You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Sir Georg Solti’ tag.

During Sir Georg Solti‘s tenure as eighth music director (1969–1991) and music director laureate (1991–1997), he and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus amassed an astonishing discography. Decca Classics—to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Solti’s death—is releasing a set of these complete recordings in a 108-CD boxed set.

“Recording with the Chicago Symphony was the fulfillment of Solti’s dreams and ambitions, to be able to record for posterity the ephemeral quality and emotions of a performance by this world-class ensemble,” writes Lady Valerie Solti in the accompanying book. “The orchestra were enthusiasts, hard workers, and brilliant musicians who were as eager as Solti to make first-class records and to create for the future a lasting document, a legacy of their wonderful relationship, a collaboration which won worldwide acclaim and unparalleled Grammy awards.” The 180-page hardcover book also includes articles by mezzo-soprano Yvonne Minton; producer and author Humphrey Burton; Martha Gilmer, who served as the Orchestra’s vice president for artistic planning during the latter half of Solti’s tenure; and CSO archivist Frank Villella; along with previously unpublished images from recording sessions.

The range of repertoire is vast: complete cycles of symphonies by Beethoven (twice, see here and here), Brahms, Bruckner, and Mahler (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here); Beethoven’s piano concertos; world premieres of Del Tredici’s Final Alice and Tippett’s Symphony no. 4 and Byzantium; complete operas including Beethoven’s FidelioSchoenberg’s Moses und AronVerdi’s Otelloand Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The set also includes hallmarks of the choral repertoire, featuring the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by directors Margaret Hillis and Duain Wolfe) performing Bach’s Mass in B minor and Saint Matthew PassionBeethoven’s Missa solemnisBerlioz’s The Damnation of FaustBrahms’s A German Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s The Creation (twice) and The Seasons, Shostakovich’s Babi Yar Symphony, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, and Verdi’s Requiem, plus many more works by these composers along with Bartók, Berg, Debussy, Dohnányi, Dvořák, Kodály, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Ravel, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and Weiner.

Solti leads the Orchestra in a recording session for Mahler’s Symphony no. 3 in November 1982 in Orchestra Hall (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Solti wrote in his Memoirs, “My term as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was the happiest time in my professional life . . . the fulfillment of my dreams, but at the same time, it was a new learning experience for me, a master class in musical directorship.” This set is a testament to that remarkable partnership.

The set releases in the United States on September 15, 2017, and is available here.

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

Rafael Kubelík, conductor
Recorded by Mercury in Orchestra Hall in April 1952
David Hall, recording director
C. Robert Fine and George Piros engineers

Günter Wand, conductor
Recorded live for RCA in Orchestra Hall in January 1989
Norman Pellegrini and David Frost, producers
Mitchell Heller, recording engineer
John Purcell, post-production engineer

Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90

Frederick Stock, conductor
Recorded by Columbia in New York’s Liederkranz Hall in November 1940

Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall in December 1957
Richard Mohr, producer

Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
Recorded by Angel in Medinah Temple in October 1969
Peter Andry, producer
Carson Taylor, balance engineer

Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform Brahms’s four symphonies at Orchestra Hall in May. Details here and here.

Samuel Ramey (Christian Steiner photo)

Wishing the happiest of (slightly belated) birthdays to the remarkable American bass Samuel Ramey, who celebrated his seventh-fifth on March 28!

The legendary singer has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a number of notable occasions, both in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival. A complete list of his performances with the Orchestra is below (all concerts at Orchestra Hall unless otherwise noted):

March 26, 27, and 28, 1981
BRUCKNER Te Deum
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Jessye Norman, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
David Rendall, tenor
Samuel Ramey, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded by Deutsche Grammophon in Orchestra Hall on March 28, 1981

November 1, 2, and 4, 1984
MUSSORGSKY Boris Godunov
Claudio Abbado, conductor
Ruggero Raimondi, bass
Zehava Gal, mezzo-soprano
Cyndia Sieden, soprano
Jennifer Jones, mezzo-soprano
Philip Langridge, tenor
Hartmut Welker, baritone
Samuel Ramey, bass
Kaludi Kaludov, tenor
Lucia Valentini-Terrani, mezzo-soprano
John Shirley-Quirk, bass-baritone
Sergei Kopchak, bass
Kurt R. Hansen, tenor
Richard Cohn, baritone
Bradley Nystrom, bass-baritone
Donald Kaasch, tenor
Paul Grizzell, bass
Dale Prest, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director

November 16, 1986
VERDI Messa da Requiem
Claudio Abbado, conductor
Margaret Price, soprano
Linda Finnie, mezzo-soprano
Vinson Cole, tenor
Ramey, Samuel; bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Gwynne Howell originally was scheduled to perform the bass part but canceled due to illness. He was replaced by Bonaldo Giaiotti on November 13 and 14 and Ramey on November 16.

Samuel Ramey (Steven Leonard photo)

June 23, 1989 (Ravinia Festival)
VERDI Messa da Requiem
James Levine, conductor
Andrea Gruber, soprano
Tatiana Troyanos, mezzo-soprano
Gary Lakes, tenor
Samuel Ramey, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

October 6, 1990 (Centennial Gala)
BEETHOVEN Finale: Ode, “To Joy” from Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Sylvia McNair, soprano
Susanne Mentzer, mezzo-soprano
Gary Lakes, tenor
Samuel Ramey, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, chorus director

July 8, 2000 (Ravinia Fesitval)
Selections by Copland, Leigh, Loewe, Mozart, Rodgers, and Verdi
Miguel-Harth Bedoya, conductor
Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano
Samuel Ramey, bass

July 2, 2005 (Ravinia Festival)
IBERT Chansons de Don Quichotte
RAVEL Don Quichotte à Dulcinée
James Conlon, conductor

August 15, and 17, 2008 (Martin Theatre, Ravinia Festival)
MOZART Don Giovanni, K. 527
James Conlon, conductor
Ellie Dehn, soprano
Soile Isokoski, soprano
Heidi Grant Murphy, soprano
Toby Spence, tenor
Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, bass-baritone
Samuel Ramey, bass
James Creswell, bass
Morris Robinson, bass
Apollo Chorus of Chicago
Stephen Alltop, director

Happy, happy birthday!

Riccardo Muti (Todd Rosenberg photo)

A recent Gramophone magazine article lists its fifty greatest conductors of all time, and several Chicago Symphony Orchestra titled conductors are prominently featured!

Current music director Riccardo Muti and former music directors Daniel BarenboimRafael 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.

leontyne-price

Today we send all best wishes for a very happy ninetieth birthday to the legendary soprano, Leontyne Price! Several excellent tributes have been written (here, here, and here, among many others) to recognize her extraordinary and groundbreaking career as an artist—in opera, concert, and on recording.

Price has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on numerous occasions, at Orchestra Hall, the Ravinia Festival, Carnegie Hall, and the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, as follows:

February 28 and March 1, 1963 (Orchestra Hall)
BERLIOZ Les nuits d’été, Op. 7
FALLA El amor brujo
Fritz Reiner, conductor

March 13, 1971 (Orchestra Hall)
March 15, 1971 (Pabst Theater)
BARBER “Give me my robe” from Antony and Cleopatra
MOZART “Dove sono” from Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492
STRAUSS Four Last Songs
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor

April 24 and 26, 1975 (Orchestra Hall)
April 30, 1975 (Carnegie Hall)
VERDI Requiem
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano
Luciano Pavarotti, tenor
Gwynne Howell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 11, 1975 (Ravinia Festival)
PUCCINI “Un bel di vedremo” from Madama Butterfly
VERDI “Ernani! Ernani, involami” from Ernani
MOZART “D’Oreste, d’Ajace” from Idomeneo, K. 366
STRAUSS “Zweite Brautnacht” from Die ägyptische Helena
James Levine, conductor

Proof sheet detail from recording sessions for Verdi's Requeim at Medinah Temple in June 1977

Proof sheet detail from recording sessions for Verdi’s Requiem at Medinah Temple in June 1977 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

July 2, 1976 (Ravinia Festival)
PUCCINI “Senza mamma” from Suor Angelica
PUCCINI “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca
VERDI “Pace, pace, mio Dio” from La forza del destino
MOZART “Come scoglio” from Così fan tutte, K. 588
WAGNER “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser
James Levine, conductor

May 31, 1977 (Orchestra Hall)
VERDI Requiem
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Dame Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

June 22, 1979 (Ravinia Festival)
VERDI La forza del destino
James Levine, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Isola Jones, mezzo-soprano
Sharon Graham, mezzo-soprano
Giuseppe Giacomini, tenor
Andrea Velis, tenor
Cornell MacNeil, baritone
Renato Capecchi, baritone
Carl Glaum, baritone
Bonaldo Giaiotti, bass
Julien Robbins, bass
Daniel McConnell, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

Price onstage with Solti and the Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on April 29, 1980 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Price onstage with Solti and the Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on April 29, 1980 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

