My Favorite CSO: Jim Fahey

Jim Fahey backstage with Wynton Marsalis just before Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performs on June 21, 2013

© Todd Rosenberg Photography

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.

A graduate of DePaul University, Jim Fahey joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association in 1983 as manager of youth education, coordinating the artistic and operational details for a variety of programs. Currently, he is director of programming for Symphony Center Presents, overseeing all aspects of planning of the orchestra, chamber music, and piano series, as well as other special concert offerings. In addition, Fahey programs the CSO at the Movies series, presenting film music in concert as well as films with orchestra since its inception in 2004. He also developed Orchestra Hall’s first jazz series—now offering ten concerts each season—which celebrated its twenty-fifth season in 2018–19.

BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14
Recorded in Krannert Center, Urbana, Illinois, in 1972 for London
Sir Georg Solti conductor
"While I don’t exactly remember when I first heard this recording, I know that I purchased the album in the mid-1970s, a few years after it was released (and possibly after hearing it first on WFMT). It was one of the many recordings with Sir Georg Solti that led me to fall in love with the Chicago Symphony, of course, never imagining that I would one day work for the Orchestra. A few years after basically committing this recording to memory, I was able to hear a performance of the work from the lawn at the Ravinia Festival in one of my first experiences hearing the CSO live. To this day, the power and intensity of this performance is my standard bearer for this work. The recording also taught me that performances don’t always have to be note-perfect if the overall effect conveys the beauty and passion that the composer intended."

MAHLER Symphony No. 5
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1970 for London
Georg Solti conductor
“I received this double-LP box-set recording for Christmas around 1975, and when I unwrapped the gift, I was actually disappointed! I had never heard Mahler's Fifth Symphony and was hoping for a Berlin Philharmonic recording of Mahler's Sixth with Herbert von Karajan conducting. I’ll never forget putting on headphones that night to hear Adolph “Bud” Herseth’s opening trumpet solo followed by what has become my favorite symphonic work."

BRUCKNER Symphony No. 0 in D Minor
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1979 for Deutsche Grammophon
Daniel Barenboim conductor
“While I eventually grew to love Bruckner’s more famous symphonies (I have tremendously fond memories of hearing Bruckner's Seventh Symphony conducted by Klaus Tennstedt to end the CSO's 1983–84 downtown season), this 'entry-level' Bruckner became a favorite of mine from the first time I heard the work in this recording led by Daniel Barenboim, recorded well before his appointment as the CSO’s ninth music director."

DOWNS Bear Down, Chicago Bears
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1986 for London

Sir Georg Solti conductor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
"As usual in the first few seasons after I started working at the CSO in 1983, I attended almost every Thursday night performance, and when possible, I returned later in the week to hear a second performance. While the program led by Sir Georg Solti the week of the Chicago Bears' first Super Bowl appearance in January 1986 is mostly lost in my memory, I will never forget being recruited to sing under the direction of Margaret Hillis along with a ragtag group of volunteers who climbed onto the old chorus banks to 'lead' the audience in the Bears’ fight song as a surprise encore. I had performed (as an oboist) on the stage of Orchestra Hall during my student days at DePaul University, but those performances pale in my memory as compared to this unbelievable opportunity. Thankfully, they didn’t ask me to join the Chicago Symphony Chorus for this recording, which was made on January 27, the day after the Bears' Super Bowl victory."

MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2008 for CSO Resound
Bernard Haitink conductor
Miah Persson soprano
Christianne Stotijn mezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe director
"Unlike the other recordings on my list, most recordings today are taken from live performances. This performance, led by then Principal Conductor Bernard Haitink, is a truly magnificent example of a recording that captures the power and overall breadth of Mahler’s Resurrection as heard during live performances in November 2008. The incredible power of the opening passages by the cellos and basses had me on the edge of my seat for the rest of the concert, and this recording captures every moment of that indelible performance. I’m truly glad that this performance was captured for the CSO Resound label."

A few honorable mentions:

And a list of CSO performances that "I wish had been commercially recorded":

  • Sarah Vaughan and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in an all-Gershwin program led by Henry Mazer for an early version of the Women’s Association’s Marathon fundraiser in April 1984
  • Sir Georg Solti leading Verdi’s Falstaff in April 1985 with Kathleen Battle as Nannetta, as well as Riccardo Muti’s performances in April 2016
  • Any of the numerous and amazing performances of Mozart’s piano concertos led from the keyboard by Daniel Barenboim
  • Principal Guest Conductor Claudio Abbado’s performance of Mussorgsky's Pictures from an Exhibition, which also featured a first-half performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with Rudolf Serkin in May 1984
  • Elgar’s Sea Pictures as performed by Dame Janet Baker led by Sir Georg Solti in a concert that also featured Elgar’s Enigma Variations and John McCabe's (new) Concerto for Orchestra in May 1984
  • A joint performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis in March 2017, which featured a movement of Marsalis’s Swing Symphony and movements of Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition that combined arrangements for the JLCO by its talented members and the CSO performing movements of Ravel's orchestration


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