My Favorite CSO: Brian Johnston

Brian Johnston is a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago’s trombone section.

Christa Walsh

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.

Brian Johnston is a regular member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and second trombone with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, and he has performed with the Chicago, Indianapolis, and Elgin symphony orchestras. He has experience teaching throughout the Chicago area, including CYSO @ CPS, the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra’s in-school residency program. Johnston earned his bachelor’s degree in trombone performance from the Hartt School at the University of Hartford in Connecticut, where he studied with John Rojak, and a master’s degree in trombone performance from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, where he studied with Jay Friedman and Reed Capshaw. During the pandemic, he has kept busy recording and curating a YouTube channel for students and professionals to enhance their practice.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live (works by Gabrieli, Bach, Revueltas, Prokofiev, Grainger, and Walton)
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2010 for CSO Resound
Dale ClevengerJay FriedmanMichael Mulcahy, and Mark Ridenour conductors
“This doesn’t need much of a description if you’re aware of the history of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra brass section! Since I was an undergrad in college, I’ve admired the CSO’s brass section, and I was drawn to the energy and brilliance that they produced. Any chance I had to listen to the CSO brass perform I would, and this CD is no exception to the countless hours I would spend listening to this in the library.”

MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1976 for Deutsche Grammophon
Claudio Abbado conductor
Carol Neblett soprano
Marilyn Horne mezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
“This is a recording I discovered while traveling across the country for audition after audition, and it’s probably my all-time favorite of Abbado’s conducting. Between the beautiful mezzo-soprano solo in the fourth movement and the triumphant brass in the fifth movement, this is likely my favorite Mahler symphony recording of all time. I remember driving home after being unsuccessful in an audition while this recording was playing, and once I heard the trumpet solos from Adolph “Bud” Herseth in the finale, I felt ready to gear up for my next audition. Complete and utter inspiration.”

WAGNER Overture to Tannhäuser
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1976 for London (video)
Sir Georg Solti conductor
“Early on in my college years, a trombone colleague showed me this video. I remember being floored by the trombone section in this recording. I didn’t know a section could sound so incredibly powerful, in tune, and beautiful. The opening chorale with the woodwinds and horns, the strings, all excellently executed, with very tasteful tempos by Sir Georg Solti. This piece is also very special to me because it was the first piece I performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2018, and this is the recording I used to study the piece.”

STRAUSS An Alpine Symphony and Die Frau ohne Schatten Symphonic Fantasy
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1992 for Erato
Daniel Barenboim conductor
“I remember hearing this piece for the first time (this recording) and I was struck by the soft, cold opening. I quickly felt the chills of an Alpine mountain through the interpretation of Daniel Barenboim and the Orchestra. Throughout the piece, I was enjoying the sounds, dynamics, and energy of the entire orchestra, especially former principal trumpet Bud Herseth. For me, this is the recording that I always thought showcased the musicianship, power, and risks taken by the incredible musicians of this orchestra.”

MUSSORGSKY/Ravel Pictures from an Exhibition
Recorded in Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan in 1990 for Sony (video)
Sir Georg Solti conductor
“I discovered this video because of my own curiosity of what the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was like in rehearsal. I’ve seen many videos of performances and listened to many recordings, but finally I found this one of Sir Georg Solti playing the piano, describing Mussorgsky’s work and how Ravel orchestrated it. It was thrilling to see my idols in rehearsal, yet I wasn’t surprised that they sounded just as good as they did in concert! This recording has one of the most exuberant endings of all time and maybe the loudest audience uproar of all time.”

A few honorable mentions:

  • BARTÓK Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin, Op. 19 with Sir Georg Solti for London (1989-90)
  • BRUCKNER Symphony No. 6 in A Major with Sir Georg Solti for London (1979) (audio and video)
  • FRANCK Symphony in D Minor with Pierre Monteux for RCA (1961)
  • MAHLER Symphony No. 1 in D Major with Klaus Tennstedt for EMI (1990) (audio and video)
  • MAHLER Symphony No. 9 in D Major with Carlo Maria Giulini for Deutsche Grammophon (1976)
  • SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 60 (Leningrad) with Leonard Bernstein for Deutsche Grammophon (1988)
  • STRAUSS Domestic Symphony, Op. 53 with Fritz Reiner for RCA (1956)
  • STRAVINSKY The Firebird with Pierre Boulez for EuroArts (2000) (video)
  • STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring with Daniel Barenboim for Teldec (2000)