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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra
A history of the CSO, CDs, review of a concert at the Lucerne Festival
history of Lucerne - hotels in Lucernehotels in Chicago, IL
 

Daniel Barenboim conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Lucerne Festival on September 12, 2001. Photo Copyright: Priska Ketterer/Lucerne Festival.
 
Article added on November 30, 2001
The History of the CSO
  
The first meeting for the foundation of the Chicago Orchestral Association was held in December 1890. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra itself was founded the following year. Its inaugural concert, under the direction of Theodore Thomas, the then leading American conductor, took place at the Auditorium Theatre on October 16, 1891. The CSO quickly established itself as one of America's leading orchestras' before becoming one of the world's best. 
 
On October 22, 1892, the CSO presented the American première of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. Another highlight in the early history of the orchestra includes the appearances of composer-conductor Richard Strauss in 1904. He directed, among other of his works, Also sprach Zarathustra and Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks.
 
In may 1904, the construction of Orchestra Hall began. In December, Theodore Thomas led the CSO in its first concert in Orchestra Hall. On January 4, 1905, Thomas died of pneumonia at his home. In his honor, the orchestra was renamed the Theodore Thomas Orchestra. On April 11, the Board of Trustees unanimously elected Frederick Stock as his successor for the post of music director; Stock's 37-year tenure is the longest in the history of the CSO.
 
In November 1906, Camille Saint-Saëns made his only appearance with the orchestra as a soloist in his own Second Piano Concerto. In April 1907, Edward Elgar did the same when he conducted his own In the South Ouverture, Enigma Variations and one of the Pomp and Circumstance marches. In December 1909, Sergei Rachmaninov made his debut with the orchestra, conducting his Isle of the Dead and playing his Second Piano Concerto.
 
Other memorable performances with the CSO include the debut with the orchestra of the cellist Pablo Casals in January 1915 and of the violinist Jascha Heifetz in November 1917. On December 31, 1920, the orchestra presented the American première of Gustav Holst's The Planets. Igor Stravinsky in 1925, Maurice Ravel and Vladimir Horowitz in 1928, Arnold Schoenberg in 1934, Ernest Ansermet in 1936 and Isaac Stern in 1940 are other famous artists' who have played with the Chicago Orchestra.
 
On November 20, 1942, the orchestra's music director Frederick Stock died in Chicago. In November 1943, the Belgian conductor Désiré Defauw became music director. In 1947, Artur Rodzinski took over, in 1950 Rafael Kubelik was appointed, in 1953 Fritz Reiner began his tenure as music director. It was Reiner who appointed Margaret Hillis, the founder and director of the New York Concert Choir, to organize and train a symphony chorus for Chicago. The Chicago Symphony Chorus made its subscription concert debut in March 1958, under the direction of Bruno Walter.
 
In 1960, the CSO won the first of its 56 Grammy Awards (up to 2001): Best Classical Performance for Orchestra for Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, conducted by Fritz Reiner (RCA).
 
From 1963 to 1968, Jean Martinon was music director. In 1969, Georg Solti took over. In September and October 1971, the CSO embarked on its first overseas tour, performing in nine European countries. In 1973, Sir Georg Solti, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1972, appeared on the cover of Time Magazine which declared that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was the leading American orchestra. Solti won 24 Grammy Awards with the CSO (in total 31, more than any other recording artist). In 1995, Solti received the Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award.
 
In 1978, the Chicago Symphony Chorus won its first Grammy Award. Until her death in 1998, Margaret Hillis won nine Grammies for her collaborations with the Orchestra. In 1990, the CSO embarked on its first tour of Russia. In 1994, Duain Wolfe became the second director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus.
 
In September 1991, pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim began his tenure as music director. On January 19, 1958, at the age of 15, he had presented his first solo piano recital in Chicago. On November 4, 1969, he had conducted the CSO for the first time at a concert at Michigan State University. Barenboim had won four Grammies up to 2001. One of these was with the CSO and another with members of the CSO as well as the Berlin Philharmonic for the recording of Beethoven's Piano Quintet in E-flat major, K. 452. (Read our article on Daniel Barenboim).
 
In 1995, conductor-composer Pierre Boulez was named the CSO's third principal guest conductor, after Carlo Mario Giulini from 1969 to 1972 and Claudio Abbado from 1982 to 1985. Pierre Boulez has won seven Grammy Awards with the CSO and in total 23 Grammies until 2001.
 
Since 1916. the CSO has made more than 900 recordings, presented more than 260 world premières and commissioned more than fifty new works.
 

Daniel Barenboim conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Lucerne Festival on September 12, 2001. Photo Copyright: Priska Ketterer/Lucerne Festival.

For sheet music by Gustav Mahler click here.



Review of a concert of the CSO at the Lucerne Festival
 
On September 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks on America, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra decided to perform at the Lucerne Festival, beginning its concert with a short declaration by conductor Daniel Barenboim, a minute of silence to commemorate the victims, followed by the playing of the American national anthem before executing the scheduled program. 
 
The next day, the orchestra played Elliott Carter's Partita for Orchestra and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5. Carter's composition was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim in 1993. The CSO regularly performs the piece and, therefore, if any orchestra knows how to perform it, it is the CSO. Unfortunately, that day's execution in Lucerne was "nothing to write home about". The musicians probably could not concentrate.
 
After the pause, the CSO played Mahler's Symphony No. 5. Somebody who closely follows the orchestra told me that he cannot think of a finer Mahler orchestra today. To make a long story short: I can only agree. Critics who covered all the three Mahler symphonies played in Lucerne considered that the CSO's performance of the Fifth was the weakest - I have never heard a better weak performance!
 
Written in 1901-02, Mahler's Symphony No. 5 premièred in Cologne in 1904. The opening long trumpet call begins a new chapter in Mahler's music. Unlike the first four symphonies, it is not inspired by folk tale and song, it does not call on the human voice and is not explained by the written word. As Bruno Walter put it, Mahler "is now aiming to write music as a musician". It was a switch to an exclusively instrumental symphonic style and the Symphonies Nos. 5-7 need no programmatic discussion. (Phillip Huscher).
 
The funeral march with the flawless trumpet in the beginning was impressive - the precision of the wind section in general was outstanding. The strings' sound was clear-cut too. At the same time, the CSO never sounded "clinical", the music was emotionally engaging. There was no superficial drama.
 
In the Scherzo, the forceful violins sounded more compact, more unified. The lyrical flute, the thoughtfulness of the orchestra's play, the intensification of the music with the wind section joining the strings and the dramatic ending of the movement were a pure joy to listen to. As Mahler himself put it: The Scherzo shows "a human being in the full light of day, in the prime of his life." The same could be said about the orchestra executing his composition.
 
The concert's highlight came with the very slow Adagietto - known to a larger public because Luchino Visconti used it in his 1971 film Death in Venice. The harp was enchanting and its harmonic interplay with the strings was perfect. The mix of despair, grief, tenderness and love opened up the listeners' hearts.
 
The Rondo-Finale with its joyful and innocent Allegro was a contrast to the previous movement. The orchestra's range of expression, never one dimensional with Mahler, seemed to have no limit. After this outstanding performance there is no doubt that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is one of the leading orchestras in the world.
 
Since the CSO and the Lucerne Festival embarked on a long-term relationship, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will be one of the orchestras in residence in 2002. Therefore, you can expect future CSO concert reviews by Cosmopolis.
 

Daniel Barenboim conducts the CSO; Maxim Vengerov, violin: Brahms Violin Concerto op. 77. Teldec, 1999. Get it from Amazon.com, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr or Amazon.co.uk.
 

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Boulez conducts Varèse: Amériques, Arcana, Déserts, Ionisation. Deutsche Grammophon, 2001. Get it from Amazon.com, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr or Amazon.co.uk. Pierre Boulez has been interested in the music of Edgar Varèse (1883-1965) for a long time. Some twenty years ago, he recorded his complete works with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Ensemble InterContemporain. The CD recorded with the Chicago Symphony shows Boulez and his orchestra at the height of their technical abilities, making the avant-garde music transparent in its finest details and complexity. After arriving in New York in 1915, Varèse integrated Manhattan's whistles and sirens into his composition Amériques (1921), opening the world of music to the sounds of the new world he was trying to describe musically. The last piece composed by Varèse to be recorded on the CSO-CD, Déserts, was completed in Paris and, again, integrates new sounds: electronic music. Déserts was first performed in 1954 by a young French composer... Pierre Boulez.
 

Daniel Barenboim and the CSO: Mahler Symphony No. 5. Teldec, 1998. Get it from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de or Amazon.fr. This is a 1997-recording from Cologne with the CSO conducted by Barenboim. It is also the symphony they presented at the Lucerne Festival 2001.


 

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© Copyright www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.

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