Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois on September 7, 1997 · Page 59
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Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois · Page 59

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Sunday, September 7, 1997
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Sir Georg Solti, 1912-1997 Georg Solti (shown rehearsing at the piano in 1987) combined talent and fierce ambition to become one of the world's most eminent conductors. He led the vaunted Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 22 years. i r Tribune file photo Chicago Symphony Orchestra conductor Georg Solti accepts four more Grammy Awards in 1984. A final lifetime achievement Grammy in 1996 brought Solti's career total to a record 32. Solti Continued from Page 1 dened by the loss of my friend and colleague, Sir Georg Solti. In the upcoming weeks, we were looking forward to celebrating his 85th birthday and all that he contributed to the world through music." Most music dictionaries attached the adjective "eminent" to Solti's name. That seemed just right Solti was eminent even before the British government conferred knighthood on him in 1971. Six years later, Solti infamously told a press gathering in Chicago that the city "should erect a statue to me." Within a decade, the city came around to his way of thinking and installed a bust of him in Lincoln Park. It was the first time Chicago had honored one of its distinguished citizens in such a manner while they were still living. But Solti was a special case, a man who in his 22 seasons as music director of the CSO almost single-handedly transformed the city's image abroad from the home of Al Capone to the home base of one of the world's great orchestras. At the same time, Solti always had a love-hate relationship with Chicago. He never maintained a permanent residence here, nor did he make much effort to get to know the city welL His geographical knowledge of the city seldom extended farther than the two-mile stretch of Michigan Avenue that connected his hotel suite at the Mayfair Regent on East Lake Shore Drive with Orchestra Hall and he viewed that stretch mainly from the inside of a chauf-feured limousine. For Solti, the United States remained a place for concentrated work. When the work ended, he returned quickly to Europe. Of course, the Chicago Symphony was a world-class orchestra at least since the days of Fritz Reiner's tenure as music director, 1953 to 1963. But Solti was the first music director to take America's third-oldest orchestra out of its Midwest-provincial garage and drive it to glory through the musical capitals of Europe, in 1971. And it was his association with the Chicago Symphony that earned him his most lasting successes, that consolidated his reputationalready launched by recordings made in the late 1950s and '60s around the world. A New York reviewer once called Solti a "praying mantis" on the podium and no doubt meant it as a compliment. Musicians less charitably called him "the screaming skulL When Solti made music, he turned into a man possessed, lunging at the orchestra with a ferocity and dynamism punctuated by the famous "Solti snap" a precise marking of the beat that signaled his complete control of every detail of the score's unfolding. That style was not universally admired. Some critics and musicians found his musicmaking clinical, lacking in warmth and spontaneity. Still, there was no denying he got orchestras to give him everything he wanted. , For all the ferocity he sometimes v.. . V . ! displayed on the podium, Solti the private man could be a far different animaL according to those who knew him welL Solti was "a very gentle, very warm and actually quite funny human being," said CSO President Henry FogeL To relax, Solti "loved playing bridge. He played with members of our orchestra, our staff, board members. He also loved tennis and ping pong. We played ping pong. He was in his 70s, and I was in my 40s. He beat me soundly. And I'm not that bad at it" Margaret Hillis, founder and director emeritus of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus, remembered Solti as an artist unparalleled in his understanding of musicians. "In dealing with people, he was marvelous," she said. "He made quick judgments about who should take which parts, and I never saw him make a mistake. He knew everyone in the orchestra and what their needs were." But he was impatient "I think it was because his mind moved at the speed of light," Hillis said. The impatience .was not offensive, it was just 'Come on, let's go.' " In a world drastically depleted of elder statesmen of the podium, Solti stood virtually alone. His nearest rival in the World's Greatest Conductor sweepstakes, Austrian maestro Herbert von Karajan, died in 1989, at 81. Solti always said that the only competition for his Chicago Symphony was Kara-jan's Berlin Philharmonic. In many ways, they were polar oppo-sites Solti the Dionysian seeker of drama and dynamism, Karajan the coolly Apollonian architect of structure, refinement and beautiful sound. The music world, recognizing Solti's importance, bestowed on him much the same elder-statesman honors it lavished on Arturo Toscanini, Leopold Stokowski and . Otto Klemperer during the Indian summers of their lengthy conducting careers. Even those Chicagoans who look on concerts as a highbrow social ritual knew Solti was someone special. He brought the city fame, and Chicagoans, with their inferiority complex as deep as Lake Michigan, desperately needed what a Solti could do for them An orchestra is one of the last institutions in which a personprovided he or she is strong-willed and charismatic enough may pursue excellence without a committee of restraint nipping at his or her heels. The conductor is a benign tyrant whose subjects have little say in how their music is to be served up to the public. Whatever their individual qualities as musicians, once they are gathered before him, they become an extension of his tastes and idiosyncrasies. Solti exemplified this dynamic in a way that made musicians the respectful, if not always docile, instruments of his will. Throughout his career, he drove orchestras the way he drove himself, with a strength of mind and a fierce, uncompromising zeal for perfection. That drive, that zeal, that V Sir Georg Solti (center) joins two other conductors with ties to the CSO for a 1991 rededication of the Theodore Thomas Memorial in A dynamic maestro, Georg Solti During his 22 years as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Georg Solti led the orchestra to international fame. Oct 21, 1912: Georg Solti is born in Budapest, Hungary. 1924-25: Considered a child prodigy at the piano, he begins to give concerts in Budapest at the age of 12. 1930: After graduating from the Liszt Conservatory in Budapest, he begins his music career as a music coach at the Budapest Opera. 1936: He makes his debut as a conductor. 1939: Peeing growing anti-Semitism in Hungary, Solti moves to Zurich, where he becomes a pianist. 1942: He wins his first major music prize at the International Piano Competition in Geneva. . Sources: Who's Who in America, Current Biography ru"W'-"- - - -- """" 'L: it. r In a 1913 photo, infant Georg Solti is flanked by his sister, Lilly (from left), his mother, Theres, and his father, Mor. strength, helped garner greater national and international acclaim for the CSO through its many recordings, radio and TV broadcasts and tours than it had ever received. It became a cliche of Solti's final period to say he had "mellowed" as a musician. Perhaps it is more useful to say he became less concerned about controlling the music as being controlled by it. The hypertense, excitable conductor who seemed ready to pounce on the orchestra early in his Chicago career had become a more lyrical conductor. The uncanny sense of H."1 r . -T f ( ' .-IT, 1946: Following the end of World War II, Solti becomes music director of the Munich, West Germany, Opera. In the same year, he marries his first wife, Hedi Oechsli, of Zurich. 1952: He accepts the position of music director with the Frankfurt, West Germany, Opera. 1953: Solti makes his American debut with the 1972: After knighted, he becomes a naturalized British citizen. HTS'iiie'becomes principal conductor and artistic director of the London Philharmonic and id named conductor emeritus In 1983. San Francisco Opera. 1954: He makes his first appearance with the -Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia. 1961: He becomes the music director for the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, in London. 'He director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. lb?: .He receives a lifetime achievement Grammy, bringing his career total to 32, more than any other artist. Nov. 11, 1967: He marries his second wife, Anne Valerie Pitts. They have two daughters, Gabnelle and Claudia. pulse and rhythmic clarity, the concentration that always was a Solti hallmark, were still present But his tempos were a bit more relaxed, his sound less pressured. Solti, in short, became a more interesting conductor. In 1968, when it was announced that Solti was to succeed Jean Martinon the following year as the eighth music director of the CSO, the Hungarian conductor declared that "they the symphonyj need me I don't need them." But in a curious way, Solti did need them For this talented and ambitious Central European musi Chicago Tribune, Sunday, .J L Tribune (lie photos Grant Park. Rafael Kubelik (left) was the CSO's leader from 1950 to 1953 and Daniel Barenboim took over the CSO after Solti retired. "1969: He becomes the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Iq 1971, he and the orchestra make the first of over 10 overseas concert tours. !l972; He is named music director at the L'Orchestre de Paris. fx being retires as music Chicago Tribune cian, securing a major American podium was a very desirable and necessary career step. Trained as a concert pianist, Solti came to conducting late in a career interrupted by World War H. He rose the old-fashioned way, serving his apprenticeship in opera houses in Germany before making his American debut in 1953 with the San Francisco Opera, his CSO debut at Ravinia in 1954 and his Lyric Opera of Chicago debut in 1956. His 10 years as music director of London's Royal Opera, Covent Garden, beginning in 1961, stood as a watershed period in that theater's Ufa Still, the most significant period of Solti's career was spent in Chicago. He regarded those years as a time of stability, of consolidating the CSO's worldwide prestige. "I don't think this orchestra has ' ever been better than it is now," Solti said in his final Tribune interview, in 1995. "The young players play so well, and the mixture of young and old is working beautifully. At first things were not so easy between us. It took four or five years for me to feel at home, to feel that this was really my orchestra. "Now, after several hundred concerts together, we understand each other. The rapport is ideal. We don't have to rehearse as other orchestras, do. We can achieve more in less time." if 1 r , - v Y September 7, 1997 Section 1 11 f ' X tmtmtkii if 'TlMMfci if HI For many conductors, nothing can equal the gratification of bringing symphonic music to an audience, feeling the cumulative excitement as an auditorium full of listeners becomes one with the music and the performers. For Solti, however, the truest gratification came when he was alone with the Chicago Symphony. His Chicago Symphony. "My most pleasurable moments," he said, "are really the rehearsals, those working hours when you produce something. Some of it is very painful, but some of it is won-derfuL "The Chicago Symphony does not play bad concerts. We are playing good or very good concerts. We have had many very good concerts. What I love about this orchestra is that they never play badly for anyone, even a guest conductor they hate. When I am 5,000 miles away, I know they are keeping my standard. Their professional pride is unique." Solti earned his share of honors. Last year, he was awarded a special Grammy for lifetime achievement, this added to his 31 other Grammys at his home in London's fashionable St. John's Wood district. He received more of these awards than any other artist classical or popular in the recording industry. One suspects that the honor Solti would have treasured the most would be the realization that the Chicago Symphony remains Barenboim's influence notwithstanding a Solti orchestra. Most of the players are Solti appointees. Solti's sound, his musicianship, his tastes are ingrained. Barenboim, it's true, has altered the CSO's direction and some of its component parts. But the engine the driving force remains as Solti tuned it Summing up Solti's achievements, the CSO's Fogel said he was struck by Solti's "consummate professionalism. Even if he'd been conducting a piece for 30 years, if he hadn't used it for a few years, he went out and bought a new score with no markings and studied it fresh from the beginning. Virtually every other conductor, by the time they reach about 70, very rarely learns new pieces. Solti, right up until his death, learned at least one or two major pieces every year and performed them" Tribune reporters Mark S. War-nick and Jeremy Manier contributed to this article. MORE ON THE INTERNET: Find more background on Solti's rich career and hear some of his works at chicago.tribune.com. mmrnt III, , ' '

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