The Chicago Symphony Orchestra embarked on its first overseas tour to Europe in 1971, with music director Georg Solti and principal guest conductor Carlo Maria Giulini sharing conducting duties. The Orchestra was on the road for nearly six weeks, leaving Chicago on August 26 and returning on October 6, for a tour that included twenty-five concerts in fifteen venues in nine countries (Austria, Belgium, England, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Scotland, and Sweden), performing sixteen different works. No other international tour since has included more concerts or a wider variety of programming.
Consistently welcomed and cheered by capacity audiences, the Orchestra received overwhelmingly favorable critical response. Upon their return to Chicago, the musicians received a hero’s welcome: a tickertape parade down State and LaSalle streets on October 14, 1971.
Before the Orchestra performed a single concert, there were four recording sessions for Mahler’s Eighth Symphony at the Sofiensaal in Vienna beginning on August 30. The cast included sopranos Heather Harper, Lucia Popp, and Arleen Augér; mezzo-soprano Yvonne Minton; contralto Helen Watts; tenor René Kollo; baritone John Shirley-Quirk; bass Martti Talvela; and three choruses: the Chorus of the Vienna State Opera, the Singverein Chorus, and the Vienna Boys Choir.
In Gramophone, Edward Greenfield wrote, “Now at last Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand can be heard on record at something approaching its full, expansive stature. Here is a version from Solti which far more clearly than any previous one conveys the feeling of a great occasion. Just as a great performance, live in the concert hall, takes off and soars from the very start, so the impact of the great opening on ‘Veni, creator spiritus’ tingles here with electricity . . . [with] playing from the Chicago orchestra that shows up all rivals in precision of ensemble, Solti’s performance sets standards beyond anything we have known before.”
Image above: Members of the Orchestra in a tickertape parade down State and LaSalle streets on October 14, 1971 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)