multiple categories, including Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, The Wooden Prince, Cantata profana, and Concerto for Orchestra; Mahler’s Ninth Symphony; and Varèse’s Amériques, Arcana, Déserts, and Ionisation. In fact, Boulez is the third all-time Grammy winner—behind Sir Georg Solti (thirty-one) and Alison Krauss and Quincy Jones (twenty-seven each)—with twenty-six awards to his credit.
In 2006, Boulez was named the Orchestra’s Helen Regenstein Conductor Emeritus.
Boulez’s most recent residency in Chicago was during two weeks in 2010. On November 26 and 27, he led Debussy’s Selections from The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, Ligeti’s Violin Concerto with concertmaster Robert Chen, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, and Debussy’s La mer. The following week, on December 2, 3, and 4, he conducted Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night and Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass with vocal soloists Christine Brewer, Nancy Maultsby, Lance Ryan, and Mikhail Petrenko; organist Paul Jacobs; and the Chicago Symphony Chorus.
This article also appears here.