Pierre Monteux made his debut at the Ravinia Festival on August 5, 1941, leading the Orchestra in Berlioz’s Overture to Benvenuto Cellini and Franck’s Symphony in D minor on the first half; after intermission, he changed the program order, leading with Clouds and Festivals from Debussy’s Nocturnes followed by Griffes’s The Pleasure-Dome of Kubla-Khan and Ravel’s Suite no. 2 from Daphnis and Chloe. That first residency also included music by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Gluck, Milhaud, and Weber, along with songs and arias by Strauss and Wagner with soprano Helen Traubel.
The reviewer in the Chicago Daily News called Monteux “a revelation. Chicago knows no conductor like him. The Orchestra is delighted with him and he is, more than anything else, a sheer and unreserved delight.”
Over the next twenty years, he returned for every season except one (1958), conducting a vast array of repertoire. Monteux brought to the Orchestra his interpretations of works in whose world premieres he had participated, including Stravinsky’s The Firebird (as a violist under Gabriel Pierné) and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe and Stravinsky’s Petrushka (as conductor), all with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.
The first concert of eighty-six-year-old Monteux’s 1961 residency on July 11 included Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, a suite from Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. In the Chicago Tribune, Thomas Willis reported the Orchestra “played as it always seems to for Mr. Monteux, with flexibility born of affection, considerable vitality, and a limpid, clear tone quality.” For his final concert on July 15, he led Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Henryk Szeryng, along with Prokofiev and Sibelius’s first symphonies. That evening, Ravinia reported an audience of 7,514—the best attended concert of the season.
Image above: Pierre Monteux at the Ravinia Festival in August 1949 (image from the Victor Charbulak collection; Charbulak was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s violin section from 1922 until 1967)
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