My Favorite CSO: Benjamin Rivera

Benjamin Rivera, assistant director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, leads the Fort Wayne Philharmonic in Duruflé’s Requiem in October 2019.

Doug Dennis

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's commercial recording legacy began on May 1, 1916, when second music director Frederick Stock led the Wedding March from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Columbia Graphophone Company. The Orchestra has since amassed an extraordinary, award-winning discography on a number of labels — including Angel, CBS, Deutsche Grammophon, Erato, London/Decca, RCA, Sony, Teldec, Victor and others — continuing with releases on the in-house label CSO Resound under tenth music director Riccardo Muti. For My Favorite CSO, we asked members of the Chicago Symphony family for their favorite recordings (and a few honorable mentions) from the Orchestra's discography.

With degrees in voice and music theory from North Park and Roosevelt universities and a doctorate in choral conducting from Northwestern University, Benjamin Rivera is assistant director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. He has served as chorus director and regular conductor of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic since 2013 and chorus master of Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera Company since 2019, and he has appeared multiple times as guest chorus director with the Grant Park Chorus and Chicago a cappella. As a singer, Rivera was a longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus and Chicago a cappella, and he currently performs with the Grant Park Chorus.

BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1955 for RCA
Fritz Reiner conductor
“This recording introduced me to my hometown orchestra’s long history of astounding virtuosity. It is still considered a benchmark more than 65 years later.”

MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major
Recorded in the Sofiensaal, Vienna in 1971 for London
Georg Solti conductor
Heather Harper soprano
Lucia Popp soprano
Arleen Augér soprano
Yvonne Minton mezzo-soprano
Helen Watts contralto
René Kollo tenor
John Shirley-Quirk baritone
Martti Talvela bass
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Norbert Balatsch chorus master
Singverein Chorus
Helmut Froschauer chorus master
Vienna Boys Choir
1972 Grammy awards for Album of the Year–ClassicalBest Choral Performance–Classical (other than opera) and Best Engineered Recording—Classical
“This recording — especially the opening — is simply overwhelming! I have participated in multiple performances of this work with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, first as a singer and more recently as language coach and rehearsal conductor. It is a thrill every time.”

MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1980 for London
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Isobel Buchanan soprano
Mira Zakai mezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
1981 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Classical Orchestral Recording
“This work holds a special place for me, as it has surfaced at various important moments in my life. Among them, it was the prepared excerpt for my first audition with the Chicago Symphony Chorus, which started me on my path as a professional singer. Some years later, my soon-to-be wife Alexia (also a member of the Chorus) and I performed the work at the Grant Park Music Festival immediately following the rehearsal dinner for our wedding! I also remember listening to this recording for the first time — alone in my room wearing my audiophile, over-ear headphones — and sobbing, especially in the final movement at the culmination of the brass chorale. It has been 25 years since my first exposure to the work, and I still tear up at that point.”

BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1986 for London
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Jessye Norman soprano
Reinhild Runkel mezzo-soprano
Robert Schunk tenor
Hans Sotin bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
1987 Grammy award for Best Orchestral Performance
“Have I sung or conducted any piece more than Beethoven's Ninth Symphony? I highly doubt it! This recording set the standard for me early on, especially in the fugue in the final movement. I so wanted to be a part of this!”

VERDI Otello
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2012 for CSO Resound
Riccardo Muti conductor
Aleksandrs Antonenko tenor
Krassimira Stoyanova soprano
Carlo Guelfi baritone
Barbara Di Castri mezzo-soprano
Juan Francisco Gatell tenor
Michael Spyres tenor
Paolo Battaglia bass
Eric Owens bass-baritone
David Govertsen bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe director
Chicago Children’s Choir
Josephine Lee director
“Verdi's operas are full of phenomenal choral writing, and Otello is a great example. Being able to perform this work with such an outstanding team of musicians under the direction of Maestro Riccardo Muti was an enormous privilege. Taking this to Carnegie Hall immediately following our performances at Orchestra Hall in April 2012 capped off an unforgettable few weeks of rehearsals and performances.”

A few honorable mentions:

  • BARBER Prayers of Kierkegaard with Andrew Schenck for Koch (1991)
  • BERNSTEIN Symphonic Dances from West Side Story with Daniel Barenboim for Teldec (1997)
  • STRAUSS Wind Concertos with Daniel Barenboim and Dale Clevenger, Larry Combs, David McGill and Alex Klein for Teldec (1998)

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