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On March 12, 2020, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra celebrates the centennial of orchestral and chamber musician, soloist with countless ensembles, and lifelong teacher and coach Ray Still (1920–2014), a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s oboe section for forty years, serving as principal for thirty-nine years.

Ray Still - 1950s

Born on March 12, 1920, in Elwood, Indiana, Still began playing clarinet as a teenager. During the Great Depression, his family moved to California, where he was able to regularly hear performances of the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a volunteer usher. After hearing the masterful technique and elegant phrasing of Henri de Busscher—principal oboe in Los Angeles from 1920 until 1948—Still switched to the oboe.

Still graduated from Los Angeles High School and at the age of nineteen joined the Kansas City Philharmonic as second oboe in 1939, where he was a member until 1941 (and also where he met and married Mary Powell Brock in 1940). For the next two years, he studied electrical engineering, served in the reserve US Army Signal Corps, and worked nights at the Douglas Aircraft factory. During the height of World War II, Still joined the US Army in September 1943 and served until June of 1946.

Immediately following his honorable discharge from the Army, Still enrolled at the Juilliard School where he studied with Robert Bloom. The following year in 1947, he began a two-year tenure as principal oboe with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of William Steinberg. Beginning in 1949, Still was principal oboe of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for four years.

Fritz Reiner and the newest members of the Orchestra in the fall of 1953. From left to right: Nathan Snader, violin; Juan Cuneo, violin; Joseph Golan, violin; Alan Fuchs, horn; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; Ray Still, oboe; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; and János Starker, cello.

Fritz Reiner and the newest members of the Orchestra in the fall of 1953. From left to right: Nathan Snader, violin; Juan Cuneo, violin; Joseph Golan, violin; Alan Fuchs, horn; Ray Still, oboe; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; and János Starker, cello.

In the fall of 1953, Still auditioned for Fritz Reiner, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s recently named music director. Reiner invited him to be the Orchestra’s second-chair oboe and the following year promoted him to the principal position. Still would serve the Orchestra in that capacity—under music directors Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim—until his retirement in 1993.

Still appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as soloist on countless occasions, including the Orchestra’s first performances of works for solo oboe by Albinoni, Bach, Barber, Mozart, Richard Strauss, and Telemann. His extensive discography includes Bach’s Wedding Cantata on RCA with Kathleen Battle as soloist and James Levine conducting, and Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C minor on Deutsche Grammophon with Claudio Abbado conducting.

Still performed with numerous other ensembles including the Juilliard, Vermeer, and Fine Arts string quartets; he recorded with Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, and Lynn Harrell; and regularly appeared at many music festivals, including those at Aspen, Stratford, and Marlboro, among others.

A tireless educator, Still taught at the Peabody Institute from 1949 until 1953, Roosevelt University from 1954 until 1957, and at Northwestern University for forty-three years until 2003. Throughout his tenure with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he coached members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. At the invitation of Seiji Ozawa, he spent the summers of 1968 and 1970 as a visiting member of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in Tokyo, where he held coaching sessions for the wind section, conducted chamber music classes, and lectured at Toho University.

Ray Still - 1970s

Following his retirement from Northwestern, he moved to Annapolis, Maryland—where he continued to give master classes and lessons—with his beloved wife Mary and son James to live near his daughter Susan. In 2013, he moved to Saxtons River and later Woodstock, Vermont, where he lived near Susan, his granddaughter Madeline, and her two daughters. Still died in Woodstock, on March 12, 2014, surrounded by family. He was 94 and was survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Mimi and Kent Dixon of Springfield, Ohio; his son and daughter-in-law, Tom and Sally Still of Big Timber, Montana; his daughter and son-in-law, Susan Still and Peter Bergstrom of Saxtons River, Vermont; six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death in 2012 by Mary, his wife of almost 72 years, and his son James Still.

When interviewed for an article in the Chicago Tribune in 1988, Still was asked why he thought the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was the world’s greatest. His reply: “It’s like a great baseball team. We have a blend of youth and experience, and they work very well together. A lot of orchestras have this. The thing that makes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra very unusual is the tremendous—I hate to use the word—discipline. There is a certain pride, and I think it goes back to the days of Theodore Thomas, the founder. There is something about the tradition of this Orchestra and the level the main body of musicians has come to expect of itself. There’s just a longer line of tradition.”

The Still family has recently updated www.raystill.com, which now includes a new edition of his book Playing the Oboe, along with a gallery of photos and a complete discography.

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

Walfrid Kujala in 1997 (William Burlingham photo)

Wishing Walfrid Kujala—a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s flute and piccolo section from 1954 until 2001—a very happy ninety-fifth birthday!

A native of Warren, Ohio, Kujala grew up in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where he started flute lessons when he was in the seventh grade. (His father, a bassoonist, steered him to the flute in order to “save him” from the headaches of reed making.) While attending high school in Huntington, West Virginia, he studied with Parker Taylor, principal flute of the Huntington Symphony Orchestra, and  played second flute with the ensemble from 1939 until 1942.

Kujala attended the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Joseph Mariano, principal flute of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. His college career was interrupted by two and a half years of military service in the U.S. Army, serving in the 86th Infantry Division Band from 1943 until 1946. During his tour of duty in the Philippines, after the end of hostilities, Kujala was briefly a member of the Manila Symphony Orchestra. From Eastman, he received his bachelor of music degree in 1948 and a master’s degree in 1950, and he was a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra under Erich Leinsdorf from 1948 until 1954. Kujala also served on Eastman’s faculty from 1950 until 1954.

In 1954, sixth music director Fritz Reiner hired Kujala as assistant principal flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and in 1957, he became principal piccolo, serving in that capacity until 2001. He also performed as principal flute of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra from 1955 until 1960.

As a soloist, Kujala has appeared under Reiner, Sir Georg Solti, Seiji Ozawa, Antonio Janigro, and Lawrence Foster. He also has soloed at the Stratford and Victoria Festivals in Canada, as well as recitals, chamber music concerts, and master classes across the United States.

Kujala, Gunther Schuller, and Sir Georg Solti following the world premiere performance of Schuller’s Flute Concerto on October 13, 1988 (Jim Steere photo)

Kujala joined the faculty at Northwestern University in 1962 and taught there for fifty years, retiring in 2012. In honor of his sixtieth birthday, his students and colleagues commissioned a flute concerto from Gunther Schuller, and Kujala was soloist in the world premiere with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Solti on October 13, 1988. On August 19, 1990, he was soloist in the U.S. premiere of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Concerto for Flute under Kurt Redel, at the National Flute Association convention in Minneapolis. The Chicago Flute Club’s biennial international piccolo competition is named in his honor.

The author of the textbook The Flutist’s Progress, Kujala also regularly contributes articles and editorial to several publications, including The Instrumentalist, Flute Talk, Music Journal, and Woodwind World. He is a founding board member and founding secretary of the National Flute Association, where he also served as president, vice president, and board chairman. Kujala and his wife Sherry make their home in Evanston.

Happy, happy birthday!

Title page of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (Theodore Thomas collection)

“We have now reached what is called Beethoven’s second creative period, the zenith of his career,” wrote Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies. “He has outlived other influences and is mature in every respect; his powers and individuality are fully developed; he has had some experience of the world, has solved difficult problems, and feels himself a master. Hence in this period he produces works which are as nearly perfect as anything human can be, breathing the spirit of the nineteenth century and endowing music with a meaning deeper and more fruitful than it ever had before.”

The Fifth Symphony “has come to represent greatness in music,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “One can’t easily think of another single composition that, in its expressive range and structural power, better represents what music is all about.”

Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the inaugural concerts on October 16 and 17, 1891, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1959 and 1968 recordings (RCA)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner recorded the Fifth Symphony with the Orchestra for RCA on May 4, 1959, in Orchestra Hall. Richard Mohr was the producer and Joseph F. Wells was the recording engineer. Also for RCA, Seiji Ozawa recorded the symphony with the ensemble on August 9, 1968, in Orchestra Hall. Peter Dellheim was the producer and Bernard Keville was the recording engineer.

1973 recording (London)

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 Fifth Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on November 5 and 6, 1973. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1986 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 Fifth Symphony was recorded in Medinah Temple on October 6 and 7, 1986. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

During the tour to Japan in 1990, Solti led the Orchestra in the Fifth Symphony, and the April 15 performance at Suntory Hall in Tokyo was video recorded for release on laser disc. For CBS Sony, Shūji Fujii was the video director.

