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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has recorded each of Brahms’s four symphonies multiple times and also has recorded the complete cycle on three different occasions. A complete listing is below.
During his tenure as Ravinia Festival music director, James Levine recorded the symphonies with the Orchestra for RCA at Medinah Temple. The recordings were produced by Thomas Z. Shepard and Paul Goodman was the recording engineer. Jay David Saks also co-produced the First Symphony, which was recorded in July 1975. The remaining three were recorded in July 1976.
Eighth music director Sir Georg Solti also led the Orchestra in sessions at Medinah Temple. For London, the four symphonies (along with the Academic Festival and Tragic overtures) were produced by James Mallinson; Kenneth Wilkinson, Colin Moorfoot, and Michael Mailes were the engineers. The Third and Fourth symphonies were recorded in May 1978, and the First and Second were recorded in January 1979. The set won 1979 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Classical Orchestral Recording from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Daniel Barenboim, the Orchestra’s ninth music director, recorded the four symphonies (along with the Academic Festival and Tragic overtures and the Variations on a Theme by Haydn) live at Orchestra Hall for Erato. Vic Muenzer was producer, Lawrence Rock was the sound engineer, assisted by Christopher Willis; and Konrad Strauss was the mastering engineer. All four symphonies were recorded live in 1993: the First and Third in May, the Fourth in September, and the Second in October.
Recordings of the individual symphonies by other conductors are listed below.
Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90
Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98
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.
To celebrate Giuseppe Verdi’s 200th birthday on October 10, 2013, Riccardo Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe)—along with soloists Tatiana Serjan, Daniela Barcellona, Mario Zeffiri, and Ildar Abdrazakov—in Verdi’s Requiem at Orchestra Hall. The concert capped off a celebration that was comprised of several performances of Verdi’s music, including concert performances of his opera Macbeth.
The video of the Requiem was projected into Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion and Benito Juarez Community Academy in Chicago, as well as streamed live across the Internet via numerous collaborating websites and the Orchestra’s Facebook page.
“All great performances of the Verdi Requiem carry a sense of occasion, and Thursday’s carried a sense of truly momentous occasion,” praised John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “Muti understands the importance of respecting Verdi’s markings in regard to tempo, dynamics, and expression, and he also knows the importance of breathing with the singers and instrumentalists. His wholehearted dedication carried over to every musician under his command.” In The New York Times, Vivien Schweitzer added, “Alluring dynamic contrasts and shadings rendered the performance exciting and moving by turns, with impeccable playing from the Orchestra and exemplary singing by the Chicago Symphony Chorus.”
More than 3,000 people viewed the concert in Millennium Park, reported Mark Caro in the Chicago Tribune. According to one patron, “You get to see the city in the evening, you’re near the lake, the music is beautiful, and we love Muti and think he’s done a beautiful job with the CSO.”
The following year, to open the 124th season on September 18, 2014, Riccardo Muti led the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists Camilla Nylund, Ekaterina Gubanova, Matthew Polenzani, and Eric Owens in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Orchestra Hall. Also video recorded, the performance was made available for free streaming on the Orchestra’s website.
Virtually every Chicago Symphony Orchestra musician studied with a great teacher, who studied with great teachers before that—a process that traces back to Bernstein, Brahms, and Bach. Along with our beloved Italian maestro, Riccardo Muti, the members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association are a living link to past generations of legendary performers, conductors, and composers, and our artist musicians hail from many different countries who share a common musical heritage.
As we conclude the celebrations surrounding the Orchestra’s festive 125th season, the CSOAA also celebrates an anniversary this year—its twenty-fifth. The CSOAA consists of nearly 130 members—including retired and former musicians, spouses, and children—an astonishing aggregate total of well over a thousand years of service to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra! In 1991, Isadore Zverow (viola, 1945–1988) fostered the idea of the CSOAA, and subsequent presidents have included Sam Denov (percussion, 1954–1985), Phillip Kauffman (violin and viola, 1927–1930 and 1964–1984), Jerry Sabransky (violin, 1949–1997), and currently Tom Hall (violin, 1970–2006).
Having performed for many years together on stages all over the world, alumni continue to interact with each other through the CSOAA; and each season, members receive discounts to concerts and the Symphony Store. The organization enjoys the warm embrace of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, which holds its former musicians close as senior members of the Orchestra’s family. Current CSOA President Jeff Alexander has been most gracious in supporting the retirees, some of whom are well into their nineties. The CSOAA board of directors meets several times a year to plan annual reunion dinners, which are usually held at the historic Cliff Dwellers club. Members also have contributed to the CSOA’s Rosenthal Archives—a treasure trove of history, recordings, music scores, artifacts, and databases of former orchestra members—lovingly curated and managed by our liaison, director Frank Villella.
So the next time you stroll through Symphony Center’s first-floor arcade, try to imagine the many great musicians of earlier generations behind each portrait—beautifully taken by photographer Todd Rosenberg—of the superb musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
This article also appears in the September/October CSO program book.
Donald Moline was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra cello section from 1967 until 2006, and he currently serves as secretary of the CSOAA.
Music director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra jumped on the Chicago Blackhawks bandwagon on June 19, 2013, recording for video the song “Chelsea Dagger” by the Scottish band the Fratellis. For the past several years, the song—played in United Center whenever the Blackhawks scored a goal—had become a hit with Chicago hockey fans.
“The CSO musicians and I are happy to honor and support another home team, the Chicago Blackhawks, with our music,” said Maestro Muti. “They are a world-class hockey team, and we hope this recording demonstrates our support of them and their desire to bring the Stanley Cup back to this great city. As I keep hearing and seeing everywhere in Chicago, ‘Go Hawks!’ ”
On June 24, 2013, in game six of the Stanley Cup finals, the Chicago Blackhawks were behind the Boston Bruins 2–1 with less than two minutes remaining in the third period. Scoring two goals in seventeen seconds, the Blackhawks defeated the Bruins to win the series 4–2, claiming their fifth Stanley Cup victory.
Two years later, on June 15, 2015, the Blackhawks defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in game six of the National Hockey League finals, securing the Stanley Cup for the sixth time. Later that week on June 18, the Orchestra began the final subscription week of the 124th season with the world premiere of Bates’s Anthology of Fantastic Zoology. Just after intermission and before beginning Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, Riccardo Muti addressed the audience: “We want to celebrate in our way, and we can celebrate only by playing, singing, making music. So we will play for you now the ‘Chelsea Dagger.’ ” The audience roared.
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.
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.
Muti’s first appearances as music director designate were on January 15, 16, and 17, 2009, in Verdi’s Requiem. Soloists were Barbara Frittoli, Olga Borodina, Mario Zeffiri, and Ildar Abdrazakov, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by chorus director Duain Wolfe.
“From the moment he walked out onto the stage of Orchestra Hall until the last notes of the Verdi sounded just over ninety minutes later, Muti showed us the summary of nearly every possible positive quality a great conductor can possess,” wrote Andrew Patner in the Chicago Sun-Times. “The CSO played on the edge of its collective seat throughout. . . . When has the CSO Chorus sounded like this? Not since founder Margaret Hillis at her peak. Some 170 voices singing as one, powered from the bottom ranges, standing and delivering on cue with equal parts passion and precision, and investing the softest passages with the greatest musicality.”
Regarding the subsequent release of the Requiem on CSO Resound, Robert Levine for classicstoday.com wrote, “Muti still brings Toscanini to mind more than any other conductor, but he is more pliable in this performance than that other great Italian maestro or his earlier self. The Chorus, like the Orchestra, moves from fortissimo to pianissimo on a dime; their singing is effortless, precise, and filled with attention to the text. The quieter, spiritual sections are remarkable for their aura of stillness and meditation and their outbursts thrill and terrify. It’s breathtaking.”
This article also appears here.
In the fall of 2012, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra embarked on its first trip to Mexico for two concerts, one each at the Teatro Juárez in Guanajuato on October 8 and the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City on October 10. Both programs included Franck’s Symphony in D minor and Brahms’s Second Symphony, and the encore each evening was Martucci’s Notturno.
Reviewing the first concert in Guanajuato, Luis Galindo, writing for Notimex, praised, “A concert that will not only be registered in the history archive of the International Cervantino Festival, but also in the minds of the audience that gave a prolonged standing ovation, which Muti, who received the festival’s International Award at the end of the concert, acknowledged standing next to the musicians and not from the podium.”
Two days later in Mexico City, the hall had been sold to capacity. To attempt to accommodate the demand, a live feed of the performance was projected onto large screens placed outside in the Plaza de Bellas Artes as well as in the hall’s lobby. In El Economista, Ricardo Pacheco Colín reported, “Nimble performances, supremacy of their instruments, and the injection of soul from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—and the surprising symbiosis that they accomplish with their music director, Riccardo Muti—was clearly palpable. The journey through the two pieces on the program was artful, performed brilliantly and fluidly. . . . Usually in an orchestra, all the musicians can read a score, but not all of them are virtuosos; characteristically, most, if not all, of this American ensemble are. . . . they are virtuosos in the full sense of the word, a title that is truly merited.”
Following the performance, “Bedlam from an audience on the verge of delirium. Deafening bravos!” according to Notimex. “Five different curtain calls for the Neapolitan conductor . . . an unforgettable night that we were all privileged to attend.”
This article also appears here.
On December 14, 2009, cellist Yo-Yo Ma was appointed the Chicago Symphony’s first Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant, “to deepen the Orchestra’s engagement with the Chicago community and to nurture the legacy of the CSO while supporting a new generation of musicians.”
One of Ma’s most important projects—launched in January 2011, during Riccardo Muti’s first season as music director—was the Citizen Musician initiative, encouraging people of all ages, interests, skill levels, and backgrounds to generously use and promote the power of music to make meaningful contributions to their communities. Over the course of the initiative and with Ma’s leadership, Citizen Musician activities engaged tens of thousands of people in schools, hospitals, churches, youth detention centers and prisons, universities, and conservatories in Chicago and around the world.
In collaboration with the staff of the Association’s Negaunee Music Institute, Ma also has worked extensively with the musicians of the Civic Orchestra, developing a variety of artistic challenges, including residencies at Chicago Public Schools, in-depth explorations of core orchestral repertoire (including Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, Strauss’s Don Quixote, and Tchaikovsky’s symphonies), and performances of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos in community venues across the city. He has been an advocate for the value of arts education in the lives of students, and his involvement, on behalf of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was influential in the swift development of the district’s first Arts Education Plan, approved by the Chicago Board of Education in October 2012.
Yo-Yo Ma made his debut with the Orchestra on December 13, 1979, at Orchestra Hall in Kabelevsky’s Cello Concerto with Leonard Slatkin conducting; he first appeared at the Ravinia Festival on July 1, 1982, in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major with Charles Dutoit conducting. With the Orchestra, he has recorded Bloch’s Schelomo, Brahms’s Double Concerto (twice), and Williams’s Suite from Memoirs of a Geisha. Ma has been one of Orchestra Hall’s most frequent guest artists, performing not only as a soloist with the Orchestra but also as a chamber musician in a wide variety of ensembles.
This article also appears here.