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Just before the opening of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s seventieth season, our sixth music director Fritz Reiner suffered a heart attack on October 7, 1960. He had been scheduled to conduct the first four weeks of concerts, but his recuperation forced the cancellation of his remaining appearances for the calendar year.

Maria Callas with Antonino Votto

Antonino Votto was one of Maria Callas‘s integral collaborators, leading many of her important productions at La Scala in the 1950s. He also was conductor of several of her landmark recordings on EMI including Puccini’s La bohème, Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, Bellini’s La sonnambula, and Ponchielli’s La Gioconda.

Replacement conductors included CSO associate conductor Walter Hendl, Robert Shaw (leading Beethoven’s Missa solemnis), Erich Leinsdorf (to conduct a special Saturday evening concert on October 15 featuring the U.S. debut of Sviatoslav Richter as soloist in Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto), and Antonino Votto (who would soon become Riccardo Muti‘s conducting teacher).

Votto was in Chicago to make his debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago and (according to their Performance + Cast Archive) he led the season opening performances of Verdi’s Don Carlo on October 14, 21, and 24. The cast included Giulietta Simionato, Margherita Roberti, Richard Tucker, Tito Gobbi, and Boris Christoff. Votto also conducted performances of Verdi’s Aida on October 17, 19, 22, and 28, with a cast that included Leontyne Price, Simionato, Carlo Bergonzi, and Robert Merrill.

Antonino Votto and Guiomar Novaes's program book biographies

Antonino Votto and Guiomar Novaes’s program book biographies

According to an October 16, 1960, CSO press release: “Antonino Votto will conduct the subscription concerts in the third week of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s current season. The concerts of Tuesday afternoon, October 25, and the subscription pair of Thursday-Friday, October 27-28, originally scheduled for music director Fritz Reiner, will be directed by the Italian conductor who is currently in Chicago for his first season with the Lyric Opera. A leading conductor of both opera and symphony concerts at La Scala in Milan, Maestro Votto’s appearance with the Orchestra has been made possible through the courteous cooperation of Miss Carol Fox, General Manager of the Lyric Opera.”

October 25, 1960 - revised program

October 25, 1960 – revised program

October 25, 1960 - original program advertisement

October 25, 1960 – original program advertisement

Both programs were modified (see images right and below) to accommodate conductor and soloist. According to Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune regarding the first concert on October 25: “From the start of Haydn’s London Symphony thru the Mozart with Guiomar Novaes and Debussy’s Faun to the perfectly planned and executed climax of a stunning Pictures at an Exhibition this was a major concert on the sounder shores of style” (complete review is here). Also according to Cassidy, word traveled fast and the following two concerts on Thursday and Friday quickly sold out: “. . . Votto is a man to respect a score, an orchestra and a soloist. When you add that to knowing your business and you can work with other musicians on a high level remarkable things can happen. Such as orchestral equilibrium, a sense of proportion in displaying a soloist, a mounting excitement on the stage and in the audience. In other words, quite a concert” (complete review is here).

October 27 & 28, 1960 - revised program

October 27 & 28, 1960 – revised program

October 27 & 28, 1960 - original program advertisement

October 27 & 28, 1960 – original program advertisement

According to a newspaper account, Reiner—from his hospital bed at Presbyterian/Saint Luke’s—was able to hear a portion of the Friday afternoon matinee via “telephone from a remote pickup thru a microphone in the concert hall to a loudspeaker in the manager’s office.” Reiner’s statement: “Please convey my warm compliments on the splendid performance of Mme. Novaes and Maestro Votto. I enjoyed very much the finesse and style of the orchestra, which has been inoculated in the years of our association.”

Votto was re-engaged at Lyric the following season for Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor on October 14, 16, and 18, 1961 (with Joan Sutherland, Bergonzi, and Tucker); Giordano’s Andrea Chenier on October 20, and 25, 28 (with Shakeh Vartenissian and Jon Vickers); and the company premiere of Boito’s Mefistofele on October 21, 23, and 27 (with Ilva Ligabue, Christa Ludwig, Christoff, and Bergonzi).

Votto returned to Italy and in November 1962, twenty-one-year-old Riccardo Muti met him during his first year as a student at the Milan Conservatory. Muti remembers: “And then there was Votto, whom I recall so vividly. He was solemn and incredibly strict, and had worked with [Arturo] Toscanini during his years at La Scala. . . . Within a few days, however, I realized that Votto had taken a liking to me, to the point of giving me—as if to prefer me over less talented students, or ones he didn’t like as much—some pieces to conduct for the performances the following year. Not only did I take a class with him, but I also attended some of his rehearsals at La Scala. . . . I was particularly struck when he did Falstaff: he didn’t have the score! Now, it’s one thing to conduct from memory, but to try that with Falstaff is one of those things that just leaves you flabbergasted and makes you think that maybe, with such experts around, you’d best find another job. I asked him something along those lines, and he replied: ‘If you had worked with Him, you would do the same.’ ‘Him,’ of course, meant Toscanini, with whom such work was an intense, special months-long undertaking; after that, going on memory became spontaneous, the natural result of having complete mastery of the score. . . .

“Votto’s approach was based on conductorial efficiency, music for music’s sake, no frills, no bells and whistles, going straight to the heart of opera, only essential gestures, nothing more than was absolutely necessary. In his classes he’d often repeat, ‘Don’t annoy the orchestra.’ To the uninitiated that phrase might seem absurd or misleading, calling into question the orchestra conductor’s usefulness. In reality he just wanted to advise us that, once the orchestra was on an orderly, rhythmic path (the obvious outcome of long rehearsing), the maestro mustn’t disturb that natural gait, and must therefore avoid rash gestures while on the podium, steering clear of any temptation to become a court jester; basically, he mustn’t alter what the nature of the piece itself had established. And such a position was a clear, complete reflection of Arturo Toscanini’s.”

Their friendship continued well beyond the conservatory, and when Muti married Maria Cristina Mazzavillani on June 1, 1969, in Ravenna, Votto was best man (“while Sviatoslav Richter became our ad hoc photographer and took some of the best photos”).

Excerpts from Riccardo Muti, An Autobiography: First the Music, Then the Words.

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Kennedy Center Honors recipients Billy Joel, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Shirley MacLaine, and Martina Arroyo in Washington, D.C. on December 8, 2013

Kennedy Center Honors recipients Billy Joel, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Shirley MacLaine, and Martina Arroyo in Washington, D.C. on December 8, 2013

Congratulations to two very special members of the extended CSO family—Martina Arroyo and Herbie Hancock—upon receiving Kennedy Center Honors at a ceremony held yesterday in Washington, D.C. President Barack Obama saluted the honorees saying, “The diverse group of extraordinary individuals we honor today haven’t just proven themselves to be the best of the best. Despite all their success, all their fame, they’ve remained true to themselves—and inspired the rest of us to do the same.” Also receiving Kennedy Center Honors were Billy Joel, Carlos Santana, and Shirley MacLaine. The gala will be broadcast on CBS on December 29, 2013.

Martina Arroyo

Soprano Martina Arroyo first appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall on November 14, 15, and 16, 1968, in Verdi’s Requiem. Music director Jean Martinon conducted and the vocal soloists included Carol Smith, Sándor Kónya, and Malcolm Smith. She again appeared in Verdi’s Requiem on March 25, 26, and 27, 1971, under the baton of principal guest conductor Carlo Maria Giulini. Soloists included Shirley Verrett, Carlo Cossutta, and Ezio Flagello. For both sets of performances, the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis. At the Ravinia Festival, Arroyo appeared with the Orchestra in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly on July 31 and August 2, 1969, with Alain Lombard conducting; and on August 7 and 9, 1969, in Verdi’s Aida with Giuseppe Patanè conducting. On August 3, 1974, she joined tenor Richard Tucker in a concert of opera arias and duets by Giordano, Mascagni, Puccini, and Verdi with James Levine conducting; and she also was soloist in Strauss’s Four Last Songs on August 12, 1976, with Lawrence Foster conducting.

Herbie Hancock Feb 1952

Eleven-year-old Herbie Hancock—a grade 7A student at the Forestville School, located in the Kenwood neighborhood on Chicago’s south side—was a CSO youth auditions winner and appeared with the Orchestra on a Young People’s Concert at Orchestra Hall on February 5, 1952. He performed the first movement (Allegro) from Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 26 in D major, K. 537 (Coronation). The conductor was George Schick, the CSO’s assistant conductor. In the years since, Hancock has appeared at Orchestra Hall on numerous occasions with a variety of artists as well as with his own quartet.

Solti - The Legacy release

We just received copies of an excellent new two-CD set from Decca Classics (one of their many releases and re-releases commemorating Solti’s centennial). It’s called Solti: The Legacy, 1937–1997 and includes studio, live, and rehearsal recordings—the majority of them released for the very first time—covering a sixty-year span.

A few highlights:

• A twenty-four-year-old Georg Solti playing the glockenspiel in Mozart’s The Magic Flute with Arturo Toscanini conducting baritone Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender and the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival in 1937.

Renata Tebaldi and Richard Tucker performing the duet “Vicino a te” from Giordano’s Andrea Chenier, performed at Lyric Opera of Chicago
on November 10, 1956, during Solti’s debut season there.

• Two selections from Solti’s 75th birthday concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall on October 9, 1987: Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat major, K. 365 with Murray Perahia and Solti (conducting from the keyboard); and Kiri Te Kanawa and Plácido Domingo performing the duet “Già nella notte densa” from Verdi’s Otello.

Check it out!

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Georg Solti made his Lyric Opera of Chicago debut on October 19, 1956 (during the company’s third season), conducting Strauss’s Salome with Inge Borkh in the title role. Claudia Cassidy’s complete Chicago Tribune review (courtesy of ProQuest via the Chicago Public Library) is here.

That season he also led Wagner’s Die Walküre with Borkh, Birgit Nilsson, and Paul Schöffler (and a young Ardis Krainik as Rossweisse); Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Eleanor Steber, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, and Léopold Simoneau; and Verdi’s La forza del destino with Renata Tebaldi, Giulietta Simionato, and Richard Tucker. Ruth Page provided choreography for the Mozart and Verdi.

Solti also shared the podium with Emerson Buckley for a gala concert on November 10 with a star-studded cast that included Tebaldi, Simionato, Tucker, Ettore Bastianini, and Miraslav Čangalović.

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Theodore Thomas

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