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Copland

On July 10, 1962, Aaron Copland conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival in a program that began with Haydn’s Symphony no. 95, Stravinsky’s Ode for Orchestra, and Chávez’s Sinfonia india. After intermission, the composer returned to lead his Orchestral Variations and Old American Songs with bass William Warfield.

Copland’s appearance drew “the largest Tuesday crowd in many a Ravinia summer [and] everything added up to the best program given summer audiences here in a decade of concerts,” wrote Roger Dettmer in the Chicago American. “The strongest music was Mr. Copland’s Variations, tense and unrelenting, splendorously scored, and in design, memorable.”

July 10, 1962

July 10, 1962

William Warfield—who had given the premiere of the orchestral arrangement of the first set of songs as well as the first performance of the original version of the second set with the composer at the piano—was soloist for the occasion. Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times commented, “In the two sets of American songs, William Warfield showed us that the acoustically revamped pavilion is now a fit place for a vocal soloist, for his big, warm baritone came to us as no singer had before.”

Copland had made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 21, 1956, in a concert that had attracted over 5,000 people, despite a late-afternoon hailstorm. He led a program of his own works: An Outdoor Overture, suites from Our Town and Billy the Kid, the first two movements from the Third Symphony, and Lincoln Portrait with Claude Rains as narrator. For his debut at Orchestra Hall, the composer was soloist in his Piano Concerto on December 5, 1964, led by assistant conductor Irwin Hoffman.

This article also appears here.

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Abbado

Claudio Abbado first conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in January 1971, leading three weeks of subscription concerts. For the next twenty years, he was a frequent visitor—both before and after his tenure as second principal guest conductor from 1982 until 1985—also leading the Orchestra in concerts at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. Abbado’s numerous residencies included collaborations with the Chicago Symphony Chorus, recording sessions, and performances with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

On May 24, 25, and 27, 1984, Abbado led the Orchestra’s first performances of Berg’s landmark opera, Wozzeck. The principal cast included Benjamin Luxon in the title role, Hildegard Behrens as Marie, Alexander Malta as the Doctor, Jacque Trussel as the Drum Major, and Gerhard Unger as the Captain. Members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus were prepared by associate director James Winfield, members of the Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus were prepared by Doreen Rao, and the concert staging was directed by Robert Goldschlager.

Abbado with the Orchestra onstage at Orchestra Hall on May 24, 1984 (Jeff Wassmann photo)

Abbado with the Orchestra onstage at Orchestra Hall on May 24, 1984 (Jeff Wassmann photo)

“Sung by an extraordinary cast and played with surpassing beauty and intensity by the Orchestra, this first CSO performance of the Berg masterpiece served as a resoundingly successful climax to the season,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “In a wondrous score that shifts between Straussian contrapuntal complexity and a translucence of texture worthy of Debussy, Abbado was masterful. His limning of detail was extraordinary, and he never stressed the agonized lyricism at the expense of passion or intensity. Given orchestral playing of power, shimmer, and clarity, Berg’s tight formal structures supported a vocal performance of shattering dramatic impact.”

Abbado and the cast onstage at Orchestra Hall on May 24, 1984 (Jeff Wassmann photo)

Abbado and the cast onstage at Orchestra Hall on May 24, 1984 (Jeff Wassmann photo)

“Claudio Abbado, who conducted without a score (an achievement appreciated by all who have studied this music) took advantage of the simple setting to permit the work to develop with symphonic continuity, one scene flowing directly into another, and the cumulative effect was tremendous,” raved Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times. “There are occasions when despite our rich diet of superlative music, you say to yourself, ‘This is a historic moment. People will be talking about this for years to come.’ And they will. Abbado and the CSO, in all their years of association, have never done anything finer or more important.”

This article also appears here.

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Sir Georg Solti and Birgit Nilsson studying the score for Strauss's Salome (Terry's photo)

Sir Georg Solti and Birgit Nilsson studying the score for Strauss’s Salome (Terry’s photo)

Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson sang the title role in Strauss’s Salome with Sir Georg Solti leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in concerts at Orchestra Hall on December 13 and 15, 1974, and on December 18 in Carnegie Hall. The cast also included Ruth Hesse as Herodias, Ragnar Ulfung as Herod, Norman Bailey as Jochanaan, and George Shirley as Narraboth.

“Superb is hardly the word for Miss Nilsson’s performance of the title role. Hers was a formidable triumph,” wrote Karen Monson in the Chicago Daily News. “She had superb help from Solti, who conducted the mightily convoluted score ingeniously . . . [maintaining] a miraculous balance between voices and instruments.”

December 13 and 15, 1974

December 13 and 15, 1974

“The key to the performance was the combination of the great Salome voice of the century with the great Salome conductor of our day and an orchestra that has been dedicated to Strauss’s cause for all its eighty-four years,” added Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times. Nilsson “gave a performance which, I believe, could not have been duplicated for its strength and depth of insight and vocal richness by any other living singer.”

Following the December 18 concert in Carnegie Hall, Harold C. Schoenberg in The New York Times concluded, “This was a Salome of thrilling impact, well deserving of the cheers that greeted the last note. Mr. Solti remains the conducting idol of New York.”

Nilsson would appear with the Orchestra once more, on a run-out concert to Michigan State University for the gala opening and dedication of the Wharton Center for Performing Arts on September 25, 1982. She performed excerpts from Wagner’s operas, including “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser and Isolde’s narrative from act 1 and the Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde. Reynald Giovaninetti conducted.

This article also appears here.

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Margaret Hillis

One of Fritz Reiner‘s primary goals early in his tenure as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s sixth music director was to schedule and perform major choral works. However, the repertory he wished to perform was, in his opinion, too demanding for the amateur groups usually engaged. Reiner sought out Margaret Hillis—then founder and director of the New York Concert Choir—and convinced her to come to Chicago to start a chorus on a par with the Orchestra.

On March 13 and 14, 1958, the Chicago Symphony Chorus made its official debut in Mozart’s Requiem. Bruno Walter conducted and the soloists were Maria Stader, Maureen Forrester, David Lloyd, and Otto Edelmann. In the Chicago Tribune, Claudia Cassidy wrote: “It was a wonderfully strong performance Mr. Walter gave us, deploying his forces with a direct, powerful simplicity of style. In the Mozart Requiem, the chorus is the focal point, the orchestra and soloists of the highest quality are taken for granted. 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.”

March 13 & 14, 1958

March 13 & 14, 1958

Less than a month later, on April 3, 4, and 8, 1958, the Chorus appeared in Verdi’s Requiem with Reiner conducting. The soloists included Leonie Rysanek, Regina Resnik, David Lloyd, and Giorgio Tozzi. In the Chicago 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, Hillis led the Orchestra and Chorus in Honegger’s Christmas Cantata on December 26 and 27, 1958, becoming the first woman to conduct subscription concerts.

This article also appears here.

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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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October 12, 13, and 14, 1978

October 12, 13, and 14, 1978

Carlos Kleiber made his U.S. debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on October 12, 13, and 14, 1978, conducting Weber’s Overture to Der Freischütz, Schubert’s Third Symphony, and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

“Kleiber’s arrival here was preceded by almost as much excited anticipation and ecstatic European notices as greeted [Sir Georg] Solti and Carlo Maria Giulini when they gave their first performances with the Orchestra back in the mid-1950s. . . . Is the man really as good as everyone says he is?” asked John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. He answered his own question. “Thursday night provided the answer: No, he is even better.” Von Rhein continued, “He pays this orchestra the ultimate (and how seldom realized!) complimentby simply letting it play. He obviously values passion over deliberation, intensity over clinical perfection, spontaneity over calculation. He is a conductor of rare brilliance, and rarer humility. . . . It sounded in fact like an entirely different orchestra, and it delivered one of the most electrifying kinetic Fifths this reviewer has ever heard.”

Carlos Kleiber and the Orchestra acknowledge applause following a performance of Brahms's Symphony no. 2 on June 3, 1983

Carlos Kleiber and the Orchestra acknowledge applause following a performance of Brahms’s Symphony no. 2 on June 3, 1983 (Terry’s photo)

Kleiber returned for a second engagement on June 2, 3, and 4, 1983, to lead the Orchestra in Butterworth’s English Idyll no. 1, Mozart’s Symphony no. 33, and Brahms’s Symphony no. 2. “Every score is seen both as a unity and as a series of flowing phrases, each one of which is to be shaped, colored, balanced, and accented as perfectly as possible,” wrote Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times. “There is never the slightest suggestion of routine, the lapse into the standard reading. Every bar is a fresh adventure, an invitation to discovery. His insight is exceptional. He can play music you think you know forward and backwards and show you one new vision after another.”