Fantasia 2000 soundtrack

The Orchestra also recorded an abbreviated version of the first movement from the symphony on April 25, 1994, for the Fantasia 2000 soundtrack. For Disney, James Levine conducted, Jay David Saks was the producer, and it was recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphonies nos. 2 and 5 on February 20, 21, 22, and 23, 2020.

Peter Serkin (Kathy Chapman photo)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the passing of the remarkable American pianist Peter Serkin, who died earlier today at his home in Red Hook, New York following a long illness. He was seventy-two.

For more than fifty years, Serkin was a frequent soloist with the Orchestra, both at the Ravinia Festival and in Orchestra Hall.

At the age of seventeen, Serkin made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on June 27, 1965, as soloist in Bartok’s Third Piano Concerto with Seiji Ozawa conducting. He first performed with the Orchestra on subscription concerts in in Orchestra Hall on February 3, 4, and 5, 1994, in Berg’s Chamber Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Thirteen Wind Instruments with Daniel Barenboim conducting.

Most recently, he appeared with the Orchestra in Orchestra Hall on May 16, 18, and 21, 2013, in Takemitsu’s riverrun with Juanjo Mena conducting and at the Ravinia Festival on August 5, 2015, in Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 19 with Pablo Heras-Casado conducting.

Serkin also recorded with the Orchestra for the RCA Red Seal label. With Seiji Ozawa conducting, he recorded Bartok’s Third and First piano concertos in June 1965 and July 1966, respectively, in Orchestra Hall. Also under Ozawa, he recorded Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with the Orchestra in July 1967 in Medinah Temple.

Numerous tributes have been posted online, including The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer, among others.

Sherrill Milnes (Dario Acosta photo)

Wishing a very happy eighty-fifth birthday to the legendary American baritone Sherrill Milnes! A native of Downers Grove, Illinois, he also was a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus in the beginning of his professional singing career.

Milnes auditioned for Margaret Hillis in 1958 and became a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus in time for the beginning its second season. “I was knocked out by Margaret’s personality and musicality,” he said in a March 1976 interview with Winthrop Sargeant for The New Yorker. “Singing under Fritz Reiner could only be a great thrill for an amateur singer, and I was an amateur. It was pre-career. She had all the techniques of a modern choral conductor. For example, ‘staccato du.” It was the first time I had encountered it. To make sure you know the notes, you sing them ‘du-du-du’—each note very short. Also speaking the words to rhythm—in a monotone, with the rhythm of the music but without the melody. She was the first choral conductor I’d ever know who molded the sound of the chorus, making it change color, and so on. She had everybody sing the soprano part where there was a melody, and the same with the bass and other parts. She opened up a whole new world of musical ideas and rehearsal ideas. . . . I’m on the recording of Reiner’s Beethoven Ninth in the chorus [and] Alexander Nevsky with Reiner too. . . . I was hearing phrases thrown at me for the first time, and it was opening up a whole new world.”

Milnes has been a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of occasions, both in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, all listed below.

December 16, 1961, Orchestra Hall
BACH Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243
HAYDN Mass in D Minor, Hob. XXII:11 (Lord Nelson)
Margaret Hillis, conductor
Maria Ferriero, soprano
Teresa Orantes, soprano
Lili Chookasian, contralto
David Paige, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

February 15, 1964, Orchestra Hall
MENDELSSOHN Elijah, Op. 70
Margaret Hillis, conductor
Lillian Garabedian, soprano
Marion Vincent, soprano
Julia Diane Ragains, soprano
Robert Johnson, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

December 19, 1964, Orchestra Hall
BERLIOZ L’enfance du Christ, Op. 25
Margaret Hillis, director
Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprano
Seth McCoy, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
John West, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

HAYDN July 18, 1965, Ravinia Festival
ORFF Carmina burana
Seiji Ozawa, conductor
Julia Diane Ragains, soprano
Pierre Duval, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Alfred Reichel, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Chicago Children’s Choir
Christopher Moore, director

