Carlo Maria Giulini made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in November 1955, leading two weeks of subscription concerts. In the subsequent years, he was a regular and popular visitor to Chicago, and it was no surprise when he was invited to be the Orchestra’s first principal guest conductor beginning with the 1969–70 season (also Georg Solti’s first as music director). Giulini would serve in that capacity through the 1971–72 season, and he frequently returned to Chicago until beginning his tenure as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1978.
On March 18 and 19, 1971, Giulini led the Orchestra in Mahler’s First Symphony, which, according to Bernard Jacobson in the Chicago Daily News, was his first time leading a symphony by the composer. “And the performance of the First Symphony that burst on us Thursday night showed us, in one dazzling stroke, what the waiting was for.” His interpretation “was of a stature, an integrity, an electrifying grandeur that relegated even those landmark performances to the shadows. It seemed to take all the virtues of every interpretation, heard or merely conceived, and fuse them in a new, flawlessly projected and proportioned unity. . . . And the Orchestra, playing with the sort of devotion their principal guest conductor always arouses in them, responded with perhaps their finest playing of the season. The strings combined polish and delicacy with an irresistible rhythmic zest. The woodwinds produced some of the most tellingly accurate chording we have heard from them. The percussion covered the dynamic gamut—from magical soft cymbal and tam-tam effects in the funeral march to bloodcurdling timpani rolls in the finale—with minute precision, and at the end the brass choir proclaimed a glorious triumph.”
“It was Carlo Maria Giulini’s finest hour to date in Orchestra Hall last night, bringing the Chicago Symphony audience cheering to its feet for a prolonged standing ovation,” wrote Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune, describing the concert as an “impassioned, marvelously balanced performance . . . of monumental stature.”
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