Rochberg in Chicago

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Wednesday, March 13, 2019

In 1986, the city of Chicago celebrated its 150th anniversary, and one music patron was willing to back the commission of a big new orchestral work for the pride of that city, namely the Chicago Symphony and its superstar conductor Sir George Solti.

The manager of the orchestra approached the American composer George Rochberg about writing something, suggesting that the patron in question specifically wanted a concerto for brass and orchestra. This wasn’t all that surprising, since the Chicago Symphony then and now has special reason to be proud of its brass section. Rochberg’s counter-suggestion was that he would write a symphony, reassuring the orchestra’s manager: “When I write my new Symphony, I will not neglect the brass.”

Some months later, the composer met with the conductor to outline his plans for the Chicago Symphony commission. When he requested extra brass and percussion. Rochberg recounted the story of the anonymous patron’s commission of a “Concerto for Brass,” to which Solti, smiling broadly, replied: “Oh, that was me!”—and readily agreed to a Rochberg Symphony instead.

Rochberg’s brassy Symphony No. 5, was premiered by Solti and the Chicago Symphony on today’s date in 1986.