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Pierre Boulez and Daniel Barenboim in rehearsal with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in February 1969

Pierre Boulez and Daniel Barenboim in rehearsal with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in February 1969 (Terry’s photo)

Pierre Boulez’s first conducting appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1969 were greatly anticipated. His book Notes of an Apprenticeship had recently been published in English, and the Orchestra would be performing his music—the U.S. premiere of Livre pour cordes (two movements from his Livre pour quatuor from 1948, reworked in 1968 for string orchestra)—for the first time.

The concerts also included the CSO debut of Jacqueline du Pré in Schumann’s Cello Concerto on February 27 and 28 and the CSO subscription concert debut of her husband, Daniel Barenboim, in Bartók’s First Piano Concerto on February 20, 21, and 22. (Barenboim first appeared with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on June 24, 1965, in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with André Previn conducting.)

In the Chicago Tribune, Peter Gorner wrote: “If Diogenes [the cynic] could have made it to Orchestra Hall last night, he would have blown out his lantern and become a believer. For there have existed few composers more honest than Debussy, Bartók, Webern, and [Boulez’s teacher at the Paris Conservatory] Olivier Messiaen. And there are few interpreters more honest than Pierre Boulez. Honesty depends upon conviction, and Boulez firmly believes in the classics of our century. He also is immensely qualified to spread the word, possessing a composer’s mind, a conductor’s savvy, and a poet’s soul.”

On Barenboim, Gorner continued: “The Bartók was his flashy First Piano Concerto, with the ubiquitous Daniel Barenboim as soloist, and a magnificent one at that. His technique made the concerto sound easier than it is, and he conjured the steely touch and native awareness of cumulative energy to make it work. The colloquy between percussion and piano in the andante which followed sounded flawless.”

Jacqueline du Pré's program biography in February 1969

Jacqueline du Pré’s program biography in February 1969

In his review for the Chicago Daily News of the second week’s program, Bernard Jacobson wrote: “Boulez has emphasized that in its new form [Livre pour cordes] is far more than a mere arrangement of the original—it is a full-scale recomposition, tackling the same musical problems but in terms of an entirely different medium. The result is music of formidable textural complexity, great sonorous variety, and powerful dramatic impact. . . . Yet Boulez’s characteristic intellectual control has ensured that the myriad events cohere in a rigorous organization of immediately perceptible unity.”

And in the Chicago Tribune, regarding the “immensely gifted young cellist Jacqueline du Pré,” Thomas Willis added: “[She] plays for keeps all the time. Each note has maximum persuasive power. There is a total commitment of both physiological and musical resources. The melodic line is maximally weighted. When she is not playing, she is often reacting to the orchestral dialog—so much a part of the Schumann concerto.”

This article also appears here.

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Ozawa headshotAs a last-minute replacement for Georges Prêtre in July 1963, Seiji Ozawa was called upon to lead the Orchestra in two concerts at the Ravinia Festival. The twenty-seven-year-old conductor made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on July 16 in Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no. 3, Grieg’s Piano Concerto with Byron Janis, and Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony. Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune reported that Ozawa was “instantly in command when in possession of a baton and a musical idea. His conducting technique reminds you of his teacher, Herbert von Karajan, in that it lays the score in the lap of the Orchestra with transparency of gesture and human communication, then commands acceptance.” On July 18, he conducted Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Christian Ferras, Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, Takemitsu’s Requiem for Strings, and selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

Only a month later it was announced that Ozawa would become the Ravinia Festival’s first music director and resident conductor beginning with the 1964 season, replacing Walter Hendl, who had served as artistic director since 1959. For his first concert as music director on June 16, 1964, Ozawa led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Barber’s Piano Concerto with John Browning, and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.

Reverse jacket of Angel Records recording of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, made at Medinah Temple on June 30 and July 1, 1969

Reverse jacket of Angel Records recording of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, made at Medinah Temple on June 30 and July 1, 1969

He served as music director of the Ravinia Festival through the 1968 season and as principal conductor for the 1969 season, returning regularly as a guest conductor. Ozawa most recently appeared there on July 14, 1985, leading Mozart’s Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in D major and Takemitsu’s riverrun with Peter Serkin, along with Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony.

Between 1965 and 1970—at both Orchestra Hall and in Medinah Temple— Ozawa and the Orchestra recorded a number of works for both Angel and RCA, including Bartók’s First and Third piano concertos and Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with Peter Serkin, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade with concertmaster Victor Aitay, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

Some of this content was previously posted here; this article also appears here.

