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Title page of Beethoven’s Third Symphony (Fritz Reiner collection)

Regarding the Third Symphony, “Beethoven, now fully emancipated from the preceding era, may be said for the first time to stand forth and show his lion’s paw!” wrote Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies. “In my judgment, the Eroica is only a perfectly legitimate step forward, a logical sequence in his normal development. . . . His soul now began to long to express that which had never before been said in music—anticipating centuries; hence this symphony, the first dawn of modern music, written in a definite mood, giving expression to the soul through color and contrast rather than attempting to illustrate a specific program.”

1954 recording (RCA)

“The Eroica is perhaps the first great symphony to have captured the romantic imagination,” according to CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “Beethoven’s vast and powerful first movement and the funeral march that follows must have sounded like nothing else in all music. Never before had symphonic music aspired to these dimensions. . . . Beethoven’s Allegro con brio was longer—and bigger, in every sense—than any other symphonic movement at the time (the first movement of Mozart’s Prague Symphony comes the closest). It’s also a question of proportion, and Beethoven’s central development section, abounding in some truly monumental statements, is enormous.”

Thomas first led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s Third Symphony during the first season, on January 12, 1892, at The Odeon in Cincinnati and later that week in Chicago on January 15 and 16 at the Auditorium Theatre.

1973–74 recording (London)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first commercial recording of the work in Orchestra Hall on December 4, 1954. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer.

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Third Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on November 5, 6, and 9, 1973, and May 18, 1974. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1989 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Third Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on May 6 and 8, 1989. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Consecration of the House Overture and Symphonies nos. 1 and 3 on September 26, 27, and 28, 2019.

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Title page of Beethoven’s First Symphony (Fritz Reiner collection)

In Beethoven’s First Symphony, “the composer tries his wings,” according to Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director. In Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies, Thomas continues: “It is sometimes said that the First Symphony is Haydn and Mozart rather than Beethoven, but that is not correct. It is Beethoven, pure and simple, but Beethoven carrying on the art of his day as it had been transmitted to him by his predecessors. He knew no other style of symphonic writing because, until his own later development, there was no other. . . . One might say that Haydn and Mozart were the cradle in which the art of Beethoven was rocked, and in the First Symphony, his art was still in this cradle. . . . [The First Symphony] is a noble work and is of especial interest as the connecting link between the art of the classic and that of the romantic period.”

1961 recording (RCA)

CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher agrees. “As the first symphony by the greatest symphonist who ever lived, one might expect clues of the daring and novelty to come; since it was written at the turn of the century and premiered in Vienna, the great musical capital, in 1800, one might assume that it is with this work that Beethoven opened a new era in music. But, in fact, this symphony belongs to the eighteenth, not the nineteenth, century; it honors the tradition of Mozart, dead less than a decade, and Haydn, who had given Beethoven enough lessons to know that his student would soon set out on his own.”

Thomas first led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s First Symphony during the third season, on May 4 and 5, 1894, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1974 recording (London)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first commercial recording of the work in Orchestra Hall on May 8, 1961. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer.

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The First Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on May 13, 14, 15, and 18, 1974 (along with the Second Symphony). Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1989-90 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The First Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on November 14 and 16, 1989, and January 27, 1990 (along with the Second Symphony). Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Consecration of the House Overture and Symphonies nos. 1 and 3 on September 26, 27, and 28, 2019.

Wishing a very happy ninetieth birthday to the celebrated American mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias!

A stalwart at the Metropolitan Opera, between 1954 and 1996, Elias performed 687 performances of fifty-four roles. Also at the house, she created the role of Erika in Samuel Barber‘s Vanessa in January 1958.

The following year, she made her only appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as soloist in the following programs.

March 5 and 6, 1959
Fritz Reiner, conductor
RAVEL La valse
CHAUSSON Poem of Love and the Sea, Op. 19
PROKOFIEV Alexander Nevsky, Op. 78
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

March 10, 1959
Fritz Reiner, conductor
PROKOFIEV Alexander Nevsky, Op. 78
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
CHAUSSON Poem of Love and the Sea, Op. 19
TCHAIKOVSKY Marche miniature from Suite No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 43
TCHAIKOVSKY Marche slav, Op. 31

On March 7, RCA was on hand to record Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky—the first recording collaboration with the Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus—in Orchestra Hall. Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer, and the recording recently was re-released as part of a comprehensive box set of Fritz Reiner’s complete recordings with the CSO on RCA.

Happy, happy birthday!

1967 London Records program book advertisement

Wishing a wonderfully happy eighty-fifth birthday to the legendary American mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne!

