My Favorite CSO: John Hagstrom

John Hagstrom in the theater of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library in August 2021, during a presentation about the history of the CSO brass section.

John Hagstrom

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 Chicagoan, John Hagstrom grew up listening to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He studied at the Eastman School of Music and was a member of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in Washington, D.C., serving for six years, three as principal trumpet. Hagstrom also was principal trumpet with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and assistant professor of trumpet at Wichita State University. In 1996, he was appointed by Daniel Barenboim to the CSO as fourth trumpet, and the following year he was promoted to second trumpet. Hagstrom helped to initiate Dream Out Loud, a music-education advocacy partnership between the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and the Yamaha Corporation of America, and he is the host of the podcast Intermission at the CSO.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live (works by Gabrieli, Bach, Revueltas, Prokofiev, Grainger and Walton)
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2010 for CSO Resound
Dale Clevenger, Jay Friedman, Michael Mulcahy and Mark Ridenour conductors
“This recording was truly a team effort from start to finish. The configuration of players on the stage was engineered for an optimal recorded balance and sonority, and the variety of repertoire and conductors also required extra effort on everyone’s part. It is the best of three live concerts given of this program, and the post-production process was also a product of input from many of the players to optimize hundreds of details. Each year when the CSO’s brass section performs a concert in the final week prior to the Christmas holiday it has always been a monumental undertaking to timeshare the efforts needed within the rest of the CSO’s subscription and holiday programming. I’m really proud of the level that we were able to accomplish with our best efforts working together.”

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2006 for CSO Resound
Myung-Whun Chung conductor
“Since the 1950s, the CSO trumpet sound has been associated with the timbre of orchestrally designed trumpets in the key of C. In fact, the CSO was the first American orchestra within which all four trumpeters primarily played the C trumpet in the Orchestra. Before that time, the CSO and other orchestral trumpet players used trumpets in the key of B-flat, especially for the lower parts. This recording of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, however, is an exception. All of us performed on the B-flat trumpet, which was the instrument Shostakovich intended within almost all of his symphonic writing. The B-flat trumpet provides brilliant voice similar to a C trumpet, but it has a more weighty center of sound that gives this CSO Shostakovich recording a special kind of energy to compliment the committed playing from the rest of the Orchestra."

VARÈSE Amériques, Arcana, Déserts and Ionisation
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1995–1996 for Deutsche Grammophon
Pierre Boulez conductor
2001 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance
“This was one of the first recordings I played on with the CSO, and it brings back memories of working with Pierre Boulez. He was very intentional in every moment, and this recording demonstrates how he could bring a clarity of purpose to complex music to make it more accessible for listeners. If you normally would shy away from music by Edgard Varèse, please give this recording a chance."

STRAUSS Don Juan, Op. 20
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1954 by RCA
Fritz Reiner conductor
"The Chicago Symphony’s virtuosity has made the Orchestra a natural choice for recording companies to feature over the years, and a big part of capturing listeners’ imaginations comes also from the virtuosity of the recording engineers and producers working to build and hold energy in each moment. No company better accomplished this with the CSO than RCA, especially within the recordings made under the direction of Fritz Reiner. His 1954 recording of Don Juan generates so much energy because of the committed courage of the musicians and also the ability of RCA to have captured so much of that intensity."

TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 (Pathétique)
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1976 by London
Sir Georg Solti conductor
“When I was a student in high school I listened to this recording at least several hundred times. It showcases the CSO’s amazing balance of exuberance with discipline, which for me is a reminder that many of the most connective moments in the Orchestra’s performances and recordings happen when everyone compromises to find a single unified voice. Accordingly, this presentation of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony is so inspiring and affirming. Sir Georg Solti was centrally involved in the production of his CSO recordings, constructing them very strategically to give listeners a feeling of transcendence.” 

A few honorable mentions: