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Johan Botha, Tenor

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the death of tenor Johan Botha, who died earlier today in Vienna at the age of 51 following a long illness.

A remarkably versatile singer, Botha was known for a vast number of roles in works by Beethoven, Puccini, Strauss, Verdi, and Wagner, among others. During his nearly thirty-year career, he appeared regularly on many of the world’s opera stages, including La Scala; the Royal Opera House Covent Garden; the Metropolitan Opera; the Vienna Staatsoper, where he made his home; and Lyric Opera of Chicago, where he most recently appeared in Wagner’s Tannhäuser in 2015.

Born on August 19, 1965, in the northern South African city of Rustenburg, Botha studied at the Technical College Pretoria. He made his debut as Max in Weber’s Der Freischütz at the Staatstheater Roodepoort in 1989, and the following year traveled to Germany, where he sang with the Bayreuth Festival Chorus before making his debut as Gustavus in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera in Kaiserslautern. Botha made his United States debut in 1994, as Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina; and he first appeared with Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1998, as Enzo in Ponchielli’s La gioconda.

He is survived by his wife and two sons.

Botha appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on two occasions, as follows:

September 13, 1996 (Royal Albert Hall, London)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Deborah Voigt, soprano
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
Johan Botha, tenor
René Pape, bass
BBC Singers
London Voices
Terry Edwards, director

April 24, 26, and 28, 2001 (Orchestra Hall)
VERDI Requiem
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Margaret Jane Wray, soprano (April 24)
Deborah Voigt, soprano (April 26 and 28)
Violeta Urmana, mezzo-soprano
Johan Botha, tenor
René Pape, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director

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During his twenty-two years as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1969 until 1991), Sir Georg Solti shared the podium with several other titled conductors, who served in a variety of capacities.

Irwin Hoffman

Irwin Hoffman was appointed assistant conductor by Jean Martinon in 1964 and was promoted to associate conductor the following year. After Martinon’s departure and before Solti’s arrival, Hoffman served as the CSO’s acting music director for the 1968-69 season and held the title of conductor for the 1969-70 season.

Carlo Maria Giulini

Carlo Maria Giulini was the CSO’s first principal guest conductor, serving in that capacity for three seasons, beginning in 1969-70. A frequent guest conductor, Giulini appeared and recorded (for Angel and Deutsche Grammophon) with the Orchestra numerous times between 1955 and 1978, after which he began his tenure as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (An excellent biography of Giulini—Serving Genius—was recently published by the University of Illinois Press.)

Claudio Abbado

From 1982 until 1985, Claudio Abbado was the Orchestra’s second principal guest conductor. He also conducted and recorded (for Deutsche Grammophon) with the CSO numerous times between 1971 and 1991. Also during that time, he was music director at La Scala (1968 until 1986), principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (1979 until 1987), music director of the Vienna State Opera (1986 until 1991), and chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic (beginning in 1989).

Henry Mazer

A former protégé of Fritz Reiner, Henry Mazer was appointed by Solti in 1970 as associate conductor, and he served the CSO in that capacity for sixteen years until 1986. He became music director of the Taipei Philharmonic Orchestra in 1985.

Margaret Hillis

Founder and longtime chorus director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Margaret Hillis was hired by Fritz Reiner in 1957 and was the first woman to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in November of that year. Of course, she prepared the Chorus for virtually all choral concerts during Solti’s tenure as music director, worked very closely with Solti on countless recordings, and appeared frequently as a guest conductor with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Kenneth Jean

Michael Morgan

In 1986, Sir Georg Solti appointed two American-born associate conductors, Kenneth Jean and Michael Morgan. Each served the Orchestra until 1993. In 1986, Jean also became music director of the Florida Symphony Orchestra. Morgan was named music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony in 1990 and music director of the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra in 1997.

István Kertész

At the Ravinia Festival, two conductors served as titled conductors during Sir Georg Solti’s tenure. Fellow Hungarian István Kertész first led the CSO at Ravinia in 1967 and was principal conductor from 1970 until 1972. Prior to that, his posts included: chief conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra in Hungary, general music director of the Augsburg Opera, general music director of the Cologne Opera, and principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

James Levine

On June 24, 1971, twenty-eight-year-old James Levine replaced an indisposed Kertész in a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at the Ravinia Festival. (He had made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera only a few weeks earlier, on June 5). Shortly thereafter, he was named the festival’s music director beginning in the summer of 1973 and held the post for twenty years, until 1993. Levine has been the longtime music director of the Metropolitan Opera since 1976.

Daniel Barenboim

Daniel Barenboim first guest conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1970, and he subsequently was a frequent visitor on the podium and in recording (for Angel, Deutsche Grammophon, and Erato). On January 30, 1989, The Orchestral Association announced that he would become the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ninth music director, beginning in September 1991 (he had also succeeded Solti as music director of the Orchestra de Paris in 1975). Barenboim was given the title music director designate.

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