Over the course of nearly forty years—between 1965 and 2002—Horne has appeared as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of occasions in concert and on recording, indicated below:

September 23 and 24, 1965, Orchestra Hall
BERLIOZ The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24
Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano
Richard Verreau, tenor
Ezio Flagello, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Chicago Children’s Choir
Christopher Moore, director
Jean Martinon, conductor

June 2, 1967, Orchestra Hall
ROSSINI The Italian Girl in Algiers
Isabella Marilyn Horne, soprano
Mustafa Ezio Flagello, bass
Taddeo Theodor Uppman, baritone
Lindoro Ken Remo, tenor
Elvira Teresa Orantes, soprano
Zulma Carol Cornelisen, mezzo-soprano
Haly Charles Van Tasssel, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Ronald Schweitzer, assistant director
Henry Lewis, conductor

July 9, 1983, Ravinia Festival
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36
ROSSINI Non temer d’un basso affetto from The Siege of Corinth
ROSSINI Overture to The Silken Ladder
ROSSINI Assisa a piè d’un salice from Otello
ROSSINI Overture to Semiramide
ROSSINI Mura felici from The Lady of the Lake
Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano
James Levine, conductor

August 18, 1984, Ravinia Festival
MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde
Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano
James McCracken, tenor
James Conlon, conductor

July 20, 1986, Ravinia Festival
ROSSINI Overture to William Tell
ROSSINI Oh! patria! . . . Tu che accendi . . . Di tanti palpiti from Tancredi
ROSSINI Overture to The Silken Ladder
ROSSINI Da te spero, oh ciel clemente from Zelmira
ROSSINI Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers
ROSSINI Deh, lasciate . . . Beviam, tocchiamo a gara from The Silken Ladder
SAINT-SAËNS Printemps qui commence from Samson and Delilah
THOMAS Overture to Mignon
THOMAS C’est moi, j’ai tout brise . . . Me voici dans son boudoir from Mignon
MASSENET Meditation from Thaïs
Samuel Magad, violin
GOUNOD Ou suis-je? O ma lyre immortelle from Sapho
COPLAND Hoedown from Rodeo
NILES Go ’way from my window
FOSTER/Cullen If you’ve only got a moustache
TRADITIONAL/Copland At the River
Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano
Henry Lewis, conductor

Marilyn Horne (Marty Umans photo)

July 4, 1992, Ravinia Festival
PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25 (Classical)
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Sarah Chang, violin
COHAN/Davis You’re a Grand Old Flag
TRADITIONAL/Davis Shenandoah
TRADITIONAL/Matthews Billy Boy
FOSTER/Tunick Beautiful Dreamer
FOSTER/Cullen If you’ve only got a moustache
FOSTER/Matthews I Dream of Jeannie
FOSTER/Cullen Camptown Races
TRADITIONAL/Davis I’ve Just Come from the Fountain
MALOTTE/Davis The Lord’s Prayer
TRADITIONAL/Matthews When Johnny Comes Marching Home
BRYAN-PIANTADOSE/Davis I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier
TRADITIONAL/Davis Battle Hymn of the Republic
Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Cheryl Frazes Hill, assistant director
James Levine, conductor
Radio broadcast recordings of Camptown Races and I’ve Just Come from the Fountain were released in 2008 on Chicago Symphony Chorus: A Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration (From the Archives, vol. 22).

July 28, 2002, Ravinia Festival
Music of Rodgers and Hammerstein
Selections from Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, Victory at Sea, The King and I, and The Sound of Music
Sylvia McNair, soprano
Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano
Rodney Gilfry, baritone
John Raitt, baritone
John Mauceri, conductor

Horne also commercially recorded with Orchestra and Chorus, on two notable occasions:

MAHLER Symphony No. 3 in D Minor
Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano
Women of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director
James Levine, conductor
Recorded by RCA on July 21, 22, and 23, 1975, in Medinah Temple. The recording was produced by Thomas Z. Shepard and Jay David Saks, and Paul Goodman was the recording engineer. The Orchestra and Chorus also performed the work at the Ravinia Festival on July 13, 1975; Beverly Wolff was soloist.

MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
Carol Neblett, soprano
Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Claudio Abbado, conductor
Recorded by Deutsche Grammophon on February 13 and 16, 1976, in Medinah Temple. The recording was produced by Rainer Brock, and Heinz Wildhagen was the balance engineer. The Orchestra and Chorus also performed the work in Orchestra Hall on February 12 and 14, 1976; Neblett and Claudine Carlson were soloists. 

November 28, 1999

On November 28, 1999, Horne and her longtime collaborator Martin Katz gave a recital at Orchestra Hall. Just before the final encores, she announced from the stage, “Today I sing my last classical recital. . . . I’ll still be around from time to time [but] one thing you cannot do is stop the march of time.”

