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George Gershwin appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra twice, and on both occasions he was soloist in his Concerto in F and Rhapsody in Blue.

Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1933

In conjunction with A Century of Progress International Exposition—the world’s fair held in Chicago to celebrate the city’s centennial—several concerts were given at the Auditorium Theatre under the auspices of the Chicago Friends of Music. The first concert of the series, on June 14, 1933, was a celebration of American music; during the first half of the program, second music director Frederick Stock led the Orchestra in Henry Hadley’s In Bohemia Overture and Deems Taylor’s Through the Looking-Glass Suite. After intermission, Gershwin and his frequent collaborator William Daly took the stage for the thirty-four-year-old composer’s Concerto in F, An American in Paris, and Rhapsody in Blue.

“The most exciting concert of many a day was given last night at the Auditorium,” wrote Mrs. Henry Field in the Herald & Examiner. “[Gershwin’s] success was tremendous. Elegant, clean-cut, in white tie and tails, [following the concert he hosted] a most amusing party at the College Inn . . . One hears much about George Gershwin, but certainly to meet he is even more charming that his reputation has it—and that is saying something. He wore a white gardenia boutonniere . . . and was delighted that Chicago had given him a more than cordial welcome . . . and when a young lady said she liked his concerto better than his rhapsody, he had one of those very pleased looks.”

“We may put by forever explanation, apologia, and réserve in writing about American music after hearing George Gershwin and his compositions last night at the Auditorium. Gershwin is American music translated in terms of audacity, humor, wit, cleverness, spontaneity, vitality, and overwhelming naturalness. Nothing like his Concerto in F has ever been heard in the symphonic world, and if it is not the very essence of Americanism, I do not know my profession nor the art it serves,” wrote Herman Devries in the Chicago American. “Gershwin vibrates to the tune of a people and is animated by its own pulse beat. . . . He is the music of America.”

Herald & Examiner, July 26, 1936

Gershwin and Daly appeared once more with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 25, 1936, for a gala concert during the festival’s first season. A capacity crowd—by some estimates over 8,000 people, many climbing trees for a glimpse of the performers—packed the park to hear an all-Gershwin concert that again featured the Concerto in F and Rhapsody in Blue with the composer as soloist, along with Daly leading An American in Paris and a suite from Porgy and Bess.

“All attendance records for all time at Ravinia Park were broken last night,” wrote the social reporter for the Herald & Examiner. “Throngs, seeking vantage points in the area delegated to general admission tickets, began arriving hours before the music was scheduled to begin. . . . As a result, some of the richest and most influential of the Lake Forest blue-bloods were making frantic but ineffectual efforts for several days to secure the reserved spots.”

Claudia Cassidy, writing in the Journal of Commerce, reported that Gershwin was “more than ever a cross (in appearance and talent) between Horowitz and Astaire; he made his Concerto in F an American’s version of the Rachmaninov Third, boiling with the surge of modernity in the curve of brilliant orchestra. Even the Rhapsody took second place . . .”

“Ravinia went wild last night,” added Edward Barry in the Chicago Tribune. Gershwin and Daly “made out a good case for the immense cleverness of style which is built upon bizarre metrical schemes, arresting melodic sequences, and hold, intelligently employed harmonics. . . . The Chicago Symphony Orchestra brought all of its virtuosity in the pat descriptiveness and shrilling brilliance of An American in Paris, falling easily into its idiom with the versatility of accomplished musicians. Following its cleverly stylized whoopee came the F major piano concerto, in which Gershwin himself played the solo part. The touch of a master.”

This article accompanies the program notes for the May 25, 27, and 30, 2017, performances, and portions previously appeared here.

horowitz-cover

All of a sudden, Vladimir Horowitz is everywhere. Especially in Chicago.

In addition to Deutsche Grammophon releasing Horowitz: Return to Chicago, Sony Classical has issued a set of the pianist’s unreleased live recital recordings, covering thirteen programs recorded at twenty-five concerts in fourteen different venues between 1966 and 1983. And four of those concerts were recorded in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, on May 12, 1968; November 2, 1975; and April 8 and 15, 1979.

Program book cover for November 2, 1975

November 2, 1975, program book cover

These live recordings were made by Columbia Masterworks (1966–1968) and RCA Red Seal (1975–1983), and—with the exception of a few tracks released on compilation albums—the vast majority of the material has never been previously available. The fifty-disc set recently was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Historical Album.