Ozawa headshot

Congratulations to Seiji Ozawa—the Ravinia Festival‘s first music director from 1964 until 1968—who will be a recipient of this year’s Kennedy Center Honors! Additional honorees, announced today, include American rock band the Eagles, singer-songwriter Carole King, filmmaker George Lucas, actress and singer Rita Moreno, and actress Cicely Tyson.

The gala event will be broadcast on CBS on December 29, 2015.

As a last-minute replacement for Georges Prêtre in July 1963, Seiji Ozawa was called upon to lead the Orchestra in two concerts at the Ravinia Festival. The twenty-seven-year-old conductor made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on July 16, leading Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no. 3, Grieg’s Piano Concerto with Byron Janis, and Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony. Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune reported that Ozawa was “instantly in command when in possession of a baton and a musical idea. His conducting technique reminds you of his teacher, Herbert von Karajan, in that it lays the score in the lap of the orchestra with transparency of gesture and human communication, then commands acceptance.” On July 18, he conducted Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Christian Ferras, Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, Takemitsu’s Requiem for Strings, and selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

June 16, 1964

June 16, 1964

Only a month later it was announced that Ozawa would become the Ravinia Festival’s first music director and resident conductor beginning with the 1964 season, replacing Walter Hendl, who had served as artistic director since 1959. For his first concert as music director on June 16, 1964, Ozawa led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Barber’s Piano Concerto with John Browning, and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.

He served as music director of the Ravinia Festival through the 1968 season and as principal conductor for the 1969 season, returning regularly as a guest conductor. Ozawa most recently appeared there on July 14, 1985, leading Mozart’s Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in D major and Takemitsu’s riverrun with Peter Serkin, along with Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony.

Ozawa LP

Between 1965 and 1970—both at Orchestra Hall and in Medinah Temple—Ozawa and the Orchestra recorded a number of works for both Angel and RCA, including Bartók’s First and Third piano concertos and Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with Peter Serkin, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade with concertmaster Victor Aitay, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, among numerous others.

Ozawa most recently appeared in Chicago at Orchestra Hall on February 9, 1996, leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe), Heidi Grant Murphy, and Michelle DeYoung in Mahler’s Second Symphony; and on January 10, 2001, conducting Mahler’s Ninth Symphony with the Saito Kinen Orchestra.

Congratulations, Maestro Ozawa!

Pierre Boulez in rehearsal at Orchestra Hall in February 1969

Pierre Boulez in rehearsal at Orchestra Hall in February 1969

As we look forward to celebrating Helen Regenstein Conductor Emeritus Pierre Boulez‘s ninetieth birthday in March 2015, we look back at his extraordinary relationship with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which began in February 1969.

Boulez’s first conducting appearances were greatly anticipated. His book Notes of an Apprenticeship had recently been published in English, and the Orchestra would be performing his music—the U.S. premiere of Livre pour cordes (two movements from his Livre pour quatuor from 1948, reworked in 1968 for string orchestra)—for the first time. The concerts also included the CSO debut of cellist Jacqueline du Pré and the CSO subscription concert debut of her husband, pianist Daniel Barenboim. (Barenboim first appeared with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on June 24, 1965, in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with André Previn conducting.) The complete programs were as follows:

Feb 20 1969

February 20, 21 & 22, 1969
DEBUSSY Jeux
BARTÓK Piano Concerto No. 1
Daniel Barenboim, piano
WEBERN Passacaglia, Op. 1
WEBERN Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6
MESSIAEN Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum

February 27 & 28, 1969
HAYDN Symphony No. 91 in E-flat Major
SCHUMANN Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 129
Jacqueline du Pré, cello
BOULEZ Livre pour cordes
BERG Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6

In the Chicago Tribune, Peter Gorner wrote: “If Diogenes [the cynic] could have made it to Orchestra Hall last night, he would have blown out his lantern and became a believer. For there have existed few composers more honest than Debussy, Bartók, Webern, and [Boulez’s teacher at the Paris Conservatory] Olivier Messiaen. And there are few interpreters more honest than Pierre Boulez. Honesty depends upon conviction, and Boulez firmly believes in the classics of our century. He also is immensely qualified to spread the word, possessing a composer’s mind, a conductor’s savvy, and a poet’s soul.”

On Barenboim, Gorner continued: “The Bartók was his flashy First Piano Concerto, with the ubiquitous Daniel Barenboim as soloist, and a magnificent one at that. His technique made the concerto sound easier than it is, and he conjured the steely touch and native awareness of cumulative energy to make it work. The colloquy between percussion and piano in the andante which followed sounded flawless.”

