My Favorite CSO: Guillermo Muñoz Küster

Guillermo Muñoz Küster in front of the Parque del Buen Retiro in Madrid, Spain

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 native of Santiago, Chile, Guillermo Muñoz Küster joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association’s administrative staff in 2015, and he currently serves as an associate artist coordinator and the executive assistant to the vice president of artistic planning. In addition, he is artistic director of the Heritage Chorale of Oak Park and director of adult choirs at Glenview Community Church. Muñoz Küster has performed as a chorister with ensembles including Music of the Baroque and the Grant Park Symphony Chorus; he also is a classical guitarist.

BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 and Lélio, or the Return to Life, Op. 14b
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2010 for CSO Resound
Riccardo Muti conductor
Gérard Depardieu narrator
Mario Zeffiri tenor
Kyle Ketelsen bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe director
“This recording is taken from Maestro Riccardo Muti’s first concerts in Orchestra Hall as the CSO’s tenth music director. I had just moved to Chicago a couple of weeks earlier to attend Northwestern University, and this was the first time I heard the CSO live in concert. It was a very impactful and unforgettable experience to attend this concert, not least because it featured repertoire that was especially apt for highlighting the virtuosity of the Orchestra and the amazing Chicago Symphony Chorus. I vividly remember sitting in the top of the upper balcony for this performance, completely enthralled and filled with excitement about all the future concerts I would get to hear as a new Chicago resident. I was overjoyed when the performance was released on CSO Resound in 2015, not only because the artistic product is so excellent, but also because of the personal meaning that concert holds for me. Now, ten years later, having had the privilege of hearing hundreds of CSO concerts, this performance will always be indelibly marked in my memory!”

BRUCKNER Te Deum and Psalm 150
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1981 and 1979 for Deutsche Grammophon
Daniel Barenboim conductor
Jessye Norman soprano
Ruth Welting soprano
Yvonne Minton mezzo-soprano
David Rendall tenor
Samuel Ramey bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
“Bruckner’s music has the ability to sweep over you (especially if you’re patient!) in ways that not a lot of repertoire can. Not only is Bruckner’s music immensely powerful in sheer size and sound (especially when played by the CSO), but it is also very profound and often subtle and introspective. In his Te Deum, you experience emotions across a very wide spectrum. I remember being deeply moved the first time I encountered this work as a member of a very large chorus, and I immediately sought recordings of the piece in order to hear it over and over. This version by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus immediately became one of my favorites.”

BATES Anthology of Fantastic Zoology
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2015 for CSO Resound
Riccardo Muti conductor
“I was very fortunate to attend the world premiere performance of Mason Bates’s Anthology of Fantastic Zoology. I remember being struck by the wide palette and effects employed in the piece, and the imagery achieved is very vivid. After the performance, I couldn’t wait to listen to the piece again but, of course, there was no recording of it at the time. When this recording was eventually available, I immediately listened to it and enjoyed the work even more. Not only is the piece incredibly well crafted, but also Maestro Muti’s ability to bring out all of the expressive elements of the score is second to none.”

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 10 and Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 60 (Leningrad)
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1988 for Deutsche Grammophon
Leonard Bernstein conductor
1990 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance
“The musical narrative of this work is tremendously impactful, and the CSO’s performance, led by Leonard Bernstein, is simply without equal. I can only imagine the electricity that was felt at the concerts from which this recording was made: a powerful work of music, prodigious playing by the Orchestra, and one of the world’s greatest conductors in the final years of his life; a perfect combination!”

RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1962 for RCA
Fritz Reiner conductor
Van Cliburn piano
“Van Cliburn—winner of the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958—and the CSO with sixth music director Fritz Reiner deliver a superlative performance of a cornerstone of the piano-orchestral repertoire. Not only does Cliburn perform brilliantly, but the clarity and precision (without sacrificing expressivity) that the Reiner-CSO combination was known for makes for a very fulfilling listening experience.”

A few honorable mentions:

  • VERDI Messa da Requiem with Riccardo Muti for CSO Resound (2009)
  • BRAHMS Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a with Daniel Barenboim for Erato (1993)
  • DVOŘÁK Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104 with Daniel Barenboim and Jacqueline du Pré for Angel (1970)
  • BRUCKNER Symphony No. 7 in E Major with Bernard Haitink  for CSO Resound (2007)
  • LISZT Symphonic Poem No. 3 (Les préludes) with Sir Georg Solti for London (1992)
  • TCHAIKOVSKY Symphonies nos. 1-6 with Claudio Abbado for CBS and Sony  (1984–1991)
  • MUSSORGSKY/Ravel Pictures from an Exhibition with Carlo Maria Giulini for Deutsche Grammophon (1976)