My Favorite CSO: Madison Bolt

Madison Bolt performs with the Chicago Symphony Chorus in Beethoven's Missa solemnis under Bernard Haitink on October 25, 2012.

© Todd Rosenberg Photography

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's commercial recording legacy began on May 1, 1916, when second music director Frederick Stock led the Wedding March from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Columbia Graphophone Company. The Orchestra has since amassed an extraordinary, award-winning discography on a number of labels—including Angel, CBS, Deutsche Grammophon, Erato, London/Decca, RCA, Sony, Teldec, Victor, and others—continuing with releases on the in-house label CSO Resound under tenth music director Riccardo Muti. For My Favorite CSO, we asked members of the Chicago Symphony family for their favorite recordings (and a few honorable mentions) from the Orchestra's discography.

Madison Bolt grew up in northwest Lake County, Illinois, and attended Antioch High School, later receiving his bachelor’s degree from Indiana University and master’s degree from Northwestern University. He studied trumpet with George Olisar and William Nulty, voice with Ralph Brooke and Margaret Harshaw, and conducting with Victor Yampolsky, and he attended Tanglewood’s Young Artists Conducting Seminar in 1988 and 1989. At the invitation of founding director Margaret Hillis, Bolt joined the Chicago Symphony Chorus in October 1983. (His mother, Evelyn Bolt, also was a Chorus member from 1987 until 1999.) He performed in Robert Shaw’s Carnegie Hall workshop choruses from 1990 until 1995 as well as with the Robert Shaw Festival Singers in France in 1994. Bolt also is a longtime member of the Music of the Baroque and Grant Park choruses.

VERDI Messa da Requiem
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2009 for CSO Resound
Riccardo Muti conductor
Barbara Frittoli soprano
Olga Borodina mezzo-soprano
Mario Zeffiri tenor
Ildar Abdrazakov bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe director
2010 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance
“Maestro Riccardo Muti’s first production with us came hurtling out of the skies like a thunderbolt, and he drew from us powerful and deeply expressive performances. We did not know, or had forgotten, we were capable of such. It was a great occasion and harbinger of things to come.”

RAVEL Daphnis and Chloe and POULENC Gloria
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2007 for CSO Resound
Bernard Haitink conductor
Jessica Rivera soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe director
“This is repertoire one may not immediately associate with Bernard Haitink, but he does superlatively. The Chorus has performed often with him, and each occasion is always quite special.”

SCHOENBERG Moses und Aron
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1984 for London
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Franz Mazura speaker
Philip Langridge tenor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Members of the Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus
Doreen Rao director
1985 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording
“A dream project of Sir Georg Solti’s, this happens to be my first commercial recording. (I believe I owe to this work Margaret Hillis’s asking me to join the Chorus.) We spent an enormous amount of time and care in preparation, spread over some six months, and used every minute of rehearsal and recording time we had. Back then it was predicted only libraries would buy this recording, but vindication is ours: it is still available today.”

BARTÓK Cantata profana and The Wooden Prince
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1991 for Deutsche Grammophon
Pierre Boulez conductor
John Aler tenor
John Tomlinson baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
1993 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album, Best Orchestral Performance, Best Performance of a Choral Work, and Best Engineered Recording–Classical
“Bartók’s Cantata profana is the only studio recording we made with Pierre Boulez that has an extensive choral part. Regrettably, we did not do more. Boulez was a remarkably clear, unfussy, and analytical thinker who always got fine results.”

BERLIOZ The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24
Video recorded in Royal Albert Hall in 1989 for London
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Anne Sofie von Otter mezzo-soprano
Keith Lewis tenor
José van Dam bass-baritone
Peter Rose bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
Choristers of Westminster Cathedral
Rodney Greenberg director
“This concert at the BBC Proms was the Chicago Symphony Chorus’s first-ever performance outside the United States. Afterwards, the manager of the Proms was heard to say, ‘So much for the vaunted English choral tradition.’ The arena dwellers’ enthusiastic cheers and foot stomping shook the building.”

A few honorable mentions:

  • VERDI Otello with Riccardo Muti for CSO Resound (2011) and VERDI Otellowith Sir Georg Solti for London (1991) – “These were two major occasions recorded live, both performed at Orchestra Hall and Carnegie Hall; different approaches, but each achieved superlative results.”
  • TCHAIKOVSKY Selections from The Nutcracker, Op. 71, with Fritz Reiner for RCA (1959) – “This was one of the first albums I was given as a child, and it’s still a favorite.”
  • BRUCKNER Helgoland with Daniel Barenboim for Deutsche Grammophon (1979) – “This was one of three Bruckner recordings the Chorus made with Barenboim, and it is a brief, little-known secular cantata, too seldom done. In it, the men of the Chorus generate an incredibly powerful and exciting sound. Years later, a Chorus member told me that during the recording session one of the horn players, sitting directly in front of the Chorus, aimed a sound meter at them, and at one point it registered well over 100 decibels.”
  • MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection) with Claudio Abbado for Deutsche Grammophon (1976) – “In the mid-to-late 1970s, it seemed everybody wanted to make recordings with the Chorus, and Claudio Abbado was another great conductor with whom we made regrettably few. A musician’s musician, he was a completely down-to-earth man who possessed great insights and prodigious ability to convey those insights.”
  • VERDI Choruses (from Nabucco, I lombardi, Macbeth, I masnadieri, Rigoletto, Il trovatore, La traviata, Un ballo in maschera, Don Carlo, Aida, Otello, and Messa da Requiem) with Sir Georg Solti for London (1989) – This was a showcase for the Chorus, a fascinating cross-section of Verdi’s output, spanning nearly all his career, brass bands included. Some of the best sound London ever captured in Orchestra Hall.”
  • PROKOFIEV Alexander Nevsky with Fritz Reiner for RCA (1959) – “This was the Chorus’s first commercial recording, and it is a treasure. Reiner’s orchestra is heard at its amazing best, especially in the Battle on the Ice. (Note Arnold Jacobs’s sensational tuba playing throughout the recording.) The sound the nearly new Chorus produces quite fits the occasion.”
  • IVES Symphony No. 4 with Michael Tilson Thomas for Sony (1989) – “This recording includes hymns used in the symphony, sung in their original versions accompanied by organist Richard Webster. Most of us on this recording grew up singing these hymns. Needless to say, these performances are totally idiomatic, one of the finest things we have ever done.”
  • MENOTTI Amahl and the Night Visitors and RAVEL L’enfant et les sortilèges with Alastair Willis and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra for Naxos (2006) – “A last-minute engagement, this was the Chorus’s first recordings with another orchestra, a very enjoyable and rewarding experience.”
  • WILLIAMS Lincoln with John Williams for Sony (2012) – “Doing a scoring session for this terrific picture, with this most kind gentleman conducting his own music, was a true honor and privilege. Daniel Day-Lewis, who portrayed Abraham Lincoln magnificently, watched and listened intently from a seat in the center of Orchestra Hall’s balcony, and director Steven Spielberg shot some ‘home movies’ (eventually used in the DVD extras) at the session with boyish glee and delight.”
  • WAGNER Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with Sir Georg Solti for London (1995) – “At our first rehearsal, Solti told us he wanted to ‘get it right.’ He also said this would be the last time he would ever perform this work, and accordingly, there was a unique seriousness, intensity, and resolve to this live-recording project. This recording remains a testament to his life and art and our musical life with him. How lucky we were!”