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Emanuel Ax in 1980 (Nick Sangiamo photo)

Wishing a very happy seventieth birthday to the remarkable American pianist Emanuel Ax! A longtime Chicago favorite—in recital, as a chamber musician, and as soloist with orchestra—he has appeared in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival on near-countless occasions.

Following first place triumphs at the Michaels Award of Young Concert Artists and the Artur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, Ax made his local debut at Ravinia on July 23, 1975, substituting for an indisposed Alexis Weissenberg. Performing an all-Chopin program, “the young Polish-American master took the evening by storm,” according to Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “Still in his middle twenties . . . there is nothing of the poseur in him, no excess mannerism, no youthful sentimentality, no histrionic display. He walks onstage, settles solidly onto the bench, shakes a hand to limber up, and begins to play. At that moment, or within a few seconds, a transformation of near miraculous proportions takes place. . . . This is quite possibly the outstanding poet-performer of his generation.”

Ax made two debuts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra the following year in 1976, on May 20 and 21 in Orchestra Hall, performing Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto under the baton of Henry Mazer, and on July 29 at the Ravinia Festival, as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20 with Andrew Davis on the podium. According to Alan Artner in the Chicago Tribune, media reports following Ax’s competition wins had compared the young pianist to Vladimir Horowitz and Sviatoslav Richter. “But to have actually heard him in Liszt’s Second Concerto was to discover that Ax in n a class virtually by himself. . . . His performance was intelligent, wholly refreshing . . .”

Emanuel Ax in 2016 (Lisa Marie Mazzucco photo)

Since then, Ax has been one of the most frequent guest artists in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as with visiting orchestras, and as a chamber musician and recitalist with an astounding array of collaborators. He has worked with conductors David Afkham, Daniel Barenboim, James Conlon, James DePreist, Sir Mark Elder, Christoph Eschenbach, Lawrence Foster, Bernard Haitink, Daniel Harding, Mariss Jansons, Bernhard Klee, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Itzhak Perlman, David Robertson, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Leonard Slatkin, Sir Georg Solti, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Christoph von Dohnányi. Ax also has collaborated with Yefim Bronfman, Robert Chen, Evelyn Glennie,
Benjamin Hochman, Aleksey Igudesman, Richard Hyung-ki Joo, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma, Anthony McGill, Orli Shaham, Raimi Solomonow, Isaac Stern, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Orion Weiss. With visiting orchestras, he also has performed in Orchestra Hall with the Cleveland Orchestra, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Juilliard Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

Ax returns to the Ravinia Festival this summer, as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on August 2, 2019, in Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto with Rafael Payare on the podium. He will be back in Orchestra Hall next season on March 2, 2020, for an all-Beethoven chamber music concert, collaborating with violinist Leonidas Kavakos and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Happy, happy birthday!

Wishing a very happy seventy-fifth birthday to the wonderful American mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar!

A frequent guest in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival, Quivar has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on numerous occasions, as follows:

Florence Quivar (Kenn Duncan photo)

June 21, 1980, Ravinia Festival
MAHLER Kindertotenlieder
James Levine, conductor

July 3, 1980, Ravinia Festival
SCHUBERT Mass No. 6 in E-flat Major, D. 950
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Vinson Cole, tenor
Philip Creech, tenor
John Cheek, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
James Levine, conductor

July 13, 1980, Ravinia Festival
BACH Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Vinson Cole, tenor
Philip Creech, tenor
Arthur Thompson, baritone
John Cheek, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
James Levine, conductor

April 8, 9, and 10, 1982, Orchestra Hall
BACH Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
Yvonne Kenny, soprano
Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor
Malcolm King, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

June 24, 1983, Ravinia Festival
VERDI Requiem
Leona Mitchell, soprano
Ermanno Mauro, tenor
John Cheek, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
James Levine, conductor

June 29, 1984, Ravinia Festival
MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
Johanna Meier, soprano
Judith Blegen, soprano
Marvis Martin, soprano
Isola Jones, mezzo-soprano
Giuliano Ciannella, tenor
Ryan Edwards, baritone
John Cheek, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Wisconsin Conservatory Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hawkins, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director
James Levine, conductor

July 1, 1984, Ravinia Festival
MENDELSSOHN Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 61
Judith Blegen, soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
James Levine, conductor
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on July 2 and 3, 1984. For Deutsche Grammophon, Cord Garben was the recording supervisor, and Klaus Scheibe was the recording engineer.