This article also appears here.

Horowitz album cover

Deutsche Grammophon has released—for the first time on CD—Vladimir Horowitz‘s final recital in Orchestra Hall from October 26, 1986. The concert originally had been broadcast on WFMT (Mitchell Heller was the broadcast-recording engineer and producer). For the CD release, Jon Samuels was producer and Matthew Sohn the restoration engineer.

The two-CD set also includes two interviews, both of which were excerpted for the 1986 broadcast; on the release, they are included in their entirety. The first is with Chicago Tribune music critic Thomas Willis from October 30, 1974, and the second with WFMT’s Norman Pellegrini from October 25, 1986 (the day before the recital). Both interviews also can be heard here.

Horowitz's program for October 26, 1986; Schumann's Träumerei and Moszkowski's Etincelles were performed as encores.

Horowitz’s program for October 26, 1986; Schumann’s Träumerei and Moszkowski’s Étincelles were performed as encores. The complete program is here.

“Those who witnessed past Horowitz recitals might have known what to expect: the famously idiosyncratic phrasings, the errant tempos, the pedal effects that only he can achieve, the bursts of titanic virtuosity,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune on October 27, 1986. “Through it all Horowitz wore a gentle smile, looking rather childlike as he waved to the crowd, clapped his hands and gave little shrugs whenever his keyboard conjuring drew the wonted response. One trusts that the effect was as potent for the thousands who were listening to WFMT’s live radio broadcast as it was for the crowd who packed the hall and stage seats.”

“But there is only one Horowitz, a miraculous, many-faceted artist who delights in surprising us and revealing the plurality of things that enter into his artistry,” added Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times. “Have no doubt, he is still, I am sure, the greatest virtuoso of all. . . . Listening to Horowitz is listening to history. He takes us back to a musical world that, except for himself, is largely gone. I was pleased so many of his listeners were young people. Opportunities for time traveling are always rare. We should savor them.” Both reviews are available here.

In the 1986 interview, the pianist concluded: “I think Chicago was my first success in America . . . Chicago is special for me. I like the people, the whole, everything.”

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Jean Martinon

During the 1965–66 season, Jean Martinon wrote, “It is really a great honor to be leading the musical life of an orchestra at the time it reaches seventy-five years of age. Still, a much greater honor and incomparable chance when the orchestra happens to be one of the greatest in the world.” To celebrate the anniversary, Martinon was commissioned to compose his Fourth Symphony—descriptively titled Altitudes—inspired by his passion for mountain climbing (his frequent climbing partner was well-known mountain guide and alpinist Gaston Rébuffat).

While composing the symphony, Martinon recalled that his “thoughts were always of my orchestra—this magnificent instrument, a real Stradivarius for the conductor. Each detail of my score brought to mind each one of the marvelous musicians. I imagined this melody played by a certain group, that rhythm by another section, and this chord by another. . . . In brief, it is with love that I dedicate to them this symphony. I hope it may prove worthy of them.”

From the title page of Martinon’s Symphony no. 4: “For what do they search, these climbers of mountains? Like the pioneers of cosmos, they seek the presence of God. God! the purest and the most formidable word that mankind has ever invented . . . This Symphony has been commissioned by the Association of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the orchestra”

The special celebratory concerts of December 30 and 31, 1965, opened with Bernstein’s Overture to Candide followed by the world premiere of Martinon’s symphony, second music director Frederick Stock’s Symphonic Variations on an Original Theme, and the finale from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung with soprano Eileen Farrell.

Regarding the premiere, Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “The symphony is imaginative, expertly scored, and wonderfully evocative. It really conveys the way it feels to go out and climb a mountain, the exhilaration at the start, the changing moods and scenes as one ascends, and finally the radiant joy as the earth drops away and leaves the climber in his private realm of rock, snow, and sky.”

Nearly two years later, Martinon and the Orchestra recorded the Altitudes Symphony for RCA in Medinah Temple on November 29, 1967. In 2015, RCA rereleased the symphony as part of a boxed set that included Martinon’s complete catalog of recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

This article also appears here.

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