At the Berlin Philharmonie on April 1, 1999—following two performances at Orchestra Hall on March 24 and 26—Pierre Boulez led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron. “The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the equally formidable Chicago Symphony Chorus (appearing for the first time in Germany), Chris Merritt and David Pittmann-Jennings [in the title roles], chorus director Duain Wolfe, and, on top of it, a relaxed yet excited Pierre Boulez . . . led the ensemble effortlessly through the work,” praised Manuel Brug in Die Welt. The Orchestra “played the sometimes harsh notes without any brash force in beauty, glimmer, and warmth as if it were a score by Strauss. . . . The difficulty was handled like a walk in the park, especially with the almost perfect pronunciation of the Chorus, with magnificent presence.”
“The concert of the century!” proclaimed Klaus Geitel in the Berliner Morgenpost. “Under the truly magnificent leadership of Pierre Boulez, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its affiliated phenomenal chorus performed Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron: the ‘old testament’ of new music. . . . One should not expect to hear Schoenberg’s most demanding piece in comparable perfection ever again.”
The Orchestra and Chorus, under the direction of Sir Georg Solti, had performed Schoenberg’s opera twice previously at Orchestra Hall: on November 11, 12, and 13, 1971 (also with a run-out to Carnegie Hall on November 20), and again on April 19 and 21, 1984. Later that month, the opera was recorded at Orchestra Hall for London Records.
In Gramophone, Arnold Whittall observed that Solti’s “faith in Schoenberg’s most ambitious dramatic project remains undimmed and he believes that, with increasing familiarity, the music becomes ‘clearer, less complicated, and more expressive and romantic’ . . . [explaining the] abiding fascination of Schoenberg’s last attempt to bring a great philosophical issue to dramatic life.” The recording won the 1985 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording.
Image above: Pierre Boulez leads the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists at the Berlin Philharmonie on April 1, 1999