July 13, 1986, Ravinia Festival
MOZART Requiem in D Minor, K. 626
Benita Valente, soprano
Philip Creech, tenor
John Cheek, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
James Levine, conductor

Benita Valenta, Quivar, Philip Creech, and John Cheek onstage with James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus perform Mozart’s Requiem at the Ravinia Festival on July 13, 1986 (Jim Steere photo)

July 10, 1987, Ravinia Festival
MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
Kaaren Erickson, soprano
Marvis Martin, soprano
Karen Williams, soprano
Hillary Johnsson, mezzo-soprano
Timothy Jenkins, tenor
Thomas Hampson, baritone
John Cheek, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Milwaukee Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hawkins, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao, director
Lucy Ding, director
James Levine, conductor

June 22, 1990, Ravinia Festival
MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
Dawn Upshaw, soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
James Levine, conductor

June 23, 1991, Ravinia Festival
MOZART Mass in C Minor, K. 427
MOZART Requiem in D Minor, K. 626
Dawn Upshaw, soprano
Peter Kazaras, tenor
Terry Cook, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
James Levine, conductor

July 7, 1991, Ravinia Festival
STRAVINSKY Oedipus Rex
Philip Langridge, tenor
Donald Kaasch, tenor
James Morris, bass-baritone
Jan-Hendrik Rootering, bass
F. Murray Abraham, narrator
Men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
James Levine, conductor
Recorded in Medinah Temple on July 9 and 10, 1991. For Deutsche Grammophon, Christopher Adler was the producer, Gregor Zielinsky was the balance engineer, Klaus Behrens and Wolf-Dieter Karwatky were the recording engineers, and Reinhard Lagemann was the editor. 

February 26, 27, 28, and 29, 1992, Orchestra Hall
MAHLER Symphony No. 3 in D Minor
Women of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Richard Garrin, director
Chicago Children’s Choir
Lucy Ding, director
Zubin Mehta, conductor

November 17, 18, 19, and 22, 1994, Orchestra Hall
CHAUSSON Poem of Love and the Sea, Op. 19
Antonio Pappano, conductor

May 30, 31, and June 1, 1996, Medinah Temple
MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
Sharon Sweet, soprano
Marvis Martin, soprano
Ying Huang, soprano
Janis Taylor, mezzo-soprano
Vinson Cole, tenor
Richard Zeller, baritone
Eric Halfvarson, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director
Waukegan Concert Chorus
Don Horisberger, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Sandra Prodan Murphy, director
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor

July 23, 1996, Ravinia Festival
VERDI Requiem
Shinobu Satoh, soprano
Richard Leech, tenor
Roberto Scandiuzzi, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor

August 7, 1999, Ravinia Festival
MAHLER Symphony No. 3 in D Minor
Women of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director
Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Emily Ellsworth, director
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor

June 30, 2001, Ravinia Festival
VERDI Requiem
Adina Nitescu, soprano
Vinson Cole, tenor
John Relyea, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor

Happy, happy birthday!

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Wishing a very happy eightieth birthday to Zubin Mehta!

A frequent and favorite guest conductor in Chicago, Mehta has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on numerous occasions, both at Orchestra Hall and the Ravinia Festival. He first appeared with the Orchestra on a special concert (benefitting the musicians’ pension fund) on December 1, 1986, leading Brahms’s two piano concertos, both with Daniel Barenboim as soloist.

Mehta has led the Orchestra in an incredible array of works, including Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie, as well as symphonies by Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Foss, Lutosławski, and Schubert, and concertos by Bartók, Beethoven, Brahms, and Prokofiev. With the Chicago Symphony Chorus, he has conducted Mahler’s Second and Third symphonies along with Orff’s Carmina burana. Mehta also has led concert performances of complete operas, including Berlioz’s Les troyens and Puccini’s Tosca.

Zubin Mehta (Oded Antman photo)

Zubin Mehta (Oded Antman photo)

Most recently, Mehta was guest conductor on a musicians’ pension fund concert on February 24, 2006, leading the Orchestra in Brahms’s First Symphony and First Piano Concerto. Daniel Barenboim was the soloist.

Happy, happy birthday!

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In addition to his twenty-two-year tenure as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1969-1991), Sir Georg Solti held a number of notable posts with other orchestras and opera companies.

At the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in 1952, leading Wagner’s Das Rheingold

His first official post was with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, where he served as music director from 1946 until 1952. Subsequently, he was also Generalmusikdirektor and Impresario for the Frankfurt Opera from 1952 until 1961.

