Select a Date

October 2014
« Sep    

Over the Years: Lyric Opera Turns 60

Stars gather at the Civic Opera House to celebrate Lyric's 60th in an unforgettable concert

Stars gather at the Civic Opera House to celebrate Lyric's 60th in an unforgettable concert

WFMT honors its longtime partner, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, with a number of specials this weekend in celebration of the company’s 60th anniversary season.

Lyric staged its first opera in 1954 as the Lyric Theatre of Chicago, opening with a production of Don Giovanni with Nicola Rossi-Lemeni as the Don, and Eleanor Steber as Donna Anna (see timeline below).

This year, Lyric opened the 60th season with a new production of Don Giovanni. Many of those singers will be on-hand for a special concert at the Civic Opera House on Saturday.

WFMT Special Broadcasts

Friday, October 31 at 10:00 pm
Encore presentation: Studs Terkel celebrates Lyric Opera’s 25th anniversary

Saturday, November 1 at 12:00 pm
Rossini’s Semiramide, the first Lyric Opera production to be broadcast on WFMT

Sunday, November 2 at 5:00 pm
60th Anniversary Concert

Lyric’s first sixty years are marked with triumph and joy as the most beloved artists of Lyric’s past, present, and future come together in one magical evening. Comedic genius Jane Lynch emcees. Sir Andrew Davis conducts chorus and orchestra, members of the Ryan Opera Center, and a luminary cast including world renowned improv comedy troupe The Second City, Renée Fleming, jazz legend Ramsey Lewis, Susan Graham, Stephanie Blythe, Johan Botha, Christine Goerke, Quinn Kelsey, Mariusz Kwiecień, Ana María Martínez, Eric Owens, Marina Rebeka, Amber Wagner, and the return of Samuel Ramey to the Lyric stage.


Opening night, 1960
















Lyric’s original Don Giovanni, Italian bass Nicola Rossi-Lemeni

A proof for an advertisement in the "Chicago Daily News"

A proof for an advertisement in the “Chicago Daily News”

Lyric Opera Timeline

1952 A student singer named Carol Fox, her vocal coach Nicola Rescigno, and insurance broker Lawrence V. Kelly begin discussing viable ways to start an opera company in Chicago

1954 Lyric Theatre of Chicago opens with Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Rescigno conducting members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Nicola Rossi-Lemeni sings the Don and Eleanor Steber sings Donna Anna

1954 Maria Callas makes her American debut at Lyric


Bruno Bartoletti, Carol Fox, and Pino Donati

1954 Ruth Page becomes ballet mistress and choreographer for Lyric

1954 Future general director Bill Mason sings the Shepherd Boy in Lyric’s first performance of Tosca

1954 Future general director Ardis Krainik joins the company as a typist and mezzo-soprano

1954 Michael Lepore serves as chorus master until 1974

1955 Nicola Rescigno and Lawrence Kelly leave the company; Carlo Fox changes the name to Lyric Opera of Chicago


Tito Gobbi sings the role of Don Giovanni with Judith Raskin as Zerlina in a 1969 production at Lyric

1956 Georg Solti conducts the first Wagner opera, Die Walküre with Birgit Nilsson as Brünnhilde; future general director Ardis Krainik sings the part of Rossweisse. Birgit Nilsson returns to sing (principally Wagnerian roles) into the 1970s

1956 (3 days after Solti’s debut) 30-year-old conductor Bruno Bartoletti conducts at Lyric; Carol Fox appoints him co-artistic director with Pino Donati

1956/7 Richard Tucker, Renata Tebaldi, Jussi Björling, Tito Gobbi, Giuseppe di Stefano, and others become Lyric regulars

1973 Native American ballerina Maria Tallchief is a solo dancer in the company debut of Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. She would collaborate with Lyric for the next five decades as dancer, coach, and choreographer

1958 Lyric Opera of Chicago receives a subsidy of 10 million lire ($16,000) from the Italian government for the “importation” of Italian singers and crew


