To coincide with the Ravinia Festival’s sixtieth season, along with an $11.5 million renovation of the pavilion and grounds, executive director Zarin Mehta announced in September 1994 that Christoph Eschenbach would be the festival’s third music director beginning in the summer of 1995.
For his first concert on June 29, 1995, Eschenbach led the Orchestra in Rouse’s Phaethon, Bruch’s First Violin Concerto with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Regarding Mahler’s symphony, John von Rhein wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “It was a highly individual interpretation, to be sure, but Eschenbach has the command, the control, to make our band share his convictions and carry out his ideas all the way.” In the Chicago Sun-Times, Wynne Delacoma added, “The audience was on its feet seconds after the Mahler ended, cheering and applauding, sending up waves of still louder cheers as Eschenbach motioned to CSO principals and soloists, especially brass and woodwinds, to take their bows.”
Eschenbach’s extensive history with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra began on January 30, 31, and February 1, 1969, when he made his debut as piano soloist at Orchestra Hall in the U.S. premiere of Hans Werner Henze’s Piano Concerto no. 2 with the composer conducting.
He first conducted the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on August 3, 1978, leading Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto (from the keyboard) and Third Symphony. For his conducting debut in Orchestra Hall, he led Mahler’s Sixth Symphony on December 20, 21, and 22, 1990.
Eschenbach served the Ravinia Festival through the 2003 summer season. He gave his final concerts as music director with the Orchestra on August 10, leading Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 12 (from the keyboard), Bernstein’s Symphony no. 2 (The Age of Anxiety) with pianist Christopher Taylor, and Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Lang Lang.
Image above: Christoph Eschenbach (Scott Kohn photo)
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