My Favorite CSO: Sarah van der Ploeg

Sarah van der Ploeg performs as a member of the Fourth Coast Ensemble with pianist Kuang-Hao Huang on March 2, 2020.

Elliot Mandel 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.

Soprano, educator, and arts administrator Sarah van der Ploeg is the coordinator for school and community partnerships for the CSOA’s Negaunee Music Institute. Originally from New Jersey, she earned a master's degree in voice and opera performance at Northwestern University in 2012, following studies at London's Royal Academy of Music and Princeton University. A passionate advocate for equity in the arts and arts education, van der Ploeg performs regularly with Chicago’s Fourth Coast Ensemble and previously was a member, section leader, and soloist in the Chicago Symphony Chorus for five seasons.

Riccardo Muti Conducts Italian Masterworks (works by Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni, and Boito)
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2017 for CSO Resound
Riccardo Muti conductor
Riccardo Zanellato bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe director
Chicago Children's Choir
Josephine Lee director
"I had to select this recording because I was singing in the Chicago Symphony Chorus for these concerts! Truly, though, there is no greater interpreter of Italian operatic and symphonic works than Maestro Riccardo Muti, and performing these pieces with him and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was a thrill every single time. The subtleties of rubato, powerful dynamic range, and masterful attention to voicing in the orchestrations felt simultaneously natural and brought new depth to these great works from Italian opera. And the Chorus sounds fabulous here."

Traditions and Transformations: Sounds of Silk Road Chicago
(works by Bloch, Sharav, Harrison, and Prokofiev)
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2007 for CSO Resound
Miguel Harth-Bedoya conductor
Alan Gilbert conductor
Silk Road Ensemble
Yo-Yo Ma cello
Wu Man pipa
2008 Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album–Classical
"One of the great privileges of my life has been the opportunity to work with and get to know Yo-Yo Ma a bit through his sustained work with the Negaunee Music Institute. His genuine joy and unbridled enthusiasm for making art and bringing people together through music is perhaps best captured in his Silk Road Ensemble and in this recording with the CSO. Leaning into the 'edge effect'—the phenomenon in both ecosystems and human culture where the most vibrant and lively communities emerge in the places where different communities meet—these works vividly illustrate this reality."

BRITTEN The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and
MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1967 for RCA
Seiji Ozawa conductor
"Britten's Young Person's Guide holds a dear place in my heart after playing it in my youth orchestra as a violist. This recording with Seiji Ozawa lets the CSO sections really shine, both independently and as a cohesive whole. It’s also a brilliant work for introducing the orchestra and instrument families to children for the first time, and Britten’s mastery is revealed through relative simplicity. I still hear new things every time I listen to it!"

Riccardo Muti Conducts Mason Bates and Anna Clyne
(BATES Alternative Energy and CLYNE Night Ferry)
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2012 for CSO Resound
Riccardo Muti conductor
"I love new music, and I particularly love these two composers, who were the Mead Composers-in-Residence at the CSO when I began attending the MusicNOW series. Clyne’s dramatic Night Ferry creates an entire world through soundscape, and Bates’s Alternative Energy is an exciting and relatively rare opportunity to hear the CSO interface with electronica!"

STRAUSS Four Last Songs
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1977 by Unitel, released by London
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Lucia Popp soprano
"Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs), Sir Georg Solti, Lucia Popp, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra: does it get much better than this? Popp approaches the songs with technical effortlessness, vocal clarity, and emotional honesty, creating a heartbreaking rendering while somehow remaining relatively understated and beautifully straightforward. With the lush fullness of the CSO’s glorious sound enlivening Strauss’s brilliant orchestrations through Maestro Solti’s interpretation, it’s pure bliss."

A few honorable mentions: