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Riccardo Muti (Todd Rosenberg photo)

A recent Gramophone magazine article lists its fifty greatest conductors of all time, and several Chicago Symphony Orchestra titled conductors are prominently featured!

Current music director Riccardo Muti and former music directors Daniel BarenboimRafael 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.

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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.

March 7, 1898

March 7, 1898

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.

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March 9 and 10, 1928

March 9 and 10, 1928

On March 9 and 10, 1928, Vladimir Horowitz first appeared with the Orchestra in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto with Frederick Stock conducting. His U.S. debut had been less than two months before, at Carnegie Hall on January 12, when he was soloist in Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the New York Philharmonic under Sir Thomas Beecham.

In the Herald & Examiner, Glenn Dillard Gunn proclaimed the twenty-four-year old pianist the greatest talent to come out of Russia since Rachmaninov. “Whether he sustains a tenuous thread of melody or thunders more loudly than the Orchestra’s basses and percussions, his playing has diction. He never fails to impart to every moment of his performance that especial inflection, accent, or rhythmic impulse which adds eloquence to mere tonal beauty.” Herman Devries in the Chicago American took it even further, saying, “A sensation, nothing less, one of the most amazingly legitimate sensations of the generation. . . . The Orchestra itself, Mr. Stock, too, whose accompaniment was actually emotionally inspired, was visibly moved and impressed. Don’t ask me to describe his playing, just go. It’s something one does not have to describe. No one can dissect genius—and Horowitz is a genius—a young demi-god.”

March 26 and 27, 1953

Advertisement for Horowitz’s March 26 and 27, 1953 concerts (canceled due to illness)

Horowitz returned regularly for more than twenty years, performing under music directors Désiré Defauw and Artur Rodzinski and guest conductor Eugene Ormandy in concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky. To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of his U.S. debut, he was scheduled to appear again in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto under Rafael Kubelík in March 1953, but having fallen ill with the flu, he was forced to cancel.

He returned to Chicago on several occasions to perform in recital, and his last appearance—at the age of eighty-three— was on October 26, 1986. “Sunday’s concert found the great pianist in a generally more introspective mood,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. Horowitz played with “a lyrical sensitivity, a limpid and beautifully proportioned pianism, a seamless, purling legato of the sort no other pianist can duplicate.”

Deutsche Grammophon recently released—for the first time on CD—Horowitz‘s final recital in Orchestra Hall from October 26, 1986.

This article also appears here.

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Rafael Kubelík, Chicago, November 1951

Rafael Kubelík, Chicago, November 1951

On October 23 and 24, 1952, fifth music director Rafael Kubelík led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the music most closely associated with his native Czechoslovakia, Smetana’s Má vlast.

“Smetana’s My Country is regarded in Kubelík’s Czechoslovakia with a reverence which rises superior to admiration and becomes a symbol of patriotic love,” wrote Felix Borowski in the Chicago Sun-Times. He continued that Kubelík’s interpretation “transcended mere music making. It was an impressive, even jubilant, rite. . . . It was evident that Orchestra Hall realized that this concert was more than ordinarily important to its conductor. Kubelík never previously had led his orchestra with so much outward disclosure of inspiration, nor indeed, had the players responded with so much zest. . . . The Moldau was received with notable enthusiasm, and this was as it should be, for the work rarely has been given with so much color and brilliance of effect.”

October 27, 28, and 29, 1983

October 27, 28, and 29, 1983

On December 4 and 5 of that year, the work was recorded by Mercury Records. Returning as a guest conductor, Kubelík led performances of the six symphonic poems on January 23 and 24, 1969, and again on October 27, 28, and 29, 1983.

John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune called Kubelík’s third complete cycle with the Orchestra “his finest. One has only to compare it with the famous recording of Má vlast he made with the Chicago Symphony in 1952 at the start of his final season as CSO music director. In every respect the present performance was superior, not just because Kubelík is a more searching interpreter than he was thirty-one years ago, but also because the Orchestra responds with so much more skill and understanding. And why not? Kubelík taught them the style.”

This article also appears here.

MENDELSSOHN Wedding MarchThe commercial recording legacy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—under second music director Frederick Stock—began on May 1, 1916. For the Columbia Graphophone Company (at an undocumented location in Chicago), they recorded Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre; and Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies, Heart Wounds and The Last Spring.

Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and Grieg’s The Last Spring were each on the first 80-rpm disc issued in October 1916, and a Columbia Records sales brochure raved, “The deepest glories vibrant in such a familiar composition as Mendelssohn’s Wedding March are unguessed until interpreted by such an orchestra as this. From the first trumpet fanfare to the great central crescendo is very joy and glory articulate! . . . There can be no pleasure beyond enjoying such music as the Chicago Symphony here brings to every music-loving home.”

Recording_Centennial_Rotunda_Display_102.75x60

To commemorate this legacy, this collage of record and CD labels is on display in the first floor of Symphony Center’s Rotunda through the end of the Orchestra’s current—the 125th—season. Details of all of the recordings included are below (all recordings were made at Orchestra Hall unless otherwise noted).

BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4-2Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 11, 1942, performing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with George Szell conducting. On July 22 and 24, Schanbel and the Orchestra recorded the Fourth along with Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto at Orchestra Hall for Victor Records. Frederick Stock conducted these, his last, recording sessions with the Orchestra; he died a few short months later on October 20.

PROKOFIEV Scythian Suite-2 WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod-2The Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave the U.S. premiere of Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite under the baton of the composer on December 6, 1918. On March 16, 1945, third music director Désiré Defauw recorded the work for RCA.

Fourth music director Artur Rodzinski led the Orchestra in a complete performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde—with Set Svanholm and Kirsten Flagstad in the title roles—at the Civic Opera House on November 16, 1947. A month later on December 14, he led the Orchestra in recording sessions for the Prelude and Liebestod at Orchestra Hall.

STRAUSS Ein HeldenlebenMUSSORGSKY Pictures at an ExhibitionFor Mercury Records, fifth music director Rafael Kubelík led the Orchestra’s first recording of Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on April 23 and 24, 1951. Principal trumpet Adolph Herseth performed the opening fanfare.

On March 6, 1954, sixth music director Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra recorded together for the first time: Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Ein Heldenleben for RCA. (Reiner’s complete CSO catalog recently was re-released by RCA.)

BARTOK Music for Strings, Percussion, and CelestaBRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 2At the third annual Grammy awards ceremony on April 12, 1961, the Orchestra’s recording of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta received the award for Best Classical Performance–Orchestra. Reiner had conducted the RCA release. That same evening, the Orchestra’s recording of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto—also on RCA and with Erich Leinsdorf conducting—earned the award for Best Classical Performance–Concerto or Instrumental Soloist for Sviatoslav Richter. These were the first two Grammy awards earned for recordings by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

SCHUMANN Piano ConcertoPROKOFIEV Alexander NevskyReiner led the Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by its founder Margaret Hillis), and mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias in Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky for RCA—the first recording collaboration with the Orchestra and the Chorus—on March 7, 1959, at Orchestra Hall.

Two years after winning the prestigious 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Van Cliburn made his first recording with the Orchestra on April 16, 1960: Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Reiner conducting for RCA. (A complete list of Cliburn’s appearances and recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra can be found here.)

MARTIN Concerto for Seven WindsOn March 19, 1966, seventh music director Jean Martinon led the Orchestra in recording sessions for Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra for RCA. Featured soloists were CSO principals Clark Brody (clarinet), Willard Elliot (bassoon), Donald Peck (flute), Dale Clevenger (horn, in his first week on the job), Ray Still (oboe), Adolph Herseth (trumpet), Donald Koss (timpani), and Jay Friedman (trombone). (Martinon’s complete CSO catalog recently was re-released by RCA.)

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 6-2NIELSEN Clarinet Concerto-2Benny Goodman recorded Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto with the Orchestra on June 18, 1966, for RCA. Morton Gould conducted. (Gould’s complete CSO catalog recently was re-released by RCA.)

At Medinah Temple on February 20 and 21, 1968, Leopold Stokowski and the Orchestra recorded Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 6  for RCA.

BERLIOZ Romeo and Juliet-2RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Sheherazade-2Carlo Maria Giulini—the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first principal guest conductor—recorded selections from Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet for Angel on October 13 and 14, 1969, at Medinah Temple.

The Orchestra made its second recording of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade on June 30 and July 1, 1969, at Medinah Temple for Angel. Seiji Ozawa, the Ravinia Festival’s first music director, conducted and concertmaster Victor Aitay was violin soloist.

DVORAK Cello Concerto-2MAHLER Symphony no. 5During eighth music director Georg Solti‘s first season as music director, the Orchestra performed Mahler’s Fifth Symphony at Carnegie Hall on January 9, 1970, and were called back for twelve curtain calls. Beginning on March 26 at Medinah Temple, Solti and the Orchestra committed their performance to disc—their first recording together—for London Records.

Daniel Barenboim, who would later become ninth music director, made his first recording with the Orchestra on November 11, 1970, at Medinah Temple. For Angel, he led sessions for Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with his wife Jacqueline du Pré as soloist. (A summary of du Pré’s association with the Orchestra is here.)

MAHLER Symphony No. 8-2Before the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed the first concert of its first tour to Europe in 1971, Solti led recording sessions for Mahler’s Eighth Symphony at the Sofiensaal in Vienna on August 30, 31, and September 1. Soloists included Heather HarperLucia Popp (more about Popp’s performances with the Orchestra is here), Arleen AugérYvonne MintonHelen WattsRené KolloJohn Shirley-Quirk, and Martti Talvela. The recording won three 1972 Grammy awards for Album of the Year–Classical, Best Choral Performance–Classical (other than opera) (for the Chorus of the Vienna State OperaSingverein Chorus, and Vienna Boys’ Choir), and Best Engineered Recording–Classical.

BEETHOVEN Fidelio BRUCKNER Symphony No. 6-2On December 13, 1977, Barenboim and the Orchestra recorded Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony for Deutsche Grammophon, part of a complete cycle of the composer’s symphonies that also included the Te Deum, Helgoland, and Psalm 150.

Following concerts in Orchestra Hall and Carnegie Hall, Solti led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (including Hildegard Behrens as Leonore and Peter Hofmann as Florestan) and in recording sessions for Beethoven’s Fidelio—”the first digitally recorded opera to be released,” according to Gramophone—at Medinah Temple on May 21, 22, 23, and 24, 1979.

ORFF Carmina Burana DOWNS Bear Down, Chicago BearsSecond music director of the Ravinia Festival, James Levine led the Orchestra, Chorus, Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus, and soloists (June Anderson, Phillip Creech, and Bernd Weikl) in sessions for Orff’s Carmina burana on July 9 and 10, 1984, for Deutsche Grammophon. The recording was awarded the 1986 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance (other than opera).

At the end of a subscription concert at Orchestra Hall on January 23, 1986, Solti led the Orchestra and Chorus in a spirited encore of  the Chicago Bears‘ fight song “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” in anticipation of the team’s Super Bowl victory. The day after the game, the work was recorded by London Records.

BRAHMS Double Concerto-2BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9-2Solti led recording sessions at Medinah Temple for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—the second time he and the Orchestra and Chorus had recorded the work—on September 28, 30, and October 7, 1986, for London. Soloists were Jessye Norman, Reinhild Runkel, Robert Schunk, and Hans Sotin. The release was awarded the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

Claudio Abbado, second principal guest conductor, led the Orchestra in Brahms’s Double Concerto with Isaac Stern and Yo-Yo Ma (future Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant) as soloists on November 7 and 8, 1986, for CBS Records.

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 7CORIGLIANO Symphony No. 1Closing the 97th season in June 1988, Leonard Bernstein led the Orchestra in performances of Shostakovich’s First and Seventh symphonies. Recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon, the release received the 1990 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

On March 15, 16, and 17, 1990, Barenboim led the world premiere performances of composer-in-residence John Corigliano’s Symphony no. 1, commissioned for the Orchestra. The live recording—Barenboim and the Orchestra’s first on the Erato label—was awarded two 1991 Grammy awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Contemporary Composition.

Fantasia 2000BARTOK The Wooden PrinceThe recording of Bartók’s The Wooden Prince and Cantata profana led by Pierre Boulez for Deutsche Grammophon—recorded on December 19, 20, and 21, 1991—was awarded four 1993 Grammy awards: Best Classical Album, Best Orchestral Performance, Best Performance of a Choral Work, and Best Engineered Recording–Classical. (A complete list of Boulez’s recordings with the Orchestra is here and his complete Grammy awards are here.)

Between 1993 and 1996, Levine led the Orchestra and Chorus in recording sessions at Medinah Temple for Disney‘s feature film Fantasia 2000. The movie was released on January 1, 2000.

VARESE Amerique etcFALLA Gardens of SpainShortly after being named the Orchestra’s third principal guest conductor, Boulez led sessions for Varèse’s Amériques, Arcana, Déserts, and Ionisation in December 1995 and 1996. The Deutsche Grammophon release was awarded the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

In May 1997 at Medinah Temple, the Orchestra recorded Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and The Three-Cornered Hat for Teldec. For Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Barenboim was piano soloist and Plácido Domingo conducted; for The Three-Cornered Hat, Jennifer Larmore was mezzo-soprano soloist and Barenboim conducted.

MAHLER Symphony no. 3BRAHMS Violin ConcertoA former Youth Auditions winner and member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Rachel Barton recorded Brahms’s and Joachim’s violin concertos for Cedille Records on July 2 and 3, 2002. Carlos Kalmar conducted.

In his first concerts as principal conductor on October 19, 20, and 21, 2006, Bernard Haitink led the Orchestra, women of the Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe), the Chicago Children’s Choir, and mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung in Mahler’s Third Symphony. The work is recorded as the inaugural release on CSO Resound.

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 4CSOR_SP_booklet_rainbow_nobox.inddIn May 2008, Haitink and the Orchestra recorded Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony for CSO Resound. The release was awarded the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.

Boulez led the Orchestra in Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, Symphony in Three Movements, and Four Studies in February and March 2009 for CSO Resound. Soloists in the Pulcinella were Roxana Constantinescu, Nicholas Phan, and Kyle Ketelsen.

BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastiqueVR_booklet_CSOR_901_1008.inddOn January 15, 16, and 17, 2009, Riccardo Muti—in his first concerts as music director designate—led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (Barbara FrittoliOlga Borodina, Mario Zeffiri, and Ildar Abdrazakov) in Verdi’s Requiem. The subsequent CSO Resound recording was awarded 2010 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance.

Following his first concert as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s tenth music director (for more than 25,000 people in Millennium Park) in September 2010, Muti led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists (Gérard Depardieu, Mario Zeffiri, and Kyle Ketelsen) in Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Lélio. The two-disc set was released on CSO Resound in September 2015.

VERDI OtelloBates and ClyneOn April 7, 9, and 12, 2011, Muti led concert performances—recorded by CSO Resound—of Verdi’s Otello at Orchestra Hall. Along with the Orchestra, Chorus, and Chicago Children’s Chorus, soloists included Aleksandrs Antonenko in the title role, Krassimira Stoyanova as Desdemona, and Carlo Guelfi as Iago.

In February 2012, Muti led world premieres by the Orchestra’s Mead Composers-in-Residence: Anna Clyne’s Night Ferry and Mason Bates’s Alternative Energy. Both works were recorded for CSO Resound and released as digital downloads.

LincolnFor Sony Classical, composer John Williams led the Orchestra and Chorus in recording sessions at Orchestra Hall for his soundtrack for the motion picture Lincoln. Director Steven Spielberg was on hand to supervise.

Cheers to the next 100!

Over the course of three short weeks in late 1938, Chicago hosted an embarrassment of riches for violin fans.

November 1938

November 24 and 25, 1938

On November 20 and 26, respectively, Fritz Kreisler and Joseph Szigeti appeared in recital at Orchestra Hall. The following week on December 4, Jascha Heifetz gave a recital at the Civic Opera House. Kreisler returned to Chicago a few days later on December 8 and 9, as soloist with the Orchestra in Brahms’s Violin Concerto under the baton of second music director Frederick Stock.

And right in the middle of all of that, twenty-two-year-old Yehudi Menuhin made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on November 24 (Thanksgiving Day) and 25, 1938, performing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Stock conducting.

“His way with the Beethoven was magnificent in every aspect—in singing tone, in brilliance of passage work, in dazzling sparkle of cadenzas, in the deep song of the haunting larghetto, and in the suddenly glittering shift of mood that announces the rondo,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “Mr. Stock and the Orchestra gave him a rare opportunity and he responded with an unforgettable performance.”

On April 22, 2016, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Menuhin, who—for well over forty years and under seven music directors—was a regular visitor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, both at Orchestra Hall and the Ravinia Festival. A complete list of his appearances with the Orchestra is below (subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, unless otherwise noted):

November 24 and 25, 1938
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Frederick Stock, conductor

November 9 and 10, 1939
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Hans Lange, conductor

February 13 and 14, 1941
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Frederick Stock, conductor

Menuhin 1

July 24, 1941 (Ravinia Festival)
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Carlos Chávez, conductor

July 26, 1941 (Ravinia Festival)
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Carlos Chávez, conductor

April 14, 1942
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Hans Lange, conductor

April 16 and 17, 1942
PAGANINI Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 6
Frederick Stock, conductor

November 2 and 3, 1944
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Désiré Defauw, conductor

February 21 and 22, 1946
ELGAR Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61
Désiré Defauw, conductor

January 22 and 23, 1948
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Artur Rodzinski, conductor

November 2 and 3, 1950
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Rafael Kubelík, conductor

October 24 and 25, 1957
BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 2
Fritz Reiner, conductor

Menuhin 2

October 31, November 1 and 2, 1963
SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 99
Jean Martinon, conductor

November 18 and 19, 1965
PÁRTOS Violin Concerto
Jean Martinon, conductor

December 15, 16, and 17, 1966
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Rafael Kubelík, conductor

Thursday, December 14 and 15, 1967
BERG Violin Concerto
Sixten Ehrling, conductor

December 18, 19, and 20, 1969
BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 2
Georg Solti, conductor

March 10, 1981 (Musicians’ Pension Fund concert)
ELGAR Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61
Henry Mazer, conductor

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Mussorgsky Pictures

Using a single Telefunken condenser microphone—hung twenty-five feet directly above the conductor’s podium—Mercury recorded Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on April 23, 1951, at Orchestra Hall. Rafael Kubelík, in his first season as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s fifth music director, conducted, and Adolph Herseth, principal trumpet since 1948, performed the opening fanfare. The recording was the inaugural release on Mercury’s Living Presence series.

In 1996, the original masters were used to transfer the recording to compact disc. In the liner notes for the Mercury rerelease, Robert C. Marsh commented that the original discs “represented the highest state of the art in monophonic recording technique. Hearing them again, some forty-five years later, one is still astonished by the degree to which they project the performers into the presence of the listener, a phenomenon noted in the early reviews by New York Times critic Howard Taubman [who originally coined the phrase ‘living presence’]. . . . Indeed, heard over multiple speaker systems there have always been passages in these recordings in which one is easily convinced that he is, in fact, listening to stereo. The balance, clarity, and texture of the music is so beautifully preserved, the dynamic range is so wide and so free of the compression often associated with monophonic records, that it is difficult to accept that all this sound comes from a monophonic source.”

Adolph "Bud" Herseth

Adolph “Bud” Herseth

The Orchestra also recorded Pictures in 1957 for RCA with Fritz Reiner conducting, in 1967 for RCA with Seiji Ozawa, in 1976 for Deutsche Grammophon with Carlo Maria Giulini, in 1980 for London Records with Sir Georg Solti, and in 1989 for Chandos with Neeme Järvi. The Reiner and Järvi versions were recorded at Orchestra Hall; Ozawa, Giulini, and Solti recorded at Medinah Temple. A performance video recorded at Suntory Hall in Tokyo on April 15, 1990—which also included an introduction with Solti performing examples at the piano and in rehearsal with the Orchestra—was released by London. On all recordings, Herseth performed the opening fanfare.

This article also appears here.

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Stern bio

Nineteen-year-old Isaac Stern first appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on January 11 and 12, 1940. Frederick Stock conducted an all-Sibelius program, and Stern was soloist in the Violin Concerto.

According to the Chicago Daily News, “Dr. Frederick Stock had been invited to conduct the Sibelius concert with the Helsingfors Orchestra [arranged when Stock visited Sibelius in Finland the previous summer] as a special feature of the Olympic Games.* But Finland has had to abandon peacetime pursuits and now Isaac can thank the Russian regime for both his American citizenship and the chance to play the Sibelius D minor concerto with one of the world’s great orchestras.”

“True to the topsy-turvy condition of the world we live in, while the Finns are playing havoc with the Russians, at home a Russian-born violinist, young Isaac Stern, was the sensation of Mr. Stock’s memorable Sibelius concert at Orchestra Hall last night,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Journal of Commerce. “[Stern] has a commanding and comprehensive technique, a bold and beautiful tone never blatant and he has an urgent intensity of projection that seems to start in his firmly planted heels and flow like fire into the hands that make his music. . . . Stock’s accompaniment was brilliant in the perceptive richness that makes so many soloists prefer him to any other conductor.”

Isaac Stern and music director designate Daniel Barenboim after the Centennial Gala concert on October 6, 1990

Isaac Stern and music director designate Daniel Barenboim after the Centennial Gala concert on October 6, 1990 (Jim Steere photo)

Over the course of the next fifty-two years, Stern was one of the Orchestra’s most frequent guests at Orchestra Hall, the Ravinia Festival, and at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, performing under six music directors (Stock, Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim) and a variety of guest conductors, including Fritz Busch, Andrew Davis, Carlo Maria Giulini, Otto Klemperer, Josef Krips, Pierre Monteux, Eugene Ormandy, Seiji Ozawa, and Leonard Slatkin. In 1986, Stern and Yo-Yo Ma recorded Brahms’s Concerto for Violin and Cello with Claudio Abbado for CBS.

*On July 16, 1938, a year after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, it was announced that the 1940 Summer Olympics would not be held in Tokyo, as originally scheduled. The International Olympic Committee then awarded the games to Helsinki, the runner-up city in the original bidding process. However, following the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939, the Olympic Games were indefinitely suspended and did not resume until 1948.

This article also appears here.

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First television concerts copy

Rafael Kubelík conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first television concert on September 25, 1951, carried over WENR-TV Chicago and fed to twenty-two stations. The thirty-minute program, performed at the Civic Theatre* for a studio audience, included Rossini’s Overture to The Silken Ladder, Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orpheus and Eurydice, Schubert’s ballet music from Rosamunde, and Mendelssohn’s Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Because the initial contract specified a minimum of only twenty-five musicians, the earliest programs credited the “Chicago Symphony Chamber Orchestra” rather than the full orchestra. Sponsored by Chicago Title and Trust Company, twenty-nine programs were broadcast during the 1951–52 season.

“This series represents something new for television, particularly for Chicago TV,” wrote Larry Wolters in the Chicago Tribune. “Symphony orchestras have been telecast on a single-program basis, but this is the first time for such a venture on a weekly basis.”

Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra in the WGN-TV studios

Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra in the WGN-TV studios (Lawrence-Phillip Studios photo)

Considerable changes were initiated in 1953 at the beginning of Fritz Reiner’s tenure as music director, and WGN-TV, now the producer, extended the program to an Hour of Music. The show was syndicated over the fourteen-station DuMont network, and as many as fifty musicians were hired each week. The series continued through the spring of 1958, when Chicago Title and Trust withdrew its sponsorship.

After only a year’s absence, the Orchestra returned to WGN-TV for Great Music from Chicago, appearing in twenty-six shows during the 1959–60 season. Carson Pirie Scott, RCA Victor, and United Airlines provided sponsorship, and Deems Taylor was the first host. As many as seventy musicians were used for each program with most shows originating in WGN’s Studio 1-A in the Tribune Tower; other programs were taped at Orchestra Hall, the ballroom of the Edgewater Beach Hotel, and at the Ravinia Festival. The Orchestra’s participation lasted four seasons through the spring of 1963, after which the series continued for three more years but focused exclusively on popular artists and music.

*The 850-seat Civic Theatre, originally part of the Civic Opera Building that opened in 1929, was consolidated with the backstage areas during an extensive renovation completed in 1996.

This article also appears here.

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Barenboim, Solti, and Kubelík onstage at the end of the concert

Barenboim, Solti, and Kubelík onstage at the end of the concert (Jim Steere photo)

On October 18, 1991, new music director Daniel Barenboim shared the podium with two of his predecessors, Rafael Kubelík and Sir Georg Solti, to bring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s centennial celebration to a grand conclusion. The program was a recreation of the Orchestra’s inaugural concerts, conducted by its first music director, Theodore Thomas, on October 16 and 17, 1891.

The program opened with Barenboim leading Wagner’s A Faust Overture, followed by Solti conducting both Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto (with Barenboim as soloist). Kubelík concluded the program with Dvořák’s Husitská Overture.

Centennial Gala Finale program

The concert was unexpectedly interrupted shortly after intermission. Several patrons who attended a preconcert dinner were given digital clocks as a gift, several of which had unintentionally been preset to start beeping at 9:15 p.m., just as Tchaikovsky’s concerto began. After the first movement, “Solti halted the proceedings, telling the audience it was impossible to continue as long as the noise persisted. . . . Executive director Henry Fogel, visibly embarrassed, explained the problem and requested everyone who was holding one of the clocks to please check them with an usher. Meanwhile, the source of the beeping was traced to the lower balcony. Out went the alarms,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “Huge sigh of relief. On with the Tchaikovsky. On with the show.”

A particularly special moment of the evening was the performance of the final work on the program. According to von Rhein, “Clearly this music touched a deep vein of national pride in the seventy-seven-year-old Kubelík, and he inspired the Orchestra to its finest work of the evening. It made an unforgettable coda to the CSO’s first 100 years. . . . Kubelík drew a prolonged standing ovation, with the Orchestra members remaining seated as he took his bows, refusing to steal his limelight until he was finally able to persuade them to stand. . . . As the applause continued, he was joined on stage by Barenboim and Solti. The CSO responded with a tusch (brass fanfare), the traditional gesture of acclamation for conductors.”

Some of this content was previously posted here; this article also appears here.

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Maestro Muti and the CSO receive a warm welcome from a sold-out show at @wheatoncollegeil's Edman Memorial Chapel. In the their first performance at the venue together, the program included works by Rossini, Beethoven, Schumann and CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence @samuelcarladams. Photo by @toddrphoto.

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