“Perhaps not,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “But time has been on the side of this great and treasurable artist. She has sung everything she ever wanted to sing in every major opera house and concert hall. She has been at the forefront of the modern Handel and Rossini revivals. She has long held the mantle of the world’s foremost mistress of bel canto. Her place in history as one of the all-time great singers is secure.”

Happy, happy birthday!

Gary Graffman (Carol Rosegg photo)

Wishing a very happy (albeit slightly belated) ninetieth birthday to the great American pianist and teacher Gary Graffman!

Graffman appeared as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of occasions between 1951 and 1976, listed below:

January 13, 1951, Orchestra Hall
RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18
George Schick, conductor

April 7, 1956, Orchestra Hall
TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23
George Schick, conductor

February 10, 12, and 13, 1959, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37
Walter Hendl, conductor
Recorded by RCA on May 5, 1959, in Orchestra Hall. Richard Bayne was the engineer and Richard Mohr was the producer.

February 18, 1961, Orchestra Hall
RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18
Walter Hendl, conductor

July 29, 1961, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37
Paul Hindemith, conductor

August 5, 1961, Ravinia Festival
RACHMANINOV Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 43
Izler Solomon, conductor

January 10, 11, and 13, 1974, Orchestra Hall
RACHMANINOV Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43
Guido Ajmone-Marsan, conductor

July 22, 1976, Ravinia Festival
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26
André Previn, conductor

October 14, 15, and 17, 1976, Orchestra Hall
MENDELSSOHN Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

Happy, happy birthday!

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family remembers legendary dramatic soprano Inge Borkh, who died at her home in Stuttgart on Sunday, August 26, 2018. She was 97.

To close the Orchestra’s sixty-fifth season, music director Fritz Reiner chose Strauss’s Elektra. “This was a monumental performance superbly cast, and scaled to the full grandeur of Inge Borkh’s magnificent singing in the title role,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “I for one have heard nothing like the outpouring of that amazing voice since the days of Kirsten Flagstad. . . . This is a huge soprano, glistening in timbre, most beautiful when it mounts the high tessitura and welcomes the merciless orchestra of the still fabulous Strauss. She can ride the whirlwinds, or she can touch, surprisingly, the heart.”

Borkh appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, as follows:

December 8 and 9, 1955, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Abscheulicher . . . Komm Hoffnung from Fidelio, Op. 72
STRAUSS Closing Scene from Salome, Op. 54
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Inge Borkh, soprano

April 12 and 13, 1956, Orchestra Hall
STRAUSS Elektra, Op. 58
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Elektra Inge Borkh, soprano
Chrysothemis Frances Yeend, soprano
Clytemnestra Martha Lipton, mezzo-soprano
Orestes Paul Schöffler, baritone
Aegisthus Julius Patzak, tenor
Chorus from the Lyric Theatre of Chicago

July 12, 1956, Ravinia Festival
WEBER Ozean, du Ungeheuer from Oberon
WAGNER Dich, theure Halle from Tannhäuser
WAGNER Du bist der Lenz from Die Walküre
Igor Markevitch, conductor
Inge Borkh, soprano

July 22, 1956, Ravinia Festival
MENOTTI To this we’ve come from The Consul
BEETHOVEN Ah! perfido, Op. 65
Georg Solti, conductor
Inge Borkh, soprano

November 1 and 2, 1956, Orchestra Hall
WAGNER Overture to Tannhäuser
WAGNER Dich, theure Halle from Tannhäuser
WAGNER Wahn! Wahn! Uberall Wahn! from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
WAGNER Leb’ wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind! and Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre
WAGNER Traft ihr das Schiff from Der fliegende Holländer
WAGNER Wie aus der Ferne längst vergangner Zeiten from Der fliegende Holländer
WAGNER Ride of the Valkryies from Die Walküre
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Inge Borkh, soprano
Paul Schöffler, baritone

Borkh also committed excerpts from Strauss’s Elektra and Salome to disc shortly after her performances. With Reiner and the Orchestra, she recorded Salome on December 10, 1955, and Elektra on April 16, 1956, both in Orchestra Hall. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton the recording engineer.

Numerous tributes have appeared at The New York Times and Opera News, among other outlets.