Maria Tallchief served as ballet director at Lyric

Leontyne Price as Aida

1959 32-year-old African American soprano Leontyne Price debuts at Lyric as Liù in Turandot, followed by the title character in Thaïs. The next season she stars as Aida

1960  Renata Scotto, Robert Merrill, Christa Ludwig, Jon Vickers, Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Ghiaurov, and Grace Bumbry are becoming regulars

1961 Joan Sutherland stars as Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor with sets, costumes, and stage direction by Franco Zeffirelli

1962 Bulgarian bass Nicolai Ghiaurov sings the role of Philp II in Verdi’s Don Carlo. Ghiaurov continues to appear at Lyric into the 1980s

1968 Placido Domingo debuts as Chevalier des Grieux in Manon Lescaut

1973 Luciano Pavarotti debuts as Rodolfo in La bohème
and begins to appear on the schedule regularly


Maria Callas after a performance of “Madama Butterfly” at Lyric Opera. Click to see video about this famous photograph.

1974 Lyric establishes an apprentice program to train young American singers, now called the Ryan Opera Center. More on the Ryan Opera Center

1975 Co-artistic director Pino Donati dies; Bruno Bartoletti becomes the sole artistic director

1980 Carol Fox steps down; artistic administrator Ardis Krainik becomes Lyric’s second general director


Ardis Krainik served as general director of Lyric Opera for 15 years

1980 American bass James Morris sings one performance as the Don in Don Giovanni, covering for Richard Stilwell. Morris would become the reigning Wotan of his time, and continue to sing regularly at Lyric Opera. Most recently, he sang Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Lyric’s 2013 production.

1980s Anna Tomowa-Sintow and Samuel Ramey, Jerry Hadley become a regulars at Lyric; Placido Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa, Marylin Horne, Carol Vaness make several appearances

1987 Future Lyric Opera of Chicago Music Director Andrew Davis conducts the company premiere of La clemenza di Tito


Lyric Opera Music Director, Sir Andrew Davis




Ardis Krainik with Luciano Pavarotti in 1986

Ardis Krainik with Luciano Pavarotti in 1986


1989 Ardis Krainik makes international headlines when she fires Luciano Pavarotti, saying, ”From 1981 through 1989, Mr. Pavarotti has, for a variety of reasons, canceled 26 of the 41 performances he contracted to do at Lyric Opera.” She went on to say she would ”not consider any other future engagements with Mr. Pavarotti.”


1989 Anne-Sofie von Otter sings the role of Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier; her most recent performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago was October of 2014, as Clairon in Capriccio

1990s Renée Fleming, Bryn Terfel, Ben Heppner, Ryan Opera Center alumnus Elizabeth Futral, Catherine Malfitano, and Susanne Mentzer become regulars; William Bolcom serves as Lyric’s composer in residence, producing McTeague, A View from the Bridge, and A Wedding


Cover art for the stage bill to Lyric’s 1996 production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle

1991 Donald Palumbo becomes Lyric’s chorus master


William Mason, Lyric Opera’s 3rd general director, c. Dan Rest

1993 Lyric Opera of Chicago purchases the Civic Opera House

1993 Renée Fleming sings the title role in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah

1994 Lyric launches a new production of the Ring Cycle with James Morris as Wotan, Eva Marton and Jane Eaglan as Brünnhilde, Siegfried Jerusalem as Siegmund and Siegfried

1995 Ryan Opera Center alumnus Matthew Polenzani sings the Captain in Simon Boccanegra and becomes a regular at Lyric

1996 Lyric stages the complete Ring Cycle conducted by Zubin Mehta

1997 Ardis Krainik dies. William Mason becomes general director

1998 Marriage of Figaro with Bryn Terfel as Figaro, Elizabeth Futral as Susanna, Renée Fleming as the Countess, Catherine Cook as Marcellina, Susan Graham as Cherubino, Håkan Hagegård as Count Almaviva

