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Chicago Symphony - Musical Wonder Of The Windy City

  The great Chicago symphony orchestra is one of the prime attractions of America's third largest city .  It was founded in 1891 ,and its first principal conductor was the now largely forgotten
German-born conductor Theodore Thomas  (1835- 1904) , who was a seminal figure in the developement of orchestral music in America ,and has been described as  the Johnny Appleseed of orchestras in America . 

  After his death in 1904 , another German-born musician, Frederick Stock ,who had been a violist in the orchestra , became conductor ,and  although he was never one of the world's most famous conductors as he had an almost totally local reputation ,  led  the orchestra  with distinction until his death in 1942 ,and was one of the first conductors to make recordings with an American orchestra, beginning in 1916 .  Some of his recordings are still available on CD .

   The  orchestra then went throgh a decade with  music directors who for various reasons had a brief  tenure , the  Belgian Desire Defauw,  and the  combatitive Polish conductor Artur Rodzinski, who lasted only one season because of  disputes with the orchestra's management, and three seasons under the then young but rising Czech conductor Rafael Kubelik (1914- 1996),who went on to achieve a great reputation,mostly in Europe. He was hounded out of his position by  the peppery  Chicago critic Claudia Cassidy , who disliked his  unusual but interesting  programming ,which featured a considerable amount of music by Central European composers who music she disliked ,such as Bartok and Janacek.

   Then came what many critics and  music historians consider the first golden age of the
  Chicago symphony ,the appointment of  the great Hungarian conductor Fritz Reiner (1888-1963), who is credited with building the orchestra into one of the finest ever .
   But Reiner was a notorious martinet and  achieved  extradinary polish and precision of performance with  the  ferocity of a Marine  drill seargent , and fired many musicians who did not  satisfy his  extraordinarily high standards .

   Reiner's numerous recordings on R.C.A. of works by  Bela Bartok ,  who was a close friend ,
   Richard Strauss, and many other composers are considered some of the finest orchestra recordings ever made by many critics and CD collectors ,and are still very much available .

   Reiner resigned  due to failing health  shortly before his death in 1963 , and was succeeded by  the distinguished French conductor  Jean Martinon (1910-1976) , who also made some  greatly admired recordings with the orchestra but lasted only five seasons .

   In 1969 , another great Hungarian conductor ,Sir Georg Solti (1912-1997 ) became music director and led the orchestra  until  1991 .  This was another golden age for the orchestra , and for the first time, the orchestra  toured Europe and  Asia , to enormous acclaim . 
   Solti was a  much more easy-going conductor than Reiner,but still a  highly demanding one , and  the orchestra switched from R.C.A. to Decca records,  and to Deutsche Grammophon under  other conductors . 

   The first appearances with Solti and the Chicagoans  in Carnegie hall  were greeted with
 wild enthusiasm by audiences , as well as on tour in Europe.  Solti was a much more  spontaneous  interpreter who although he demanded great polish ,  inspired the orchestra  to  play with  enormous enthusiasm  and panache .  He made numerous recordings with the orchestra for Decca, including the complete symphonies of  Beethoven, Brahms ,Mahler and Bruckner,
as well as  Bartok,  Berlioz , Wagner ,  Richard Strauss and other composers .

   He also recorded several operas  by Wagner,Verdi,  Beethoven, and Schoenberg after acclaimed concert performances of them in Chicago and Carnegie hall  with  prominent
opera singers . 

  In 1991 , the renowned  Argentine-born  pianist and conductor  Daniel Barenboim  became music director . He had been  one of the orchestra's most frequent guest conductors ,and had also made recordings with it .  He maintained the orchestra's high standards of playing 
and  and  began to make recordings with the orchestra on other  record labels such as Deutsche Grammophon, Teldec and Erato .  The orchestra continued its tradition of concert performances of operas,  including those of Mozart  and Richard Strauss .

   When Barenboim stepped down in 2006,  the orchestra  was unable to find a music director immediately , and appointed the distinguished Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink ,who had  been music director of the famous Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam for many years, as  principal conductor ,which is not really the same as being music director .
   The great French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, who had been  a regular guest,
was named condctor emeritus.

  In 2110 , the eminent Italian conductor Riccardo Muti  assumed the  position of music director , but got off to a rocky start with the orchestra because of ill health ,and was forced to cancel    most of his initial concerts .But his health has improved and he is now  securely  in place as music director . 

   Among the great conductors who have been  regular  guests with the orchestra are the Italian Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005), who served as principal guest conductor in the 1970s, and was  especially beloved by the orchestra ,  Erich Leinsdorf ,  Leonard Bernstein,
Claudio Abbado ,  Neeme Jarvi , Pierre Monteux,  Seiji Ozawa, James Levine, Christoph Eschenbach , Zubin Mehta, Andre Previn ,  Leonard Slatkin , Klaus Tennstedt, Gunter Wand,
and many others .  Many have made recordings with the orchestra .

  The official Summer home of the Chicago symphony is at Ravinia park outside of Chicago ,where the orchestra plays  under  a wide variety of guest conductors  and with renowned soloists .  Few orchestras anywhere inspire such civic pride among their residents than the great Chicago symphony . And rightly so.
Posted: May 17 2011, 05:46 PM by the horn | with no comments
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