Wishing a very happy seventieth birthday to the remarkable soprano Kathleen Battle! She has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of occasions, in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and in Carnegie Hall, as follows:

June 27, 1974, Ravinia Festival
MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
James Levine, conductor
Edda Moser, soprano
Clarice Carson, soprano
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Beverly Wolff, contralto
Gwendolyn Killebrew, contralto
Kenneth Riegel, tenor
Lawrence Shadur, baritone
Justino Díaz, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

June 26, 1975, Ravinia Festival
MOZART Mass in C Minor, K. 427
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle
Maria Ewing, soprano
Kenneth Riegel, tenor
Ara Berberian, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 17, 1976, Ravinia Festival
MOZART Bella mia fiamma . . . Resta, o cara, K. 528
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano

July 2, 1977, Ravinia Festival
MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Beverly Wolff, mezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 23, 1977, Ravinia Festival
MOZART Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio, K. 418
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano

July 24, 1977, Ravinia Festival
HADYN The Creation
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Benita Valente, soprano
Seth McCoy, tenor
Donald Gramm, bass-baritione
Arnold Voketaitis, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

June 24 1978, Ravinia Festival
MENDELSSOHN Selections from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 61
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Claudine Carlson, mezzo-soprano
Women of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

June 30, 1978, Ravinia Festial
BERLIOZ Les Troyens, part 1
James Levine, conductor
A Trojan Soldier, Pantheus John Cheek, bass
Cassandra Nadine Denize, soprano
Chorebus Lenus Carlson, baritone
Aeneas Guy Chauvet, tenor
Helenus David Kuebler, tenor
Ascanius Kathleen Battle, soprano
Hecuba Patricia O’Neill, soprano
Priam, The Ghost of Hector Ara Berberian, bass
A Greek Captain Philip Kraus, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 1, 1978, Ravinia Festival
BERLIOZ Les Troyens, part 2
James Levine, conductor
Dido Shirley Verrett, soprano
Anna, Ghost of Cassandra Claudine Carlson, mezzo-soprano
Iopas David Kuebler, tenor
Ascanius Kathleen Battle, soprano
Pantheus, Mercury, Ghost of Priam John Cheek, bass
Narbal, Ghost of Hector Ara Berberian, bass
Aeneas Guy Chauvet, tenor
Hylas Philip Creech, tenor
First Sentry, Ghost of Chorebus James Kalkbrenner, bass
Second Sentry Philip Kraus, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 9, 1978, Ravinia Festival
MENDELSSOHN Elijah, Op. 70
James Levine, conductor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Jessye Norman, soprano
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Beverly Wolff, mezzo-soprano
Isola Jones, mezzo-soprano
Philip Creech, tenor
Kirk Stuart, tenor
John Cheek, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 16, 1978, Ravinia Festival
BACH Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Beverly Wolff, mezzo-soprano
Philip Creech, tenor
David Kuebler, tenor
John Cheek, bass-baritone
Arthur Thompson, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Theatre Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

July 3, 1980, Ravinia Festival
SCHUBERT Mass No. 6 in E-flat Major, D. 950
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Florence Quivar, mezzo-soprano
Vinson Cole, tenor
Philip Creech, tenor
John Cheek, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 13, 1980, Ravinia Festival
BACH Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Florence Quivar, mezzo-soprano
Vinson Cole, tenor
Philip Creech, tenor
John Cheek, bass-baritone
Arthur Thompson, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

June 30, 1983, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS A German Requiem, Op. 45
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Håkan Hagegård, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Brahms’s Requiem was recorded in Orchestra Hall on July 5 and 6, 1983, for RCAThomas Z. Shepard was the producer, Paul Goodman the recording engineer, and John Newton and Thomas MacCluskey were engineers. The recording won the 1984 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance from the  National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

July 3, 1983, Ravinia Festival
HANDEL L’Allegro ed il Penseroso from L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Philip Creech, tenor
John Cheek, bass-baritone
Mary Sauer, harpsichord
Chicago Symphony Chorus
James Winfield, associate director

April 25, 26, and 27, 1985, Orchestra Hall
April 29, 1985, Carnegie Hall
VERDI Falstaff
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Sir John Falstaff Guillermo Sarabia, baritone
Ford Wolfgang Brendel, baritone
Fenton Yordi Ramiro, tenor
Dr. Caius Heinz Zednik, tenor
Bardolph Francis Egerton, tenor
Pistol Aage Haugland, bass
Mistress Alice Ford Katia Ricciarelli, soprano
Nannetta Kathleen Battle, soprano
Mistress Quickly Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano
Mistress Meg Page Ann Murray, mezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

June 29, 1986, Ravinia Festival
BACH Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51
VILLA-LOBOS Bachiana Brasileira No. 5
MAHLER Symphony No. 4
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Adolph Herseth, trumpet
Lynn Harrell, cello

July 3, 1987, Ravinia Festival
STRAUSS Ariadne auf Naxos, Op. 60
James Levine, conductor
A Music Master Hermann Prey, baritone
The Major-Domo Nico Castel, tenor
The Composer Susanne Mentzer, mezzo-soprano
The Tenor, Bacchus Gary Lakes, tenor
An Officer Edward Ozaki, tenor
A Dancing Master Andrea Velis, tenor
A Wig Maker David Huneryager, bass
A Lackey Richard Cohn, baritone
Zerbinetta Kathleen Battle, soprano
Prima Donna, Ariadne Margaret Price, soprano
Harlequin Christopher Trakas, baritone
Scaramuccio Allan Glassman, tenor
Truffaldino James Courtney, bass
Brighella Philip Creech, tenor
Naiad Gail Dobish, soprano
Dryad Hillary Johnsson, mezzo-soprano
Echo Dawn Upshaw, soprano

February 4, 5, and 6, 1988, Orchestra Hall
BRAHMS A German Requiem, Op. 45
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Alfred Muff, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, chorus director

July 8, 1988, Ravinia Festival
MOZART Don Giovanni, K. 527
James Levine, conductor
Leporello Renato Capecchi, baritone
Donna Anna Karen Huffstodt, soprano
Don Giovanni Thomas Hampson, baritone
Commendatore Jeffrey Wells, bass-baritone
Don Ottavio Vinson Cole, tenor
Donna Elvira Patricia Schuman, soprano
Zerlina Kathleen Battle, soprano
Masetto Julien Robbins, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

June 21, 1991, Ravinia Festival
DONIZETTI The Elixir of Love
James Levine, conductor
Giannetta Dawn Upshaw, soprano
Nemorino Luciano Pavarotti, tenor
Adina Kathleen Battle, soprano
Belcore Mark Oswald, baritone
Dulcamara Paul Plishka, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 24, 1993, Ravinia Festival
PREVIN Honey and Rue
DONIZETTI C’en est donc fait . . . Par le rang et par l’opulence from The Daughter of the Regiment
John Nelson, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano

July 29, 1994, Ravinia Festival
GOUNOD Je veux vivre from Romeo and Juliet
BERLIOZ Je vais le voir from Beatrice and Benedict
VILLA-LOBOS Bachiana Brasileira No. 5
Hugh Wolff, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano

September 16, 1994

September 16, 1994, Orchestra Hall
MOZART Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165
STRAUSS Ständchen, Op. 17, No. 2
STRAUSS Morgen!, Op. 27, No. 4
STRAUSS Ich schwebe, Op. 48, No. 2
GERSHWIN Summertime from Porgy and Bess
BERNSTEIN Somewhere from West Side Story
PREVIN Take My Mother Home from Honey and Rue
ELLINGTON/Sadin Come Sunday
Daniel Barenboim, harpsichord, piano, and conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano

August 5, 1995, Ravinia Festival
MOZART Deh vieni non tardar from The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492
MOZART Misera! dove son . . . Ah! non son io che parlo, K. 369
MOZART Un moto di gioia mi sento, K. 579
STRAVINSKY No word from Tom from The Rake’s Progress
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano

July 11, 1998, Ravinia Festival

July 11, 1998, Ravinia Festival
VERDI Sul fil d’un soffio estesio from Falstaff
ROSSINI Una voce poco fa from The Barber of Seville
ROSSINI Dunque io son from The Barber of Seville
MOZART Crudel! perchè finora from The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492
GOUNOD Je veux vivre from Romeo and Juliet
KORNGOLD Glück, das mir verblieb from Die tote Stadt
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone

July 12, 2003, Ravinia Festival
MOZART Deh vieni non tardar from The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492
GOUNOD Amour ranime mon courage from Romeo and Juliet
GABRIEL/Sadin His Eye is on the Sparrow
TRADITIONAL/Smith Witness
TRADITIONAL/Bonds He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
Bobby McFerrin, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Denyce Graves, mezzo-soprano
Chicago Children’s Choir
Josephine Lee, director

Between 1993 and 1996, James Levine led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in recording sessions at Medinah Temple for Fantasia 2000, the long-awaited sequel to Disney’s classic 1940 Fantasia. One of the works recorded was excerpts from Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance marches featuring Battle and the Chicago Symphony Chorus.

Under the auspices of Allied Arts, CSO Presents, and Symphony Center Presents, Battle also gave recitals in Orchestra Hall on the following dates:

  • April 20, 1986
  • December 13, 1991
  • April 24, 1996
  • April 18, 1999
  • April 11, 2001

Happy, happy birthday!

Byron JanisSending happy ninetieth birthday wishes to the legendary pianist Byron Janis!

Between 1952 and 1974, Janis appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on numerous occasions at Orchestra Hall, in Milwaukee, and at the Ravinia Festival, under the batons of music directors Fritz Reiner and Jean Martinon; associate conductors Walter Hendl and Irwin Hoffman; Ravinia Festival music directors Seiji Ozawa and James Levine; and guest conductors Leonard Bernstein, André Cluytens, Igor Markevitch, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Hans Rosbaud, Joseph Rosenstock, William Steinberg, Leopold Stokowski, Willem Van Otterloo, and David Zinman.

