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August 3, 5, 7, and 8, 1954

August 3, 5, 7, and 8, 1954

Georg Solti was scheduled to make his U.S. debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 14, 1953. However, his visa was denied only a few days before, pending clarification of charges that his name was on the membership roster of the Soviet Friendship Association, affiliated with the Communist Party. On July 13, he appeared in Munich to sort out the details (the information that had been obtained was not a list of members of the Communist Party but simply a mailing list of people in cultural life) and his visa was granted. However, there was not time enough to travel to the United States for his Ravinia engagement. He made his U.S. debut a few months later at the San Francisco Opera on September 25, 1953, leading Strauss’s Elektra.

Solti made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra the following summer at the Ravinia Festival, leading four concerts on August 3, 5, 7, and 8, 1954. The first concert consisted of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, C.P.E. Bach’s Cello Concerto in A major with Paul Tortelier, and Beethoven’s Third Symphony. “Mr. Solti finally has arrived, and last evening led a concert worth anyone’s patience and everyone’s presence,” wrote Roger Dettmer in the Chicago American. “[Solti] led far and away the finest concert heard here in two summer seasons—a thrilling concert in actual fact.”

Ravinia Festival program book cover for June 29 through August 15, 1954

Ravinia Festival program book cover for June 29 through August 15, 1954

“These performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Ravinia were an absolute joy. I still remember the performance of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony during our first concert—the most wonderful musical experience of my professional life up to that time,” wrote Solti in his Memoirs. “I had no doubt that this was the finest ensemble I had ever conducted.”

On August 5, Solti conducted Rossini’s Overture to La gazza ladra, Hindemith’s Symphony in E-flat, Paganini’s First Violin Concerto with Ruggiero Ricci, and Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. The August 7 program began with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture followed by Brahms’s Concerto for Violin and Cello with Ricci and Tortelier, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. For the final concert on August 8, Solti led Mozart’s Symphony no. 40, Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with Jacob Lateiner (replacing an indisposed Alexander Uninsky), Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, and Strauss’s Don Juan.

This article also appears here and previously appeared here.

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Finally.

“My long-delayed debut with the Chicago Symphony took place at Ravinia in August 1954, two years [sic] later than originally planned. In one of the concerts, the violinist Ruggiero Ricci and the cellist Paul Tortelier played the Brahms Double Concerto, but as a result of the intense humidity in the park, Tortelier’s bow slipped during the cello’s opening cadenza. He stopped, shook his head, and kept on repeating, ‘No good, no good,’ until we started again.

“These performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Ravinia were an absolute joy. I still remember the performance of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony during our first concert—the most wonderful musical experience of my professional life up to that time. The orchestra’s music director was another Hungarian, Fritz Reiner, who, along with George Szell in Cleveland, Antal Dorati in Dallas, and Eugene Ormandy in Philadelphia, was one of the Hungarian conductors who helped build the excellence of today’s modern American orchestras. Even more than the much-feared Szell, Reiner was infamous among orchestra musicians for his dictatorial behavior. But he did marvelous things for the Chicago Symphony. Despite the imperfect acoustical environment of Ravinia at that time, I had no doubt that this was the finest ensemble I had ever conducted.”*

Reviews from the Chicago Tribune of three of the performances are here, here, and here.

August 3, 1954

August 5, 1954

Original program for August 7, 1954 (see below)

Original program for August 8, 1954 (see below)

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Of course, things rarely go as originally planned. Alexander Uninsky canceled due to illness and was replaced by Jacob Lateiner for the August 8 program, also performing Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony switched concerts, along with Mozart’s G minor symphony and Strauss’s Don Juan. And Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was unfortunately dropped altogether.

*Text excerpted from Memoirs by Sir Georg Solti. Reviews courtesy of Proquest via the Chicago Public Library.

Note: Post was revised on August 14, 2012, to include the program insert further detailing changes to the August 7 and 8 concerts.

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