1998 Johan Botha appears in La Gioconda. He becomes a regular at Lyric

Renee Fleming becomes Lyric’s creative consultant

2000 Sir Andrew Davis becomes music director of Lyric Opera of Chicago

Deborah Voight as Salome, c. Skrebneski

Deborah Voight as Salome, c. Skrebneski

2000s Bo Skovhus, Patricia Racette, Frank Lopardo, Susanna Phillips become regulars

2004 William Bolcom’s final work as composer-in-residence A Wedding premieres

2006 Deborah Voigt thrills audiences and critics in a daring new production of Salome

2007 After conducting some 600 performances of 55 operas, Bruno Bartoletti conducts his final performance (La traviata) at Lyric

2010 Renée Fleming becomes Lyric’s first creative consultant

2011 Anthony Freud becomes Lyric Opera’s 4th general director

2012 Lyric produces Jerome Kern’s Show Boat and announces plans to produce one show yearly, 2013-2017, by Rodgers and Hammerstein II; more on Lyric’s Show Boat

Anthony Freud, general director, Lyric Opera of Chicago Dec. 4, 2012.

Anthony Freud, Lyric Opera’s 4th general director, c. Steve Leonard

2013 Michael Black becomes chorus master

2013 Lyric stages its first mariachi opera, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, with Mariachi Vargas

2014 Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 60th anniversary season opens with Don Giovanni, starring Mariusz Kwiecień, Ana María Martínez, Marina Rebeka, and Kyle Ketelson; more on the 2014 production






Playing Playfully on WFMT’s Impromptu


Wednesday at 3:00 pm

The seriousness with which the Brown-Urioste-Canellakis Trio performs Shostakovich or Ravel belies the fun and laughter they’re sharing when they work together. Make no mistake, they can play, but one gets the sense they’re modeling both meanings of the word. A notion which seems to spill into other aspects of their lives.


Pianist Michael Brown

Cellist Nicholas Canellakis and pianist Michael Brown have a YouTube comedy series called Conversations with Nick Canellakis (reminiscent of Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis), in which the two of them interview different classical performers. In fact the character of Mr. Canellakis, as played by Mr. Canellakis, is a terrible interviewer. He and Mr. Brown are irreverent and do random things on camera, which is all part of the comedy. Guest artists who have good-naturedly submitted to these gag interviews have included conductor Osmo Vänskä, pianists Yuja Wang and Leon Fleischer, and the Emerson Quartet.

All members of the Brown-Urioste-Canellakis Trio are lively tweeters. Violinist Elena Urioste offers the chronicle of a twenty-something’s life on the road as a classical musician. Already, she has been a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, playing last summer with the orchestra at Morton Arboretum concerts.

The Brown-Urioste-Canellakis Trio will perform on Ravinia’s Rising Stars series on November 1 at 8:30 pm. This is a return visit for them. They were fellows at Ravinia’s summer conservatory in 2009.

Cellist Nicholas Canellakis

Cellist Nicholas Canellakis


Violinist Elena Urioste and pianist Michael Brown

“Il trovatore,” An Operatic Thrill Ride


Monday at 7:15 pm

Tune into Lyric Opera of Chicago’s opening night performance of Il trovatore, broadcast live on WFMT.

Combine a searing love triangle, an odious count, a long lost child, some gypsies, a civil war, a haunting, and a witch burned at the stake, and you’ve got Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore, an opera stuffed with devices to delight theater-goers and ruin the opera’s protagonists. Il trovatore is designed to feel like the fastest two hours and forty-five minutes in theater, with sword fights, shocking cruelty (and human error, it must be said), and tender love songs. It’s “the quintessential Italian melodrama,” according to biographer Martin Chusid.

Without having too much to do with the plot, the famous Anvil chorus opens the second act with a musical thrill ride, suggesting to this production’s original director, Sir David McVicar, the perfect moment for shirtless Hurculean bodies – by the way these strapping gypsies are responsible for hitting the anvils in time, as opposed to miming the hammer blows while the percussion section makes the strikes.


Chained to the pyre: Yonghoon Lee as Manrico, Stephanie Blythe as Azucena in Lyric Opera’s “Il trovatore”; c. Robert Kusel

When he wrote Trovatore, Verdi was in high gear. He had several librettos in the works and had just scored a triumph with his heavyweight drama Rigoletto. At this point, he set out to write a different kind of opera, leaning more heavily on theatrics and the bel canto style of old.

For Trovatore, Verdi envisioned not one but two leading ladies: Leonora, the troubadour’s love interest, and Azucena, his gypsy mother. Amber Wagner, who sings Leonora in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production, describes her role as having “a lot of bel canto singing, a lot of coloratura, and a lot of exposure.” It’s a virtuosic part with lighter orchestral accompaniment, designed to show off the vocal technique of the singer. Azucena, on the other hand, is the linchpin of the story; she knows all, and is burdened by a curse that drives the opera to its conclusion. According to biographers, it was her character that was most affecting to Verdi.


Quinn Kelsey as Count di Luna, Yonghoon Lee as Manrico, and Amber Wagner as Leonora; c. Michael Brosilow

For mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, Azucena’s dramatic power poses a unique challenge in performance. She told WFMT she has to check herself, that she doesn’t become so swept up in acting the part of Azucena, that it interferes with her singing.


Manrico, the opera’s hero, is suspended between the two worlds of his gypsy mother and fellow freedom fighters; and that of his beloved, the noblewoman Leonora. South Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee gets into his character: “I am such a romantic person with Leonora…and also such a fighter…a character I love to play.”

Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore was composed in 1853 to a libretto by Salvadore Cammorano, who died before completing the book. It was finished by Leone Emanuele Bardare. The opera is based on the play El trovadore by Antonio García Gutiérrez. Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production runs through November at the Civic Opera House.

Show Boat’s Voyage into the Opera House


Saturday Afternoon at 12:00 pm

When Lyric Opera of Chicago added the music theater piece Show Boat to its schedule in February of 2012, it seemed like a departure to some, a reconciliation to others. Many felt the gesture was long overdue: opera companies should produce America’s classic musicals.

Lyric’s production was soon staged by the Houston Grand Opera followed by the San Francisco Opera, which is the feature on this week’s Saturday afternoon opera broadcast. American director Francesca Zambello, whose credits include operas such as The Flying Dutchman and companies including Teatro la Fenice in Venice, commented, “I have long believed that musical theater is ‘our’ version of opera.”


“Show Boat” director Francesca Zambello

Indeed, music schools often marry the two into one program. The show tune anthology Great American Songbook sits on the shelves of many opera singers, which suggests the divide has more to do with the public face of vocal music in the theater, than with artistic differences. After all, even stylistic differences get blurry when it comes to shows like Porgy and Bess or Pirates of Penzance.

Shows like Show Boat or The Sound of Music were conceived on a grand scale – like an opera – with large casts, orchestra, chorus, and big sets. They aren’t practical for many Broadway theaters, but can readily be staged in an opera house.

Renée Fleming, who orchestrated Lyric Opera’s Rodgers and Hammerstein series, suggests: “it may be time to reexamine the role of an opera house in American communities in the 21st century… After 100 years in this country, the American musical has achieved “classic” status, and opera companies with extraordinary artistic resources are uniquely positioned to present productions at the highest level…”


Dramatic soprano Angela Renee Simpson as Queenie, operatic bass Morris Robinson as Joe; c. Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Show Boat is as American as it is relevant, and shares with opera the ability to issue biting social commentary. Just this week, opera has been a flash point in New York City as protesters simmer over the Metropolitan Opera’s staging of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer. For its part, Show Boat puts in plain view the cruelty of racism on the Mississippi nearly 90 years before clashes in Ferguson, Missouri made headlines. In Chicago and San Francisco this production of Show Boat caused producers to squirm over the show’s use of the “n-word,” a term that was commonplace when Oscar Hammerstein II penned the book for composer Jerome Kern in 1927.


“Show Boat,” c. Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

“Show Boat has it all,” Zambello declares. “It gives us a rich musical study in opera, operetta, vaudeville, and musical comedy, but – equally important – a compelling American story of social and political importance. Based on the classic Pulitzer-Prize winning novel…[Edna] Ferber’s story took a clear-eyed, revolutionary look at the sprawling, messy society of the post-Emancipation years, the Industrial Revolution, and the conflicts between the North and South – issues still with us today. Kern wrapped it in joyous and heart-breaking songs that have become part of the fabric of our lives. The work is compellingly historic and contemporary all at once.”


Opera star Patricia Racette as Julie La Verne in Jerome Kern’s “Show Boat” at the San Francisco Opera

Show Boat necessitates one departure from the typical Saturday afternoon opera broadcast fare: the singers are miked. As a rule, opera singers don’t use microphones; Broadway singers do, and can’t project to the back of the theater without them. (On the other hand, Broadway singers sometimes do nine shows a week. Most opera singers in a lead role are good for two.) This production of Show Boat pulls performers from both worlds. The microphones even out the sound and provide balance when Kern calls for dialogue over orchestral accompaniment.

Hear Francesca Zambello’s production of Show Boat presented by San Francisco Opera, starring Heidi Stover, Michael Todd Simpson, Bill Irwin, Patricia Racette, Angela Renée Simpson, Harriet Harris, Kirsten Wyatt, Morris Robinson, and John Bolton on Saturday, October 25 at 12:00 pm.

Utrecht Early Music Festival on Baroque&Before

A hand carved scroll on a period instrument from the Utrecht Early Music Festival

A hand carved scroll on a period instrument from the Utrecht Early Music Festival

Thursday at 10:00 pm

This week, Baroque&Before offers early music in settings steeped in history and tradition.

Each year, the Utrecht Early Music Festival draws top performers for a season of concerts set in locations that, in some cases, are as old as the music. Specializing in repertoire from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Baroque, the festival hosts nearly 100 concerts, spanning 1,000 years of music  in churches and castles throughout the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany.

WFMT is able to offer performances from the Utrecht Early Music Festival through a relationship with the European Broadcasting Union.


The Latvian Radio Choir


Two images, early and contemporary, of Amsterdam’s Waalse Kerk (Walloon Church). Built in 1409, the Kerk hosts concerts from the Utrecht Early Music Festival. The unadorned walls and clean lines are typical of northern European Calvinist churches.


Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594): Domine ne in furore tuo; De profundis clamavi
Latvian Radio Choir/Sigvards Klava

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767): Deus Judicium tuum, TWV 7:7; Oratorio des Kapitänsmusik, Final Chorus: so gehe hin
Le Parnasse français/Louis Castelain

Traditional: Latvian Folk Song
Latvian Radio Choir/ Sigvards Klava


Esa-Pekka Salonen, iPads, and Turning 50

Esa-Pekka Salonen, c. Benjamin Suomela

Esa-Pekka Salonen, c. Benjamin Suomela

Wednesday at 8:00 pm

He was hailed as a wunderkind when he seized the reigns of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at 34, half the age of other prominent conductors. Many observed that his boyish good looks made him seem even younger, but the people of Los Angeles quickly discovered this much-hyped maestro to be an intense and serious musician.

“This sense of having reached a watershed was heightened by the fact that I turned 50, the kind of number that brutally wipes out any hallucinations of still being young.”


Violinist Leila Josefowicz


In 2009, seventeen years later, the Finnish conductor stepped down from the Los Angeles Philharmonic to focus on composition. “It felt like a seismic shift in my life, and during the composing process of “Violin Concerto” I felt that I was somehow trying to sum up everything I had learned and experienced up to that point in my life as a musician. This sense of having reached a watershed was heightened by the fact that I turned 50, the kind of number that brutally wipes out any hallucinations of still being young.”

But like any seismic shift, one never knows how the earth will settle beneath one’s feet. New technologies emerged, and Salonen had begun a new relationship as principal conductor and artistic adviser of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra in 2008.

Today, halfway through his fifth decade of life, he circles the globe as guest conductor, making regular stops in LA and with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. With the Philharmonia he issued “The Orchestra” app for iPad in 2012. This year, Salonen became the subject of an Apple commercial featuring his Violin Concerto (2009) and Leila Josefowicz as soloist. According to Alex Ross of The New Yorker, the Apple commercial collected over 100,000 views in a day. Apple also produced a slick web feature, including a free download of the concerto.

Since his departure from the position of music director in Los Angeles, Mr. Salonen has premiered only two of his own compositions, an orchestral piece called NYX, and a choral setting of Dona Nobis Pacem.

Esa-Pekka Salonen now serves as conductor laureate to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He returned to LA’s Disney Concert Hall to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its opening with violinist Leila Josefowicz and the Violin Concerto. Hear that concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Wednesday, October 21 at 8:00 pm

More on Esa-Pekka Salonen.





Stephen Paulus (1949-2014)


Fans are mourning the loss of American composer Stephen Paulus who died on Sunday at the age of 65. Paulus wrote works for many American artists and ensembles, including Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, the Cleveland and Minnesota Orchestras, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Singers were particularly drawn to his treatment of the human voice, which prompted commissions from Deborah Voigt, Samuel Ramey, Thomas Hampson, Elizabeth Futral, and conductor Dale Warland. Vocal ensembles ranging from Chanticleer to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to King’s College Choir in Cambridge have recorded his choral works.

Stephen Paulus was born in Summit, New Jersey in 1949 and earned a PhD from the University of Minnesota. Even as a graduate student, he was becoming a driving force in the advancement of contemporary music, co-founding the American Composers Forum with fellow composer Libby Larsen.

The Minnesota Composers' Forum, now the American Composers' Forum, 1977 (left to right) Randall Davidson, Monte Mason, Stephen Paulus, and Libby Larsen

Staff photo: Minnesota Composers Forum, now the American Composers Forum, 1977 (left to right); Randall Davidson, Stephen Paulus, Monte Mason, and Libby Larsen

John Nuechterlein, now President and CEO of the Forum, said on Monday, “Stephen’s music touched the lives of many, but we also honor the enormous contributions he made in time and talent on behalf of fellow composers.  He gave generously, and there are hundreds of composers who are grateful for all he did to support them and nurture their careers.  The very existence of the Forum is testament to the vision that he and Libby Larsen shared many years ago.”

Stephen Paulus suffered from a stroke in July of 2013 and had been staying in an assisted living facility. He died of complications from the stroke. He is survived by his wife Patty, their two adult sons, and his mother. A funeral is planned for Saturday, November 8 in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Shostakovich as a “Calling Card”


Monday at 8:00 pm
Wednesday at 12:15 pm

The pairing of performers and compatriot composers is such a satisfying notion (like having a French meal at l’Ecole Le Cordon Bleu Paris) that in a field crowded with artists trying to carve an identity, it happens a lot. It almost seems cliché for a Russian quartet to focus on Shostakovich – except so many reviewers are saying the Atrium Quartet’s performances of Shostakovich really are special.

The members of the Atrium Quartet were all born in the late 1970s, 3-4 years after the composer died. They got together in 2000 in St. Petersburg while studying at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and won the London International String Quartet Competition in 2003. As part of the prize, they recorded the Shostakovich String Quartet No.5  for EMI, a piece that Gramophone magazine calls their “calling card,” saying, “This is undoubtedly the finest recording of the Fifth Quartet to have appeared during recent years…”

James M. Keller, author of Chamber Music: A Listener’s Guide and program annotator for the New York Philharmonic called them “captivating storytellers.”

Atrium2At the 2013 Reykjavik Arts Festival, the Atrium Quartet played all 15 of Shostakovich’s quartets in a single day, a twelve hour event. They are performing the entire set over this season as well.

On Monday, October 20, The Atrium Quartet, now based in Berlin, will play Shostakovich, Mendelssohn and Beethoven on Live from WFMT, hosted by Kerry Frumkin at 8:oo pm.

