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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the Solti family in mourning the loss of Lady Valerie Solti. She died yesterday, March 31, 2021, at home in London. She was eighty-three.

Lady Solti in 2004

Born in Leeds, England on August 19, 1937, Valerie Pitts studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She was an actress before going to work for television in the 1960s, first at Granada, and later at the BBC, presenting and producing many programs. As a freelance broadcaster and writer, she later contributed to BBC Radio 3, BBC Music Magazine, Classic FM, Classic FM Magazine, LBC in the United Kingdom, and WFMT and WTTW in the United States.

In 1964, she was an arts journalist for the BBC magazine program Town and Around when she met Georg Solti, then music director at London’s Royal Opera, Covent Garden. They married on November 11, 1967.

In 1969, Georg Solti became the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director. His twenty-two-year tenure was marked by the Orchestra’s first tour to Europe in 1971, dozens of award-winning recordings, and numerous trips to Carnegie Hall. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in March 1972. Following the centennial season, Solti became music director laureate in 1991, continuing his association with the Orchestra during several weeks each year in concerts and recordings until his death on September 5, 1997.

Lady Solti also was a frequent presence onstage, performing as narrator for children’s concerts, as well as hosting the centennial gala concert on October 6, 1990, along with the Orchestra Hall centennial concert on December 14, 2004.

Together with her daughters, Valerie Solti created The Solti Foundation to assist young professional musicians at the start of their careers, and she was founder and chairperson of the Georg Solti Accademia and patron of the World Orchestra for Peace. She was an honorary trustee of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and honorary chair of the Solti Foundation US.

Lady Solti is survived by her daughters Gabrielle (Frederic Dupas) and Claudia (Gary Ross) and grandchildren George, Amelie, Luna, and Mo. Details for services are pending.

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In 1967, Viking Press published John Culshaw‘s book, Ring Resounding, a detailed account of the first complete studio recording of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. Solti was the conductor for those recordings, made in Vienna between 1958 and 1965 with an all-star cast of singers and the Vienna Philharmonic.

Rand McNally & Company published a coffee table book in 1974 with text by Chicago Tribune music critic Thomas Willis and photographs by Robert M. Lightfoot III. The book was titled simply The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and included images of rehearsals, performances, and recording sessions in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and in tour venues.

Also in 1974, MacMillan published William Barry Furlong‘s Season with Solti. Intended to give a backstage view of how the Chicago Symphony Orchestra operated during a single season, the book included first-hand accounts from numerous members of the Orchestra.

Paul Robinson’s Solti was published in 1979 by Lester and Orpen Limited. It was the third in their Art of the Conductor series, following books on Herbert von Karajan and Leopold Stokowski, also by Robinson.

And, of course, there’s Sir Georg Solti’s Memoirs with assistance from Harvey Sachs. (My well-worn copy is pictured to the right.) It was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1997. The afterword—by Valerie, Gabrielle, and Claudia Solti, to whom Solti had dedicated the book—says it all: “Our beloved Gyrui and Papa died, unexpectedly, in the South of France on Friday, September 5, 1997. Only hours before, he had completed the final corrections to this book. We hope it will give an insight into the most rare and wonderful of human beings, who enriched and blessed our lives beyond any words. No family could have had a more loving, generous, and wise husband and father.”

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Georg and Valerie Solti were married on November 11, 1967, and their first daughter Gabrielle was born on April 25, 1970, in London.

Such a proud moment was the birth of Solti’s first-born, that during a rehearsal break in December 1970, he shared his joy with the musicians of the Orchestra.

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Theodore Thomas

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