Shortly after his guest conducting debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1959, he was invited by Dorothy Chandler—then the chairman of the Philharmonic’s board—to become their music director beginning the following year. He accepted.

Also in 1959, following the tremendous success in a production of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, he was invited to become music director by their chairman, the Earl of Drogheda.

In Solti’s words: “To his great surprise, I explained to him that although I was honored by the offer, I did not want the job, and that my refusal had nothing to do with the salary. I had accepted the directorship of the Los Angeles Philharmonic because I felt that I had spent enough time as an opera conductor and wanted to concentrate on symphonic music, and privately, I was not certain that I would be able to do justice to both Los Angeles and London if I accepted both jobs.”

While in Los Angeles for concerts in January 1960, Solti met with Bruno Walter who insisted he take the offer from Covent Garden. Solti took Walter’s advice and telegrammed his acceptance to David Webster (general manager of the Royal Opera House). They agreed that his residence would start in the fall of 1961, one year after the beginning of his tenure in Los Angeles.

At the same time, twenty-three-year-old Zubin Mehta had been invited to be an assistant conductor in Los Angeles. For the 1961-62 season, Fritz Reiner had been engaged to guest conduct the Philharmonic, but after his heart attack in October 1960, he canceled all engagements. According to Solti: “Without consulting me, Mrs. Chandler decided that Reiner’s concerts should be given to Mehta. In June 1960, while I was in London on Covent Garden business, I received a telegram from Mrs. Chandler, saying, ‘With your kind permission I have engaged Zubin Mehta as chief guest conductor of the Philharmonic.’ I was horrified. I had nothing at all against Mehta, who was an outstandingly talented young conductor, but the fact that the chairman of my new orchestra’s board had engaged a chief guest conductor without asking my opinion was intolerable. . . . I cabled back to say that under these conditions, I was unable to honor my contract in Los Angeles.”

Receiving applause with members of the Frankfurt Opera on tour in Paris in 1959, following a performance of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro

Solti went on to serve as music director at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden from 1961 until 1971. He also served as music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for the 1961-62 season.

During Solti’s one season in Dallas, he was approached by two members of the CSO’s Orchestral Association, Eric Oldberg (chairman of the board) and Seymour Raven (general manager). Fritz Reiner had announced his retirement at the conclusion of the 1962-63 season and they were searching for a possible replacement. Solti was concerned about not being able to honor his commitment to Covent Garden and wasn’t able to accept an offer.

In 1967, new general manager John Edwards, “came to tell me that Jean Martinon, Reiner’s successor, would be leaving the orchestra the following year and to ask whether I would be willing to become music director. I was certainly willing, but I thought that the job might be too much for me, inasmuch as I was still committed to Covent Garden. I suggested sharing responsibilities with [Carlo Maria] Giulini, who had worked often in Chicago and was much liked there.” After some negotiation, it was agreed that Solti would be music director and Giulini would become the CSO’s first principal guest conductor beginning in the fall of 1969.

Solti also served as music director of the Orchestre de Paris from 1972 until 1975 and as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 1979 until 1983.

Finally, Sir Georg Solti founded the World Orchestra for Peace in 1995 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations. He only conducted the orchestra’s inaugural concert on July 5, 1995, in Geneva, Switzerland. According to Sir Georg, “I was delighted to be involved in this event, as the UN is an organization in which I firmly believe, although I wish it could have more power and be allowed to function more effectively. Fittingly, the orchestra’s seventy-nine outstanding musicians came from forty-five orchestras in twenty-four countries. We played Rossini’s William Tell Overture as a tribute to Switzerland, our host country; Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the composer’s death; and the final scene from [Beethoven’s] Fidelio, for its theme of liberation.”

Text excerpted from Memoirs by Sir Georg Solti.

____________________________________________________

Sir Georg Solti introduced a number of up-and-coming artists to Chicago audiences, including seventeen-year-old Anne-Sophie Mutter in October 1980. She was a replacement for the originally scheduled Leonid Kogan.

According to her biography in the program book, Mutter had made her U.S. debut with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic in January 1980, performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Two weeks later, she appeared with the National Symphony Orchestra in Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting.

For her Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut, Mutter performed Beethoven’s Romance in G major and Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto. Reviews of the performances, concentrating primarily on Sir Georg’s account of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, are here, here, here, and here.

Mutter appeared twice more with the CSO under Solti’s baton: on January 12 (special University Night concert), 13, 14, and 15, 1983, in Mozart’s Fourth Violin Concerto; and on May 11, 12, and 13, 1989, in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.

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