Jacqueline du Pré

Jacqueline du Pré

In his review for the Daily News of the second week’s program, Bernard Jacobson wrote: “Boulez has emphasized that in its new form [Livre pour cordes] is far more than a mere arrangement of the original—it is a full-scale recomposition, tackling the same musical problems but in terms of an entirely different medium. The result is music of formidable textural complexity, great sonorous variety, and powerful dramatic impact. . . . Yet Boulez’s characteristic intellectual control has ensured that the myriad events cohere in a rigorous organization of immediately perceptible unity.”

And in the Tribune regarding the “immensely gifted young cellist Jacqueline du Pré,” Thomas Willis added: “[she] plays for keeps all the time. Each note has maximum persuasive power. There is a total commitment of both physiological and musical resources. The melodic line is maximally weighted. When she is not playing, she is often reacting to the orchestral dialog—so much a part of the Schumann concerto.”

Pierre Boulez rehearsing the Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Bartók's First Piano Concerto in February 1969

Pierre Boulez rehearsing Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Bartók’s First Piano Concerto in February 1969

Numerous upcoming programs celebrate Pierre Boulez, including Beyond the Score: A Pierre Dream on November 14 and 16, 2014, and Boulez’s Piano Works on March 15, 2015, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich.

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In 1967, Viking Press published John Culshaw‘s book, Ring Resounding, a detailed account of the first complete studio recording of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. Solti was the conductor for those recordings, made in Vienna between 1958 and 1965 with an all-star cast of singers and the Vienna Philharmonic.

Rand McNally & Company published a coffee table book in 1974 with text by Chicago Tribune music critic Thomas Willis and photographs by Robert M. Lightfoot III. The book was titled simply The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and included images of rehearsals, performances, and recording sessions in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and in tour venues.

Also in 1974, MacMillan published William Barry Furlong‘s Season with Solti. Intended to give a backstage view of how the Chicago Symphony Orchestra operated during a single season, the book included first-hand accounts from numerous members of the Orchestra.

Paul Robinson’s Solti was published in 1979 by Lester and Orpen Limited. It was the third in their Art of the Conductor series, following books on Herbert von Karajan and Leopold Stokowski, also by Robinson.

And, of course, there’s Sir Georg Solti’s Memoirs with assistance from Harvey Sachs. (My well-worn copy is pictured to the right.) It was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1997. The afterword—by Valerie, Gabrielle, and Claudia Solti, to whom Solti had dedicated the book—says it all: “Our beloved Gyrui and Papa died, unexpectedly, in the South of France on Friday, September 5, 1997. Only hours before, he had completed the final corrections to this book. We hope it will give an insight into the most rare and wonderful of human beings, who enriched and blessed our lives beyond any words. No family could have had a more loving, generous, and wise husband and father.”

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On January 29, 1988, Musical America announced that Sir Georg Solti would be their Musician of the Year. Chicago-based critic Thomas Willis was invited to write the article for the cover story.

For the article, Willis spoke with Sir Georg—who had just celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday—about the focus of his energies: “I challenge [the members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra] and they challenge me. Together we can take musical risks I once believed impossible—in phrasing, dynamics, balances. And they respond, to the smallest detail. I believe that only through the micro comes the macro, you know, and I am terribly self-critical. Not negatively, but positively—how to make it better.

“It is essential that we leave a document for the next generation, and not only for the next generation but for generations to come. I am not a music culture pessimist. I don’t believe what you read every day in the papers, that this is the end of the symphony orchestra, the end of classical music, even the end of music. I don’t believe that. Great music and great performance will always move you.”

And looking back on his career? “I have worked very hard for each step in my life. Many people have done it much quicker, but nothing came easily to me. I don’t mind, because that’s the way it has to be done. You have to fight, to get it the hard way, because doing it the hard way is the only way you can develop. I am very grateful for the hardness, I wouldn’t change it. . . . I have no unfulfilled ambitions to bite me or make me restless. I relish my freedom to insist on the right working conditions and I am free of envy. Although I’m far from contented with my work, I am happy with my lot. My only desire is to go on doing what I’m doing now—but to do it better all the time.”

The complete article is available here.

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On Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1969, Georg Solti officially began his tenure as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director. He led the Orchestra in Ives’s Three Places in New England, Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Jacqueline du Pré, and Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony.

In the program book, an open letter from Solti was included and read:

“Dear Friends:

“As this is a very great moment for me personally, I felt I wanted to address you individually.

“It is with tremendous pride that I take over the Musical Directorship of this great Symphony Orchestra. With your help and support, I hope and aim to continue the work, started 79 years ago by Theodore Thomas, to make this the finest orchestra in the world.

“When planning my first programme I wanted to pay homage to American music, selecting a work by probably the greatest American composer, Charles Ives. It was not known when I planned this, that the first concert would fall on Thanksgiving Day—what a good omen. This is doubly appropriate; firstly, because the Three Places in New England bears witness to the inspirational greatness of America and her fight for liberty; secondly, this concert is my own personal thanksgiving for the gift of this wonderful instrument, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra.”

Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune wrote that “One should not necessarily take the first program as typical of a conductor’s point of view, especially if he is a builder with time to shape and the inclination to move ahead. But the signs were there for anyone to read: strong American music for strong ears, a gifted soloist still in her twenties, and, to top it off, a performance of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony which let the music speak for itself. Extension of these three elements could go a long way toward recovering the orchestra’s lagging reputation here and abroad.” (The complete article is here, courtesy of Proquest via the Chicago Public Library.)

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On April 3, 4, and 5, 1969, Georg Solti led performances of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. These concerts were not only his final concerts as the Orchestra’s designated music director (he officially became music director in the fall of that year) but also his first collaboration with the Chicago Symphony Chorus, prepared by Margaret Hillis.

The concerts were dedicated to the memory of U.S. President Dwight David Eisenhower, who had died on March 28, 1969.

The soloists for the occasion were soprano Heather Harper and contralto Helen Watts.  Solti had already recorded the work with Harper and Watts, along with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in May 1966 for London Records.

Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune noted that the Resurrection message was “well heeded by the performers, certainly. For Georg Solti, conducting his final concerts of the season, the concert was a triumphant affirmation. This is an artist who at his best can create music with a blazing lustre, matching comprehensive understanding of detail with the instincts of a born showman. . . . All of this is highly encouraging for the future, for in the long run, the music must prove itself. It is hard to believe that anyone in the hall last night left without being richer than when he came. That, too, can be a resurrection.” (The complete article is here, courtesy of Proquest via the Chicago Public Library.)

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Shortly after the triumphant concerts in Carnegie Hall in January 1970, in late March and early April London Records set up shop in Chicago’s Medinah Temple for a series of recording sessions. For London, David Harvey was the producer and Gordon Parry was the sound engineer.


Beginning on March 26, 1970, Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra began recording Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, their first recording together. Those first sessions also included Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, along with the Songs of a Wayfarer and selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn with Yvonne Minton as soloist.

The mood during the third week of recording was captured by Thomas Willis in an article for the Chicago Tribune: “Measure by measure [Solti] delivered a rapid fire barrage of corrections and changes. The staff from London Decca moved at a lope, adjusting equipment, whispering instructions, holding hurried conferences, in the hall. Then Mr. Harvey’s modulated British: ‘One minute please. Take 3.’ The music flowed around the empty seats and filled the cavernous space.” (The complete article is here, courtesy of Proquest via the Chicago Public Library.)

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During his first season as music director, Georg Solti took the Orchestra on the road only once, in January 1970.

On January 6, the brief tour began at the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio (Bartók’s Dance Suite and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony) and ended on January 11 at Indiana University in Bloomington (Haydn’s Symphony no. 102, Bartók’s Dance Suite, and Brahms’s First Symphony).

Carnegie Hall – January 8, 1970

Of course, the centerpiece of the tour were two concerts in New York’s Carnegie Hall on January 8 and 9.

After the first concert of Haydn, Bartók, and Brahms, Raymond Ericson, reported from New York: “It is a temptation to paraphrase the old movie slogan and say that Georg Solti is back and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s got him. It seems too flippant a remark to make about such an august institution and such a distinguished musician. Still, it’s true and it’s important, because the partnership is a great one, judging by their concert in Carnegie Hall Thursday night.” (The complete Chicago Tribune article is here, courtesy of Proquest via the Chicago Public Library.)

Carnegie Hall – January 9, 1970

And then there was the second concert, an all-Mahler program. It began with contralto Helen Watts singing the Kindertotenlieder followed by the Fifth Symphony.

Thomas Willis reporting in the Chicago Tribune on January 12, wrote: “From all accounts, Friday night’s all-Mahler concert in Carnegie Hall was an outstanding audience success, with Georg Solti called to the stage twelve times following the Fifth Symphony. Spokesmen at the hall were calling it the most enthusiastic reception for a visiting orchestra in recent memory.”

A week later, Winthrop Sargeant, writing for The New Yorker, attempted to answer the question: “Is the Chicago Symphony the greatest orchestra in America?”

The New Yorker – January 17, 1970

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