On Wednesday, October 22, they will perform on the lunchtime series, The Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts, which starts at 12:15 pm and is hosted by Carl Grapentine.

Artur Rodzinski, A Fire Breathing Maestro


Tune in for two fascinating documentaries.

Artur Rodzinski: A Perfectionist’s Legacy on WFMT, Friday, October 17 at 8:00 pm

Maestro Rodzinski on WTTW HD, Thursday, October 16 at 10:00 pm; Monday, October 20 at 4:00 am; and on WTTW Prime on Friday, October 17 at 4:00 pm

Polish-American conductor Artur Rodzinski, née Rodziński, is remembered for his fiery temperament on and off the podium. Stories abound of his having kept a loaded pistol in his pocket. Some rumors, likely apocryphal, go so far as to claim that he once waved it at Leonard Bernstein – a more measured account in The Cleveland Orchestra Story: Second to None by Donald Rosenberg stated that Rodzinski had told his own son that carrying the gun was part of a good luck ritual. Whatever the truth, his volatility was legendary among musicians and administrators.

Rodzinski was born in Split, Dalmatia in 1892 and grew up in Poland. He came to America at the invitation of Leopold Stokowski in 1925 and went on to head the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic. Eventually he became music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Eager to expand the symphony orchestra’s repertoire, he began doing operas in concert with his various American posts.


He was famously demanding and difficult to please. In New York, he dismissed fourteen members of the Philharmonic, including the concertmaster. Tensions flared and they parted ways after four seasons, earning him a Time magazine cover story (February 17, 1947).

Nevertheless, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra trustees saw an opportunity to re-energize their music community by bringing on the gifted maestro. One of the most talked about performances was Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde starring Kirsten Flagstad at the Civic Opera House. Rodzinski conducted the five hour opera with the CSO in the orchestra pit.

In Chicago, Artur Rodzinski’s light burned twice as bright and not even half as long as in New York. After only one season, he split with the trustees and was not awarded a new contract. In a report by Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune column On the Aisle, the CSO musicians were instructed by management not to extend to Maestro Rodzinski the customary “tusch” (a fanfare played by the brass and percussion) as a farewell. According to Cassidy, some musicians complained that management had coerced them to take sides in the dispute and protested the omission of the tusch.artu

Artur Rodzinski was a protégé of Arturo Toscanini. In fact, the younger conductor was instrumental in the formation of Toscanini’s legendary NBC Symphony Orchestra; it had been his task to hire and prepare the musicians for Toscanini’s arrival, which he did by poaching top players from other American orchestras, including Joseph Gingold, Oscar Shumsky, and William Primrose.

In the book Last Stop Carnegie Hall by Brian Andrew Shook, New York Philharmonic trumpeter William Vacchiano remembered, “Rodzinski and Szell were the same kind of conductor; they were what you call a “task-master” – very strict and dramatic…very exact. Rodzinski was hectic and disoriented much of the time and he had a nervous tick [sic].” In the same breath, Vacchiano described Rodzinski as a great conductor.

Impromptu with Marc-André Hamelin and Takács

WFMT's Lisa Flynn chats with Geraldine and Edward

WFMT's Lisa Flynn chats with Geraldine and Edward


Pianist Marc-André Hamelin at a WFMT Impromptu

The virtuoso pianist Marc-André Hamelin joins the Takács Quartet for a concert at Symphony Center on Thursday, October 16. Mr. Hamelin and two of the quartet players stopped by the WFMT studios for a live Impromptu. Mr. Hamelin played Haydn and Debussy. Violist Geraldine Walther and violinist Edward Dusinberre joined him in conversation with Lisa Flynn.

The Thursday evening concert includes the Haydn String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 64, No. 3, Debussy’s String Quartet; and the Franck Piano Quintet.





Impromptu Program

Marc-André Hamelin, piano

Haydn: Sonata in Bb, Hob.XVI:41 (two movements)

Debussy: Images, Book II, nos. 1 and 3

Hamelin: Pavane variée