Janis made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 10, 1952, in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting.

Two years later—a few weeks shy of his twenty-sixth birthday—he first performed in Orchestra Hall on March 4 and 5, 1954, in Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with Fritz Reiner on the podium. “If you have it, you have it, and Mr. Janis does,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune following his debut. “He has good fingers, a direct approach, and a good tone. He has temperament and fire and he wants, perhaps more than anything else in the world, to play the piano. You can always tell that by the sound. It comes out in the explosions of the double octaves, in the instinctive sensing of the crest of a phrase, in the way a Russian song suddenly knows pain, which is not quite the same thing as being sad. Because of these things, because he is such a pianist, his Tchaikovsky was big, beautiful, and dynamic, yet with all its tensions it sensed the relaxed sweep of the grand style. Few things could be more stupid than to patronize such playing, which Reiner and the orchestra gave superb collaboration, part Russian song, part Russian bear. When I look forward to what that playing can be, I am speaking of it in Janis’s own terms. Give him time to strengthen those fingers, to deepen and polish that tone. But listen as he does it, for he is worth hearing now.”

He most recently appeared with the CSO in Orchestra Hall on April 20 and 21, 1967, in Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto and Strauss’s Burleske with Irwin Hoffman conducting, and at the Ravinia Festival on August 15, 1974, in Saint-Saëns’s Fifth Piano Concerto under the baton of David Zinman.

Janis also made several recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as follows:

RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 1
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded March 2, 1957, in Orchestra Hall by RCA

Byron Janis’s complete RCA catalog—including his recordings with the CSO—recently was re-released in a box set.

STRAUSS Burleske for Piano and Orchestra
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded March 4, 1957, in Orchestra Hall by RCA

SCHUMANN Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded February 21, 1959, in Orchestra Hall by RCA

LISZT Totentanz for Piano and Orchestra
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded February 23, 1959, in Orchestra Hall by RCA

PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, Op. 10
Irwin Hoffman, conductor
Recorded by WFMT on April 20 and 21, 1967, in Orchestra Hall
Released in 1995 on From the Archives, vol. 10: Great Soloists

Happy, happy birthday!

Under the leadership of chorus directors Margaret Hillis and Duain Wolfe, the Chicago Symphony Chorus has won ten Grammy awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in the category of Best Choral Performance.*

Recordings have been led by music directors Sir Georg Solti and Riccardo Muti, principal guest conductor Pierre Boulez, and Ravinia Festival music director James Levine on RCA, London, Deutsche Grammophon, and CSO Resound.

1977 – Best Choral Performance–Classical
VERDI Requiem
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Medinah Temple on June 1 and 2, 1977, for RCA
Thomas Z. Shepard, producer
Paul Goodman, recording engineer

1978 – Best Choral Performance–Classical
BEETHOVEN Missa solemnis in D Major, Op. 123
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Victor Aitay, violin
Lucia Popp, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Mallory Walker, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Medinah Temple on May 16, 17, and 18, 1977, for London
Ray Minshull, producer
Kenneth Wilkinson, John Dunkerley, and Michael Mailes, balance engineers

1979 – Best Choral Performance–Classical
BRAHMS A German Requiem, Op. 45
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano
Bernd Weikl, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Medinah Temple on May 15 and 16, 1978, for London
James Mallinson, recording producer
Kenneth Wilkinson and Colin Moorfoot, balance engineers

1982 – Best Choral Performance–Classical
BERLIOZ The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano
Kenneth Riegel, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Malcolm King, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Medinah Temple on May 4, 5, 6, and 7, 1981, for London
James Mallinson, recording producer
James Lock and Simon Eadon, balance engineers

1983 – Best Choral Performance
HAYDN The Creation
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Sylvia Greenberg, soprano
Norma Burrowes, soprano
Rudiger Wohlers, tenor
James Morris, bass-baritone
Siegmund Nimsgern, bass
David Schrader, harpsichord
Frank Miller, cello
Joseph Guastafeste, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on November 9, 10, and 11, 1981, for London
Paul Myers, recording producer
James Lock and John Dunkerley, balance engineers

1984 – Best Choral Performance
BRAHMS A German Requiem, Op. 45
James Levine, conductor
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Håkan Hagegård, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on July 5 and 6, 1983, for RCA
Thomas Z. Shepard, producer
Paul Goodman, recording engineer
John Newton and Thomas MacCluskey, engineers

1986 – Best Choral Performance
ORFF Carmina burana
James Levine, conductor
June Anderson, soprano
Philip Creech, tenor
Bernd Weikl, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on July 9 and 10, 1984, for Deutsche Grammophon
Steven Paul, producer
Cord Garben, recording supervisor
Klaus Scheibe, recording engineer
Jürgen Bulgrin, editing

1991 – Best Performance of a Choral Work
BACH Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Felicity Lott, soprano
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
Hans Peter Blochwitz, tenor
William Shimmell, baritone
Gwynne Howell, bass
Richard Webster, organ
John Sharp, cello
Willard Elliot, bassoon
Joseph Guastafeste, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on January 25, 26, and 28, 1990, for London
Michael Haas, recording producer
Stanley Goodall and Simon Eadon, balance engineers

1993 – Best Performance of a Choral Work
BARTÓK Cantata profana
Pierre Boulez, conductor
John Aler, tenor
John Tomlinson, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on December 16, 1991, for Deutsche Grammophon
Alison Ames, executive producer
Karl-August Naegler, recording producer
Rainer Maillard, balance engineer
Oliver Rosalla, editing

2010 – Best Choral Performance
VERDI Messa da Requiem
Riccardo Muti, conductor
Barbara Frittoli, soprano
Olga Borodina, mezzo-soprano
Mario Zeffiri, tenor
Ildar Abdrazakov, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on January 15, 16, and 17, 2009, for CSO Resound
Christopher Alder, producer
Christopher Willis, recording engineer
David Frost and Tom Lazarus, mixing
Silas Brown and David Frost, stereo mastering

*The name of the category has changed slightly over the years; see here for details.

Fritz Reiner (Oscar Chicago photo)

One of Fritz Reiner’s primary goals, early in his tenure as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s sixth music director, was to program major choral works. However, the repertory he wished to perform was, in his opinion, too demanding for the amateur and student groups usually engaged.

While visiting New York in February 1954, Reiner observed a rehearsal of the New York Concert Choir, under the direction of its founder, Margaret Hillis. He was so impressed that on his return to Chicago, Reiner convinced the board of trustees to hire Hillis and her ensemble for performances the following season of Barber’s recently composed Prayers of Kirkegaard and Orff’s Carmina burana, both new to the Orchestra’s repertoire. (For performances of Beethoven’s “less demanding” Ninth Symphony, the local Swedish Choral Club was engaged.)

Margaret Hillis

Hillis and the New York Concert Choir first traveled to Chicago in March 1955 for three performances of the works by Barber and Orff. Roger Dettmer, writing for the American, exclaimed, “it was Miss Hillis’s magnificent choir of sixty which matched most closely the Orchestra’s astonishing virtuosity by giving Dr. Reiner the fullest measure of choral artistry.” In the Daily News, Irving Sablosky added, “We’re not used to hearing choral singing of such refinement and nuance in symphony concerts. I hope we’ll hear more.”

Despite scheduling challenges, Reiner reengaged Hillis the following season for Mozart’s Mass in C minor and Bruckner’s Te Deum in January 1956. Dettmer wrote that the Orchestra and “Margaret Hillis’s magnificent [choir], easily the finest professional chorus in this country today, [performed] with uncommon brilliance, and maestro himself was in supremely spirited command.”

For the 1957–58 season, Reiner hoped to perform and record Verdi’s Requiem, and again he contacted Hillis. The New York Concert Choir averaged only sixty voices, and she informed Reiner they would need nearly double that in order to do justice to the Verdi. It would simply be too expensive.

This impasse gave Reiner an idea. He persuaded board president Eric Oldberg to hire Hillis to organize a chorus permanently affiliated with the Orchestra in Chicago. She initially agreed to advise on how to audition a director and choristers, but Reiner insisted there would be no chorus unless Hillis herself was the director. At the trustees meeting on September 20, 1957, Oldberg reported on successful negotiations and the plan to hire Hillis was approved.

Chicago Tribune, September 22, 1957

“As choral literature takes on increasing importance in the orchestral sphere, the Chicago Symphony is making its move to institutionalize the trend,” wrote Seymour Raven in the Chicago Tribune on September 22. “From Orchestra Hall comes word that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus is to be a new factor in the city’s musical life.”

Auditions began on October 5, and in less than two weeks the Sun-Times reported that they had “produced an exceptionally high rate of successful applicants. . . . Skill in sight-reading, interpretative ability, and voice quality were the main prerequisites for success. Voices with a tremolo or breathless quality were automatically rejected.” On October 13, the Daily News advertised that auditions were continuing: “Men’s voices are still urgently needed.”

Chicago Tribune, December 1, 1957

The Chicago Symphony Chorus, nearly one hundred voices strong, began rehearsals on October 28, and on November 30, the ensemble made an informal debut at a private concert for guarantors and sustaining members. On the first half of the concert, Reiner led Cailliet’s orchestration of Bach’s Little G minor fugue and Strauss’s Oboe Concerto (with principal Ray Still), and after intermission, Hillis took the podium, becoming the first woman to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She led the Orchestra and Chorus in Thompson’s Alleluia and Billings’s Modern Music (both a cappella), the final section of Purcell’s Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day, and the Servants’ Chorus from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. Dettmer reported in the American that the debut was “more than promising . . . Miss Hillis’s choristers were fresh-voiced, musically sensitive, already balanced internally . . . she has accomplished much in the briefest time span.”

When popular guest conductor Bruno Walter informed the Orchestral Association that his March 1958 appearances would be his last in Chicago, Oldberg insisted that he should lead Mozart’s Requiem with the new chorus as his swansong. To prepare for both sets of concerts, Hillis and the Chorus began their work in earnest on Mozart’s and Verdi’s requiems, with Reiner regularly attending rehearsals.

Chicago Tribune, March 14, 1958

On March 13 and 14, 1958, the Chicago Symphony Chorus made its official debut in Mozart’s Requiem, under Walter’s baton with soloists Maria Stader, Maureen Forrester, David Lloyd, and Otto Edelmann. In the Chicago Tribune, Claudia Cassidy wrote: “The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is in high estate, with the kind of clairvoyance that gives a conductor what he wants in sound. . . . The evening’s card up the Mozartean sleeve was the new Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus of about 100 voices, expertly chosen and admirably trained by Margaret Hillis. It had balance and hints of brilliance, it was adroit in attack and it had moments of reassuringly imaginative song. The Confutatis in particular caught the haunted terror that was Mozart’s when the mysterious commission for the Requiem convinced him that the death knell he wrote was his own.”

Program page for Verdi’s Requiem, performed on April 3 and 4, 1958. It was repeated the following Tuesday, April 8.

Less than a month later, the Chorus appeared in Verdi’s Requiem with Reiner conducting and soloists Leonie Rysanek, Regina Resnik, David Lloyd, and Giorgio Tozzi. In the Sun-Times, Robert C. Marsh wrote that “Miss Hillis’s chorus proved its virtues earlier this season. Again its excellent enunciation, reliable intonation, and intelligent response were praiseworthy.”*

The following season, at Reiner’s invitation, Hillis conducted the Orchestra and Chorus in Honegger’s Christmas Cantata in December 1958. In the Daily News, Donal Henahan wrote, “Miss Hillis, who has been until now unknown except by name to most symphony subscribers, ruled her vast forces with a firm beat and a sure hand.” And the critic in the American noted, “With a clear (if inflexible) beat, Miss Hillis marshalled her forces, choral and orchestra, in a tight, sensitive, sweet-sounding statement of the music. . . . All in all, a glorious Christmas program.”

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus onstage in March 1959. Also pictured is chorus director Margaret Hillis, music director Fritz Reiner, and associate conductor Walter Hendl (Oscar Chicago photo).

Later that season in March 1959, Reiner led Prokofiev’s cantata Alexander Nevsky. “The climactic ‘Battle on the Ice’ was approached with expansive calm and deliberation. . . . A conductor who tries to pile climax after climax into this work can never achieve the hair-raising thrust that Reiner drew from Margaret Hillis’s Chicago Symphony Chorus at such a moment,” observed Henahan in the Daily News. The Chorus “produced a pleasing sound in all voices and a more homogeneous tone than at any time since Miss Hillis began her missionary work in Chicago.” On March 7, Reiner, the Orchestra, and Chorus committed their performance to disc for RCA, collaborating for the first time in recording sessions.

The Chorus’s first recording with the Orchestra: Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, released by RCA in May 1960

Margaret Hillis directed the Chicago Symphony Chorus for thirty-seven years, preparing and leading concerts—in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, as well as on tour to Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Albert Hall, and Salzburg’s Grosses Festspielhaus—and amassing an award-winning discography. Following her death in February 1998, the Rosenthal Archives received her collection of papers, photographs, over 1,000 scores bearing her markings, awards (including nine Grammy statuettes), recordings, and memorabilia. Representing an exceptional and pioneering career, the collection is regularly accessed by researchers, scholars, and musicians.

In June 1994, following an international search, music director Daniel Barenboim appointed Duain Wolfe to succeed Hillis. Currently in his twenty-fourth season, Wolfe continues in Hillis’s tradition, maintaining the Chorus’s extraordinarily high standards of excellence.

*Due to scheduling conflicts, Reiner was unable to get the soloists—primarily Zinka Milanov and Jussi Björling—he wanted to record Verdi’s Requiem in Chicago. He, along with Leontyne Price, Rosalind Elias, Björling (in his last commercial recording), and Giorgio Tozzi, recorded it in Vienna in June 1960 with the Vienna Singverein and Philharmonic for RCA.

This article also appears in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s March 2018 program book and here.

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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

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