August 7 and 9, 1969, Ravinia Festival
VERDI Aida
Giuseppe Patanè, conductor
Sheldon Patinkin, stage director
Robert Hale, bass-baritone
Lili Chookasian, contralto
Martina Arroyo, soprano
Richard Tucker, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Ara Berberian, bass
Herbert Kraus, tenor
Carolyn Smith-Meyer, soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 15 and 17, 1971, Ravinia Festival
VERDI Rigoletto
István Kertész, conductor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Patricia Wise, soprano
John Alexander, tenor
Robert Hale, bass-baritone
John Walker, tenor
Bernard Izzo, baritone
Edna Garabedian, mezzo-soprano
Susan Lutz, mezzo-soprano
Eugene Johnson, bass
Phyllis Kirian, soprano
Julia Diane Ragains, soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 1, 1972, Ravinia Festival
PUCCINI Tosca
James Levine, conductor
Teresa Kubiak, soprano
John Alexander, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Bernard Izzo, baritone
Charles Anthony, tenor
Andrew Földi, bass
Eugene Johnson, bass
Joseph Caccamo, boy soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Theatre Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

July 24, 1976, Ravinia Festival
WALTON Belshazzar’s Feast
André Previn, conductor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus
John Currie, director

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

June 26, 1981, Ravinia Festival
VERDI Macbeth
James Levine, conductor
Renata Scotto, soprano
Giuliano Ciannella, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
John Cheek, bass-baritone
Timothy Jenkins, tenor
Gene Marie Callahan, soprano
Michelle Harman-Gulick, soprano
Sharon Graham, mezzo-soprano
Duane Clenton Carter, baritone
Rush Tully, bass-baritone
Terry Cook, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis and James Winfied, directors

June 27, 1992, Ravinia Festival
SAINT-SAËNS Samson and Delilah
James Levine, conductor
Denyce Graves, mezzo-soprano
Plácido Domingo, tenor
Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone
Sergei Koptchak, bass
David Anderson, tenor
John Concepcion, tenor
Paul Grizzell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

Milnes also gave one recital under the auspices of Allied Arts (now Symphony Center Presents):

February 14, 1987, Orchestra Hall
Jon Spong, piano
MONDONVILLE Eole’s Aria from Titon et l’Aurore
LULLY Bois épais from Amadis
GRÉTRY O Richard, O mon roi from Richard Coeur-de-lion
SCHUBERT An die Leier, D. 737
SCHUBERT Die Liebe hat gelogen, D. 751
SCHUBERT Kriegers Ahnung from Schwanengesang, D. 957
SCHUBERT Die Allmacht, D. 852
SANTOLIQUIDO Le domandai
SANTOLIQUIDO Quando le domandai
SANTOLIQUIDO Io mi levai dal centro della terra
SANTOLIQUIDO Riflessi
MOZART Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo, K. 584
McGILL Duna
COPLAND The World Feels Dusty from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson
TRADITIONAL/Copland At the River
arr. Dalway Love Trapped Me
arr. Dalway Killiney Strand
DUKE Luke Havergal
SAINT-SAËNS Qui donc commande from Henry VIII
Encores:
MOZART Fin ch’han dal vino calda la testa from Don Giovanni, K. 527
TRADITIONAL Shenandoah
TRADITIONAL/Britten Oliver Cromwell (sung by Spong with Milnes at the piano)
GIORDANO Nemico della patria from Andrea Chénier

Happy, happy birthday!

Ruggiero Ricci in Prague in 1958 (CTK/Alamy photo)

On July 24, 2018, we celebrate the centennial of the birth of the remarkable American violinist Ruggiero Ricci (1918-2012), a frequent soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

A student of Louis Persinger, Ricci played his first solo recital at Carnegie Hall at the age of eleven and was a noted interpreter of Paganini. A celebrated teacher himself, Ricci also taught at the universities of Michigan and Indiana, the Juilliard School, and Salzburg Mozarteum.

Between 1951 and 1972, Ricci appeared with the Orchestra on numerous occasions in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and in Milwaukee, and a complete list of his appearances is below (all concerts in Orchestra Hall unless otherwise noted):

November 8 and 9, 1951
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218
Rafael Kubelík, conductor

August 5, 1954, Ravinia Festival
PAGANINI Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 6
Georg Solti, conductor

August 7, 1954, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Concerto for Vioin and Cello in A Minor, Op. 102 (Double)
Paul Tortelier, cello
Georg Solti, conductor

July 5, 1962, Ravinia Festival
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, Op. 47
STRAVINSKY Violin Concerto in D
Walter Hendl, conductor

Ruggiero Ricci in 1965 (Getty Images)

December 19 and 20, 1963
GINASTERA Violin Concerto, Op. 30
Walter Hendl, conductor

December 21, 1963
PAGANINI Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 6
Walter Hendl, conductor

June 30, 1964, Ravinia Festival
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
Seiji Ozawa, conductor

July 2, 1964, Ravinia Festival
LALO Symphonie espagnole in D Minor, Op. 21
André Previn, conductor

February 27, 1971
GLAZUNOV Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 82
WIENIAWSKI Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22
Irwin Hoffman, conductor

January 6 and 7, 1972
January 10, 1972 (Pabst Theater, Milwaukee)
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63
John Pritchard, conductor

On July 18, 2018, Riccardo Muti led the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini in a concert at the Ravenna Festival, in tribute to Ricci’s centennial. The program included Rossini’s Overture to Il viaggio a Reims, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and Paganini’s Violin Concerto no. 4 in D minor, featuring Wilfried Hedenborg—a violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic for almost three decades and a student of Ricci’s at the Mozarteum in Salzburg in 1989—as soloist.

 

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!

Alan Stout in 1971

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family notes with sorrow the passing of Alan Stout, composer and longtime composition and theory professor at Northwestern University. Stout died yesterday, February 1, 2018, at the age of 85.

Stout’s music was first performed by the Orchestra on two concerts given at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium on May 29 and 31, 1967, when Esther Glazer was soloist in Movements for Violin and Orchestra with Henry Lewis conducting. Soon thereafter, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presented four world premieres by Stout, under the batons of Seiji Ozawa, Sir Georg Solti, and Margaret Hillis, at the Ravinia Festival and in Orchestra Hall.

On August 4, 1968, Ozawa led the world premiere of Stout’s Symphony no. 2 at Ravinia. The work was commissioned by the Ravinia Festival Association through a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, and the performance was made possible by a Composer Assistance Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

World premiere of Stout’s Second Symphony at the Ravinia Festival on August 4, 1968

The symphony was “vivid [and] multi-dimensional . . . a collection of musical rituals,” according to Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “The work is a marvelous tapestry of textures, combining a superior craftsmanship, a remarkable ear, and encyclopedic knowledge of the inventions of his colleagues, [including] Messiaen, Penderecki, Elliott Carter, and Pierre Boulez . . .”

The composer’s Symphony no. 4 was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its eightieth season and dedicated to Georg Solti, who led the world premiere performances on April 15, 16, and 17, 1971. The score calls for a small chorus, and members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus were prepared by assistant director Ronald Schweitzer.

The following year, Solti also led the world premiere of Stout’s George Lieder (Poems from Das neue Reich) on December 14, 15, and 16, 1972, with baritone Benjamin Luxon as soloist.

Composer and conductor review the score of the George Lieder in December 1972 (Terry’s photo)

Stout’s large-scale Passion for Soloists, Chorus, and Orchestra was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with assistance from the National Endowment for the Arts and was dedicated to Margaret Hillis and the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Hillis led the world premiere performances on April 15, 16, and 17, 1976. Soloists included Mary Sauer on organ, Elizabeth Buccheri on piano, along with soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson, tenors Frank Little and John McCollum, baritones Leslie Guinn and LeRoy Lehr, and bass Monroe Olson.

The premiere of Stout’s Passion, on which the composer worked for over twenty years, was a “monumental undertaking [and] provided the most difficult music the Chorus has undertaken since Fritz Reiner brought Margaret Hillis here in 1957 to found the now internationally known ensemble,” wrote Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “Stout fashions his church Latin text into curtains and tapestries of sound. Like a sonic aurora borealis, they expand and contract as needed, supplying intimate but still objective commentary on an emotional-laden event, creating towering climaxing as the peak points of the action, or providing canopies of tightly woven, often contrapuntal sheets of sound against which other portions of the action can take place.”

Detail from the first section of Stout’s Passion, with markings by Margaret Hillis

 

Title page for the first printed edition of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra

Guest conductor George Szell led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra on December 2 and 3, 1948, almost exactly four years following the work’s premiere on December 1, 1944, with Serge Koussevitzky leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In the Chicago Daily News, Clarence Joseph Bulliet called the work, “violent and awesome in its contrasts, sometimes as stormy as the most sensational of modern music. Then it calmed down to rival in delicacy the classicism of Haydn and Beethoven between which it was programmed at Orchestra Hall Thursday night.” (Haydn’s Oxford Symphony opened the concert, followed by the Bartók and Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto, that featured the debut of Seymour Lipkin.) Felix Borowski, writing for the Chicago Sun, added, that Bartók’s Concerto was, “of more than ordinary worth . . . Modern, indeed it is, but there are ideas—often very beautiful ideas—in the course of it. The orchestration is rich and colorful, frequently with new and beguiling textures.”

Early in his tenure as sixth music director, Fritz Reiner first led the Orchestra in his friend and countryman’s work on October 13 and 15, 1955. “This wonderful score, a network of nerves spun and controlled by the most brilliant of nervous energies, was played as only great orchestras can play,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune. “It is a superb work and a Reiner triumph.”

The following week, Reiner and the Orchestra committed their performance to disc on October 22; for RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton the recording engineer. In February 2016, Gramophone listed this release as one of the “finest recordings of Bartók’s music,” noting the “sheer fervour of Reiner’s direction . . . taut and agile . . . [his] precision and control is immediately apparent.”

The Orchestra has since recorded the work on five additional occasions, as follows:

During his year as principal conductor of the Ravinia Festival, Seiji Ozawa recorded the work in Orchestra Hall on June 30 and July 1, 1969, for AngelPeter Andry was the executive producer, Richard C. Jones the producer, and Carson Taylor was the recording engineer. Eighth music director Sir Georg Solti conducted the Concerto for London on January 19 and 20, 1981, in Orchestra Hall. James Mallinson was the producer and James Lock the balance engineer.

James Levine, Ravinia’s second music director, led sessions in Orchestra Hall on June 28, 1989, for Deutsche Grammophon. Steven Paul was executive producer, Christopher Alder the recording producer, and Gregor Zielinsky was balance engineer. During the 1990 tour to the Soviet Union, Hungary, and Austria, Solti conducted the Orchestra in an all-Bartók program, video recorded at the Budapest Convention Centre on November 28, 1990, for London. Humphrey Burton directed the production, and Katya Krausova was producer, Eric Abraham the executive producer, and Michael Haas the audio producer.

Most recently, Pierre Boulez recorded the work in Orchestra Hall on November 30, 1992, for Deutsche Grammophon. Roger Wright was the executive producer, Karl-August Naegler the recording producer, Rainer Maillard the balance engineer, and Jobst Eberhardt and Reinhild Schmidt were recording engineers. The release won 1994 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Orchestral Performance.

Guest conductor Rafael Payare makes his subscription concert debut leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra on January 18 and 20, 2018.

It was a beautiful, sunny day here in Chicago, perfect for a civic event to celebrate public art!

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the unveiling of the Chicago Picasso in Daley Plaza, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events organized a “restaging” of the original 1967 event as part of the city’s 2017 Year of Public Art Chicago initiative.

On August 15, 1967, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra participated in the unveiling, with Seiji Ozawa—then music director of the Ravinia Festival—conducting works by Bernstein and Gershwin. At today’s event, the After School Matters Orchestra, under the direction of Howard Sandifer, performed the opening of Gershwin’s An American in Paris and the finale of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5. Josephine Lee led the Chicago Children’s Choir in The Star-Spangled Banner, just as the Englewood Neighborhood Corps Youth Choir (as the CCC was then known) had done at the original event.

Howard Sandifer and the After School Matters Orchestra

Josephine Lee and the Chicago Children’s Choir

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Picasso

Following several speakers—including Nora Brooks Blakely, daughter of Gwendolyn Brooks, who read an original poem at the 1967 unveiling—Mayor Rahm Emanuel addressed the crowd. He called the original dedication of the sculpture a “critical inflection point in Chicago’s story” that would go on to inspire other public art in the city. “It is called ‘Everyone’s Picasso’ because it belongs to all of us.”

Civic Center Plaza, August 15, 1967

Daley Plaza, August 8, 2017

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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