April 29, 1980 (Carnegie Hall)
WAGNER “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser
WAGNER Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

July 13, 1985 (Ravinia Festival)
PUCCINI “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca
PUCCINI “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” from La rondine
VERDI “Ernani! Ernani, involami” from Ernani
VERDI “D’amor sull’ali rosee” from Il trovatore
WAGNER Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
STRAUSS Final Scene from Salome
James Levine, conductor

Advance notice for Price's 1963 debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Advance notice for Price’s 1963 debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Price also recorded with the Orchestra—including two Grammy Award winners—as follows:

BERLIOZ Les nuits d’été, Op. 7
FALLA El amor brujo
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded on March 2 and 3, 1963 in Orchestra Hall by RCA
Richard Mohr produced the recording, and Lewis Layton was the engineer. The recording won the 1964 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance–Vocal Soloist (with or without orchestra) from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

VERDI Requiem
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Leontyne Price, soprano
Dame Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti, tenor
José van Dam, bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded on June 1 and 2, 1977, in Medinah Temple by RCA
Thomas Z. Shepard produced the recording, and Paul Goodman was the engineer. The recording won the 1977 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance (other than opera).

WAGNER “Dich teure Halle” from Tannhäuser
Recorded by WFMT on April 29, 1980, in Carnegie Hall
Released on Chicago Symphony Orchestra: The First 100 Years during the Orchestra’s centennial season in April 1991

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

  • May 6, 1956
  • April 7, 1957
  • December 6, 1958
  • May 30, 1962
  • February 3, 1963
  • February 1, 1970
  • February 27, 1972
  • April 4, 1976
  • January 29, 1984
  • November 11, 1990
  • April 24, 1994
  • February 16, 1997

Happy, happy birthday!

Portions of this article previously appeared here.

thomas-at-desk

Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s first music director, died on January 4, 1905. For many years after, the Orchestra would dedicate the first concerts of the new year to his memory, frequently performing works closely associated with their founder. We continue that tradition on this week’s radio broadcast, as Frank Villella, director of the CSO’s Rosenthal Archives, co-hosts a retrospective of works that Thomas introduced to audiences in the United States, both with the Chicago Orchestra and other ensembles.

barenboim-brahms-5-erato

BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Recorded by Erato in Orchestra Hall, September 1993

In 1879, the University of Breslau in Poland bestowed upon Johannes Brahms an honorary doctorate, and to show his appreciation, he composed the Academic Festival Overture the following summer. The composer himself led the first public performance at the university in January 1881, and later that year on November 29, Thomas led the U.S. premiere in New York.

Daniel Barenboim, early in his tenure as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ninth music director, recorded Brahms’s complete symphonies, along with the Tragic Overture, Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and the Academic Festival Overture, all for Erato Records.

wagner-prelude-and-liebestod

WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
Artur Rodzinski, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, December 1947

In the nineteenth century, Thomas was Richard Wagner’s greatest advocate in the United States, both before and after he founded the Chicago Orchestra. During his fourteen seasons as music director, he programmed Wagner’s music on nearly half of his concerts, both in Chicago and with the Orchestra on tour. Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of the Prelude from Tristan and Isolde in New York on February 10, 1866, less than a year after the opera’s first complete performances in Munich; and he also gave the first U.S. performance of the Prelude paired with the Liebestod in Boston on December 6, 1871. Thomas programmed these two works together fifteen times on subscription concerts during his tenure as music director.

Artur Rodzinski was the Orchestra’s fourth music director for only one season (1947–48). One of his great successes was a concert performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in November 1947, featuring soprano Kirsten Flagstad in her first operatic appearance in the United States since the end of World War II. The legendary Chicago Tribune critic Claudia Cassidy called the performance “the dawn of a new operatic day in Chicago.” A month later, Rodzinski and the Orchestra recorded the Prelude and Liebestod for RCA.

elgar-enigma

ELGAR Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 (Enigma)
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Recorded by London in Medinah Temple, May 1974

Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations with the Chicago Orchestra on January 3, 1902, and it was such a crowd-pleaser that he programmed it a second time later that season. A few years later in April 1907, second music director Frederick Stock invited the composer himself to lead several of his works, including In the South, the first Pomp and Circumstance March, and the Enigma Variations. The Chicago Tribune reported that, “The men of the Orchestra gave him their closest attention and heartiest sympathy yesterday, and the result was a performance of the three compositions which was technically and tonally of highest worth. Sir Edward himself seemed genuinely pleased and his assertion after the concert that the ‘work of the Orchestra surpassed all his fondest expectations’ evidently was the expression of his true feeling.”