“Vladimir Horowitz’s piano technique is so comprehensive that it diminishes everyone else,” wrote Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune, following the November 1975 performance, presented under the auspices of Allied Arts. “When he summons the power and clangor for bravura passages, the other powerhouses by comparison sound like lightweights. But when he relaxes into pellucid cascades of an impressionist Liszt tone poem, other light-fingered specialists seem to have developed fingers of lead. . . . Horowitz is not only in a class by himself, he is apparently indestructible. Ten years after his return to the concert stage, the seventy-one-year-old virtuoso has the endurance, the control, and the coiled-spring presence to make each appearance an unforgettable event. . . . Horowitz today is as much a giant as ever.”

November 2, 1975

November 2, 1975

In addition to the works on the program, the audience—including an extra 150 on the stage—demanded no less than six encores: Schumann’s Träumerei from Kinderszenen; Scarlatti’s Sonata in A major, K. 322; Moszkowski’s Étincelles; Chopin’s Black Key Etude in G-flat major, op. 10, no. 5 and Mazurka in A minor, op. 17, no. 4; and finally Rachmaninov’s Étude-Tableaux in D major, op. 39, no. 9. All are included on the release.

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March 9 and 10, 1928

March 9 and 10, 1928

On March 9 and 10, 1928, Vladimir Horowitz first appeared with the Orchestra in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto with Frederick Stock conducting. His U.S. debut had been less than two months before, at Carnegie Hall on January 12, when he was soloist in Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the New York Philharmonic under Sir Thomas Beecham.

In the Herald & Examiner, Glenn Dillard Gunn proclaimed the twenty-four-year old pianist the greatest talent to come out of Russia since Rachmaninov. “Whether he sustains a tenuous thread of melody or thunders more loudly than the Orchestra’s basses and percussions, his playing has diction. He never fails to impart to every moment of his performance that especial inflection, accent, or rhythmic impulse which adds eloquence to mere tonal beauty.” Herman Devries in the Chicago American took it even further, saying, “A sensation, nothing less, one of the most amazingly legitimate sensations of the generation. . . . The Orchestra itself, Mr. Stock, too, whose accompaniment was actually emotionally inspired, was visibly moved and impressed. Don’t ask me to describe his playing, just go. It’s something one does not have to describe. No one can dissect genius—and Horowitz is a genius—a young demi-god.”

March 26 and 27, 1953

Advertisement for Horowitz’s March 26 and 27, 1953 concerts (canceled due to illness)

Horowitz returned regularly for more than twenty years, performing under music directors Désiré Defauw and Artur Rodzinski and guest conductor Eugene Ormandy in concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky. To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of his U.S. debut, he was scheduled to appear again in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto under Rafael Kubelík in March 1953, but having fallen ill with the flu, he was forced to cancel.

He returned to Chicago on several occasions to perform in recital, and his last appearance—at the age of eighty-three— was on October 26, 1986. “Sunday’s concert found the great pianist in a generally more introspective mood,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. Horowitz played with “a lyrical sensitivity, a limpid and beautifully proportioned pianism, a seamless, purling legato of the sort no other pianist can duplicate.”

Deutsche Grammophon recently released—for the first time on CD—Horowitz‘s final recital in Orchestra Hall from October 26, 1986.

This article also appears here.

Horowitz album cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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biography

April 7 and 8, 1960

Two years after winning the prestigious 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Van Cliburn made his first appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on April 7 and 8, 1960, performing Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto with Fritz Reiner conducting. On April 12 he was soloist in Schumann’s A minor concerto with the Orchestra, also with Reiner on the podium.

“Van Cliburn cannot be accused of looking for the easy road to success,” wrote Donal Henahan in the Chicago Daily News following the first performance of Brahms’s concerto. The twenty-five year-old pianist gave “a performance of glitter and grace, and one that was breathtakingly well played . . . perhaps no one but Horowitz today could play those double-note scales in both hands with as much apparent ease.”

recording

RCA’s release of Schumann’s Piano Concerto, recorded in Orchestra Hall on April 16, 1960

Cliburn would appear four more times during Reiner’s tenure, and their performances of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in April 1963 were Reiner’s last public appearances. Cliburn later appeared in Chicago under Jean Martinon as well as at the Ravinia Festival with Georges Prêtre, Seiji Ozawa, Donald Johanos, Bruno Maderna, and James Levine. His final appearance with the Orchestra was on July 16, 2005, at Ravinia in Grieg’s Piano Concerto, under festival music director James Conlon.

On the RCA label, he made several recordings with the Orchestra, including Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth concertos, Brahms’s Second, Rachmaninov’s Second, and Schumann’s concerto with Reiner; and MacDowell’s Second and Prokofiev’s Third concertos with Walter Hendl.

A complete list of Van Cliburn’s appearances and recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra can be found here.

This article also appears here.

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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