Sir Georg Solti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director, recorded the Enigma Variations on May 15, 1974, at Medinah Temple for London Records.

reiner-heldenleben
STRAUSS Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, March 1954

During the summer of 1883, Thomas visited Europe and according to his Memoirs—edited by his widow, Rose Fay Thomas—the conductor, “had met, in Munich, a young and almost unknown composer, one Richard Strauss, who has recently finished writing a symphony. Thomas secured the first movement of the work, and was so much impressed with it that he requested young Strauss to let him have the other movements, promising to bring out the whole work in a concert of the Philharmonic Society.” Thomas kept that promise and in New York in December 1884, he led the world premiere of the Second Symphony in F minor—the first music of Richard Strauss to be performed in the United States. Strauss would later send new scores, and Thomas introduced several works to the United States with the Orchestra, including Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote, along with Ein Heldenleben, first performed in Chicago on March 9, 1900.

Near the end of his first season as sixth music director, Fritz Reiner made his first recordings with the Orchestra for RCA. In Orchestra Hall on March 6, 1954, they recorded Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Ein Heldenleben, with violin solos performed by then-concertmaster John Weicher. Reiner’s CSO recordings of music by Strauss have never been out of print, and in 2013, Sony re-issued Reiner’s complete CSO catalog on RCA, a boxed set of sixty-three CDs.

gould-tchaikovsky-waltzes-rca

TCHAIKOVSKY Final Waltz and Apotheosis from The Nutcracker, Op. 71
Morton Gould, conductor
Recorded by RCA in Orchestra Hall, January 1966

Thomas gave the U.S. premiere of a suite from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker on October 22, 1892, on the first concert of the Orchestra’s second season. The program note described Tchaikovsky as the “composer, who, in his fifth symphony, has led us into the highest realms of art and stirred our very soul,” and the note described the selections from the ballet as “miniature pictures painted with infinite grace and care,” showing the composer, “in one of his playful and trifling moods.”

Morton Gould, a frequent guest conductor on Popular concerts in the 1960s, recorded selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker at Orchestra Hall on January 31, 1966, for RCA. A six-disc set of Gould’s complete recordings with the Orchestra was released by Sony in February 2016.

In May 2016, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra celebrated 100 years of recording.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the death of Karel Husa, the eminent Czech-born composer and conductor. He was 95.

Composer, soloist, and conductor backstage, following the premiere.

Husa, Herseth, and Solti backstage following the world premiere of the Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra on February 11, 1988 (Jim Steere photo)

Husa was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1969 for his String Quartet no. 3, and he was awarded the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition in 1993 for his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra.

The Orchestra first performed Husa’s Music for Prague 1968 under Sergiu Comissiona in April 1973 and again in December 1986 under Erich Leinsdorf.

To celebrate Adolph Herseth‘s fortieth season as principal trumpet, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra commissioned Husa to write the Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra. Under the baton of eighth music director Sir Georg Solti, Herseth was soloist in the world premiere at Orchestra Hall on February 11, 1988. The Orchestra also performed the work multiple times during the first tour to Australia later that same year (details of the tour are here and here).

Adolph "Bud" Herseth and Sir Georg rehearse Husa's Trumpet Concerto in Perth

Herseth and Solti rehearsing Husa’s concerto in Perth in March 1988 (Jim Steere photo)

In the spring of 1976, the major American political parties had not yet hosted their conventions to nominate candidates for president. But on May 11—the day after the first of three concerts at Carnegie Hall by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Sir Georg SoltiDonal Henahan of The New York Times had a suggestion:

img_9497

“Solti’s Chicagoans Stimulate a Yen to Yell”

It is pretty well agreed now, among decibel collectors, that the audiences at Chicago Symphony concerts make more noise than anybody. If you happen to pass Carnegie Hall tomorrow or Friday night and notice that sturdy old monument rocking slightly on its foundations, do not worry: It is only the Chicago orchestra’s fans going happily mad over a performance conducted by Sir Georg Solti. (Don’t run out to buy tickets, by the way; Chicago Symphony concerts are invariably sold out as soon as they are announced.)

The sheer fervor, somewhat resembling religious fanaticism, that characterizes the New York ovations for Chicago/Solti, is a phenomenon worth some sociologist’s study. Of course, the Chicago Symphony is one of the world’s great orchestras, and Sir Georg is undeniably one of the world’s most exciting conductors. The cheering is, therefore, aimed at real quality.

But the Dionysian frenzy that many observers have commented upon goes beyond ordinary enthusiasm into the category of the demonstration. Chicago players and Sir Georg himself have confessed that the intensity of these ovations in New York takes them aback. Thoughtful musicians cross their fingers, in fact. They have seen reputations rise and fall, for what seems too little reason either way, and know how capricious and irrational audiences can be.

The Chicago/Solti phenomenon has been compared to the cult that grew up around Toscanini and his NBC Symphony a generation ago, to the Stokowski fan clubs of his Philadelphia Orchestra years and to the von Karajan mystique in some sectors of the musical world today. Unsophisticated music listeners, with the help of judicious publicity agents, love to fasten upon an idol, to proclaim this or that artist “the greatest” and fall prostrate at mention of the holy name. Other and wiser folk simply like to cheer what they regard as the best. Cheering is an emotional purgative, a primal scream that often seems to do the screamer more good than the

The New York Times, May 11, 1976

The New York Times, May 11, 1976

Beyond the obvious fact of its lofty quality, there are several arguable rationalizations for the kind of hysteria regularly generated by the Chicago under Sir Georg. When the orchestra made its first Carnegie Hall appearances under him six years ago, many knowledgeable New Yorkers were simply flattened by what they heard. The Chicago Symphony—unlike the Cleveland under Szell, the Boston under Leinsdorf, the Philadelphia under Ormandy—had not been a regular visitor.

Fritz Reiner, who built the orchestra to its current level in the late 1950s, hated touring. He refused to do the kind of barnstorming to high prestige places that would have made the Chicago Symphony’s greatness apparent to more than the blessed few who heard it regularly in its own Orchestra Hall during Dr. Reiner’s ten‐year regime.

The fact, which Sir Georg readily admits, is that the Chicago Symphony as it stands (or sits) is largely the product of the Reiner years. The Solti genius has consisted in making splendid use of a ready‐made instrument. Not the least amazing thing about the Chicago’s current status as a symbol of excellence is that of all major American orchestras it is the oldest: Most of the players date back to the Reiner years before.

Another possible factor in the Chicago’s popularity is the high percentage of opera fans who frequent these concerts. One of Sir Georg’s first smash successes at Carnegie came in 1971 with a concert performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, and he subsequently offered four other operatic attractions. His sixth, on Friday night, will be The Flying Dutchman.

Sir Georg, you remember, had been artistic director of London’s Covent Garden opera house, and his renown as an opera conductor fattened considerably when he completed the first Ring cycle ever produced on commercially available recordings, for London Records. And, since opera enthusiasts on the whole are famous—or notorious, as you wish—for treating their heroes and heroines to hysterical ovations, Chicago/Solti has not suffered from being attractive to the opera set.

prez

Another and probably more disputable conjecture: there existed in New York at the time of the Chicago/Solti arrival on the scene, a considerable number of people who yearned to hear concerts led by an unashamedly passionate “maestro,” preferably someone cast in the Toscanini mold. To some extent, Leonard Bernstein in his early years with the Philharmonic fulfilled the needs of this sizable and vocal constituency.

But when Pierre Boulez took charge of the Philharmonic these New Yorkers missed their former feeling of audience participation. They came to regard themselves as disenfranchised musical citizens. Mr. Boulez seemed to them more acoustical scientist than performer, and his analytical talents and objective approach to music were largely unappreciated. For this emotional breed of listener, the coming of Chicago/Solti offered a chance not merely to applaud but also—almost in the political sense of the word—to demonstrate. It was as if they were sending a message.

The yen to yell can come to be as important to certain audiences as the music itself. Opera fans, in particular, seem to regard their demonstrations of affection and approbation as part of the performance, and that can be obnoxious when carried too far. But any continuing audience, such as the one attracted by the Chicago/Solti concerts, is also acting out a communal claim to eliteness. It is proclaiming its own superior taste and knowledge, as well as showing the performers how much they are appreciated: We happy few who know what’s what, we proud melomaniacs, we who make (and can easily break) heroes, salute.

In any event, the Chicago Solti ovations are likely to go down among the legends of New York’s cultural life. And perhaps the explanation is simpler than suggested here. When the inevitable ranting and raving is heard at Carnegie Hall, it may merely be one sector of the musical electorate voting for its concept of what orchestral concerts should be. The Chicago Symphony for President, as it were. Well, we could do worse.

The 1976 U.S. presidential election was held on November 2, 1976. Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, the Democratic party candidate, ran against and defeated incumbent president Gerald Ford, the Republican candidate.

125_blog_banner

____________________________________________________

Solti and the Orchestra onstage at Carnegie Hall on January 9, 1970 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Georg Solti and the Orchestra onstage at Carnegie Hall on January 9, 1970 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

In January 1970, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its new music director traveled to New York for their first concerts together in Carnegie Hall. The concert on January 8 included Georg Solti leading Haydn’s Symphony no. 102, Bartók’s Dance Suite, and Brahms’s First Symphony; and the following evening, the program was Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder with contralto Helen Watts and the Fifth Symphony.

Solti and the Orchestra were hardly prepared for the reception following the January 9 concert. Multiple accounts reported the thunderous cheers and applause—calling Solti to the stage for twelve curtain calls—that continued even after the performers had left the stage.

“Is the Chicago Symphony the greatest orchestra in America? Stravinsky has said so, and it was impossible not to agree with him when this orchestra appeared in Carnegie Hall last Friday night in an all-Mahler program under the baton of Georg Solti,” wrote Winthrop Sargeant in The New Yorker. “Its brass section is unique in its power and beauty of tone, and its first horn player [Dale Clevenger] is a virtuoso who has a huge tone or a delicate tone—whichever you prefer—and who can hit his upper notes with exemplary accuracy. The woodwinds and strings are not far behind. There is a solid craftsmanship about the whole ensemble, which leaves the conductor nothing to do except exert his leadership and artistic ideas. The Orchestra itself is already trained in everything that pertains to technique, intonation, beauty of tone, and accuracy of attack. Add to all this a conductor of Mr. Solti’s stature (there is none greater at this moment in history), and you have an unusual treat. . . .

mahler-5

“Mahler’s Fifth Symphony was something of a sensation,” Sargeant continued. “There is a special brilliance and drive about Mr. Solti’s conducting that illuminate and emphasize not only large lines but details that escape one in most performances of this symphony. . . . The conclusion of the final Allegro was the occasion for the largest ovation I have seen any conductor receive since the time of Toscanini.”

In March and April 1970 at Medinah Temple for London Records, Solti and the Orchestra—collaborating in recording sessions for the first time—recorded Mahler’s Fifth and Sixth symphonies along with the Songs of a Wayfarer and selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn with mezzo-soprano Yvonne Minton.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

125_blog_banner

____________________________________________________

Mendelssohn's Wedding March from A Midsummer Night's Dream

Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s commercial recording legacy began under Frederick Stock on May 1, 1916. At that first session for the Columbia Graphophone Company (at an undocumented location in Chicago), they recorded Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre; and Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies, Heart Wounds and The Last Spring.

The next day, Stock and the Orchestra recorded Mendelssohn’s Nocturne from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Saint-Saëns’s Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah, Tchaikovsky’s Waltz from The Sleeping Beauty, Järnefelt’s Praeludium, and Stock’s arrangement of Dresden composer and violinist François Schubert’s The Bee. They returned to the studio the following week on Monday, May 8, for one more day of recording in 1916: Dvořák’s Largo from the New World Symphony, Bizet’s Entr’acte to act 4 of Carmen and the Farandole from L’arlésienne, and Wagner’s Procession of the Knights of the Holy Grail from act 1 of Parsifal and the Prelude to act 1 of Lohengrin.

Program book advertisement, October 13 and 14, 1916

Program book advertisement, October 13 and 14, 1916

Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and Grieg’s The Last Spring were on the first disc issued in October 1916, and a Columbia Records sales brochure raved, “The first offerings are two masterfully played compositions. The deepest glories vibrant in such a familiar composition as Mendelssohn’s Wedding March are unguessed until interpreted by such an orchestra as this. From the first trumpet fanfare to the great central crescendo is very joy and glory articulate! The resistless rhythm is filled with pulsing emotion and each instrument of the mighty orchestra throbs with life. . . . There can be no pleasure beyond enjoying such music as the Chicago Symphony here brings to every music-loving home.”

Mendelssohn’s Wedding March was subsequently rereleased on From Stock to Solti in 1976 and again on Chicago Symphony Orchestra: The First 100 Years, issued during the centennial season in 1991.

This article also appears here and portions previously appeared here.

the vault

Theodore Thomas

chicagosymphony twitter feed

ChicagoSymphony Instagram

Today is the big day! The entire season is now on sale. Visit cso.org to see a full lineup and get your tickets.

disclaimer

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

visitors

  • 242,744 hits
%d bloggers like this: