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Sir Peter Jonas (Wilfried Hösl photo for English National Opera)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the loss of Sir Peter Jonas, the legendary British arts administrator and opera company director, who died yesterday in Munich following a long illness. He was seventy-three. Jonas was personal assistant to Sir Georg Solti from 1974 until 1977, and he served as the first artistic administrator of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1978 until 1985.

“Peter Jonas led a Helden life,” commented Lady Valerie Solti from her home in London. “He was a very special, amazing, and highly talented man—very disciplined, very dedicated, highly intellectual, and quick witted—as was shown by his incredible career. Peter was a legend and a luminary in the world of international opera, and no one had a more thorough knowledge of the repertoire and who should be performing it. There was an extraordinary brilliance about him, as an administrator and as a human being, and despite his health challenges, Peter kept going, never complained, and never gave up.”

Born in England on October 14, 1946, Jonas received his education at Worth School in Sussex, University of Paris, University of Sussex, the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, the Royal College of Music in London, and the Eastman School of Music. From 1966 until 1968 he worked with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, and in 1974 he was associated with the Chautauqua Opera before becoming personal assistant to Solti later that same year.

In October 1977, John Edwards, general manager of The Orchestral Association, announced that Jonas had been appointed artistic administrator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, effective January 1, 1978. According to a press release, “The position for which there is precedent among a number of symphony organizations in the United States and Europe is a new one for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra . . . [and Jonas] will assist the general manager and music director in programming, selection of artists, and other details of the subscription and non-subscription concerts of the orchestra in Chicago [including] arrangements for recordings and TV and for future American and overseas tour programs.”

Lucia Popp and Peter Jonas in the 1970s (Clive Barda photo)

Jonas served in this capacity until May 1985, when he became managing director of the English National Opera, succeeding Lord Harewood. From 1993 until 2006, he was intendant of the Bavarian State Opera, and he also was a patron to The Solti Foundation.

According to Martha Gilmer, who succeeded Jonas in Chicago, “Peter was, to use Berlioz’s words, a ‘firebrand.’ . . . Peter was my mentor and friend. His incredible programming vision, and his connection with the great artists all over the world enhanced the years that he was at the CSO, and of course continued with his leadership of the English National Opera and the Bavarian State Opera. His close relationship with Claudio Abbado resulted in amazing performances of Berg’s Wozzeck in a semi-staged version that I will never forget. He was responsible for bringing Carlos Kleiber to Chicago twice in amazing performances. In addition to symphonic repertoire, the Orchestra regularly performed concert opera including Solti’s performances of Verdi’s Falstaff, which also went to Carnegie Hall, and Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron.

“Peter battled cancer for all of his life. The first time I met him he shook my hand and in a characteristically Peter way said, ‘Nice to meet you, but I’m not going to be in this world for much longer.’ That was in 1977. I worked for him from 1979 until he left to run the English National Opera in 1985. He was a force of nature, loving the fight on behalf of the sustenance and the triumph of the arts. He embraced life and hiked Europe from North to South and East to West. His years in Chicago were pivotal to the Orchestra’s history, including his work with Daniel Barenboim (who would succeed Solti as music director), as well as Erich Leinsdorf, Klaus Tennstedt, and many others.” (Gilmer served the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association for thirty-five years, first as an intern in 1976 and ultimately as vice president of artistic planning and audience development. Currently, she is chief executive officer of the San Diego Symphony.)

“I know I’m speaking with Solti’s voice when I say that we were enormously proud and blessed to have known Peter and to have had his presence in our lives,” continued Lady Solti. “Another bright, brilliant light has gone out, but the memory of that light remains.”

Numerous tributes have been posted at The New York Times, The Guardian, Operawire, and Der Spiegel, among many others.

Leonard Slatkin (Nico Rodamel photo)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family wishes American conductor Leonard Slatkin a very happy seventh-fifth birthday on September 1, 2019! A frequent and favorite guest conductor, he has appeared with the Orchestra on countless occasions—in Orchestra Hall and at the Ravinia Festival—over the last forty-eight years.

At the invitation of CSO general manager John Edwards, Slatkin—in his second season as assistant conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony—made his debut in Orchestra Hall with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago on March 6, 1970, leading the following program:

SCHUBERT Overture to Rosamunde, D. 644
WAGNER Siegfried Idyll
SCHUMAN New England Triptych
FAURÉ Pelleas and Melisande, Op. 80
RESPIGHI Pines of Rome

March 6, 1970

Slatkin’s program book biography for March 6, 1970

The following year, Slatkin first led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducting two free, outdoor Symphony in the Streets concerts, one in the parking lot at Park Forest Shopping Plaza and the other at the Jubilee Celebration site in Westmont, as follows:

July 12, 1971, Park Forest, Illinois
July 21, 1971, Westmont, Illinois
BARBER Adagio for Strings
GRIEG Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46
GRIEG Ingrid’s Lament from Peer Gynt Suite No. 2, Op. 55
ROSSINI Overture to William Tell
J. STRAUSS, Jr. On the Beautiful Blue Danube, Op. 314
J. STRAUSS, Jr. Overture to Die Fledermaus
J. STRAUSS, Jr. Perpetual Motion, Op. 257
SOUSA The Stars and Stripes Forever

Also during that residency, he led the Orchestra on a children’s concert at the Ravinia Festival on July 13, conducting the following program:

IVES/Schuman Variations on “America”
SATIE/Debussy Gymnopédie No. 3
SATIE/Debussy Gymnopédie No. 1
BERLIOZ Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9
BACH/Cailliet Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578 (Little)
MUSSORGSKY/Ravel The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (Baba-Yagá), The Great Gate of Kiev, Bydło (Oxcart), and Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks from Pictures at an Exhibition
TCHAIKOVSKY Scherzo. Pizzicato ostinato: Allegro (third movement) from Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36

And on April 4, 5, and 7, 1974, Slatkin made his debut with the Orchestra on subscription concerts, with this program:

April 4, 5, and 7, 1974

PURCELL Chacony in G Minor
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony no. 6 in E Minor
PISTON Symphony No. 2
RAVEL La valse

“Leonard Slatkin, an enormously talented young American musician who will be the principal conductor of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra this summer, made his subscription concert debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Thursday night at Orchestra Hall,” wrote Robert C. Marsh in the Chicago Sun-Times. “He has at 29 all the skills and all the qualities of leadership necessary to win the respect of a great orchestra and have them play for him with enthusiasm and the fullest measure of their talent. . . . What was impressive in the manner in which Slatkin could prepare three new works [Purcell, Vaughan Williams, and Piston] and have the orchestra playing them with security and bravura as if they were repertory standards. This, plus the clarity and precision of his beat, promises good things to come . . .”

“As a result of Daniel Barenboim’s cancellation—to be with his ailing wife [Jacqueline du Pré]—Slatkin, who is associate conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony, has this week’s subscription concerts,” added Thomas Willis in the Chicago Tribune. “He has a direct, music-oriented competence which shows the thoroughness of his training and his concentration on things that matter. Conductors with more experience than he have foundered on the tempo changes in Ravel’s La valse, but he piloted the ensemble through each tempo change with an easy skill, catching the upbeats, shifting into overdrive, and pacing the rising line of apotheosis precisely.”

Slatkin leads the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists in the world premiere of Ned Rorem’s Goodbye My Fancy on November 8, 1990 (Jim Steere photo)

A staunch advocate for new music, Slatkin led the Orchestra in the world premieres of Donald Erb’s Concerto for Brass and Orchestra on April 16, 1987; Jacob Druckman’s Brangle on March 28, 1989; and Ned Rorem’s Goodbye My Fancy with mezzo-soprano Wendy White, bass-baritone John Cheek, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by Margaret Hillis) on November 8, 1990. He also led the Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Benjamin Britten’s Quatre chansons françaises with mezzo-soprano Claudine Carlson on May 19, 1983.

And most recently, he returned to the Ravinia Festival on August 7, 2019, leading the Orchestra in this program:

RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30
Denis Matsuev, piano
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Sheherazade
Robert Chen, violin

Happy, happy birthday, Maestro Slatkin!

Slatkin, Margaret Hillis, Ned Rorem, John Cheek, and Wendy White acknowledge applause on November 8, 1990 (Jim Steere photo)

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Sir Georg Solti had programmed Mahler’s Eighth Symphony for the fall of 1977, with three performances in Chicago followed by one at Carnegie Hall. After the first two concerts at Orchestra Hall, early on Saturday, October 29, Sir Georg sprained his right wrist and pulled several muscles in his back, neck, and shoulders when he tripped while exiting an elevator. Chorus director Margaret Hillis arrived at Orchestra Hall later that afternoon and was asked by general manager John Edwards and artistic administrator Peter Jonas to conduct that evening’s performance with less than three hours’ notice; she respectfully declined. Edwards then asked Hillis to lead Monday evening’s performance at Carnegie Hall, and she accepted. The Saturday Chicago concert was canceled.

Margaret Hillis and Doreen Rao (director of the Glen Ellyn Children's Chorus) receive applause following the October 31, 1977, performance in Carnegie Hall (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Margaret Hillis and Doreen Rao (director of the Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus) receive applause following the October 31, 1977, performance in Carnegie Hall (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

On Sunday afternoon, Hillis visited Solti in the hospital to discuss details of the symphony and continued analyzing the score on the plane to New York that evening. On Monday, October 31, with no opportunity to rehearse with the Orchestra and soloists and little more than an hour with the Chorus, she was quoted as saying, “Look, don’t try to help me do my job. Your job is to sing and play, mine is to keep the whole shooting match together.” She returned to her hotel room for about ninety minutes of more study and then an hour’s rest before the concert.

The New York Times, November 1, 1977

The New York Times, November 1, 1977 (see below for the complete article)

When Julius Bloom, director of Carnegie Hall, announced from the stage that Solti would not be conducting that evening’s concert, the audience was clearly disappointed by the news. But on Tuesday, Miss Hillis’s triumph was front-page news in The New York Times. Donal Henahan wrote: “Miss Hillis built her performance carefully, but she built it well. What her Mahler Eighth sometimes lacked in ‘Soltian’ fire and tension, it made up for in poise, clarity, and ethereal detail. By the last ecstatic pages she had her forces working for her and Mahler with a burning enthusiasm that radiated a fine glow over the Faustian finale.”

NYT 1
NYT 2

This article also appears here.

CSO cookbook

During the 1982-83 season, members of the Orchestra and their families, along with the Orchestral Association administrative staff, formed an organization called CODA, the Family Organization of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Their first project was a compilation of recipes organized into a cookbook and sold as a premium for the annual Marathon fundraiser that season.

Hundreds of recipes were collected from musicians and staff, including the one below for turkey dressing provided by Teresa Ameling—secretary to general manager John Edwards and still recording secretary for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association—and her husband Bill. (The cookbook also contains Margaret Hillis’s festive sweet potato pudding.)

Stay tuned for Lady Valerie Solti’s Yorkshire pudding as well as Lee and Susan Lane’s fruitcake recipes . . .

Ameling turkey dressing recipe

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In addition to his twenty-two-year tenure as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1969-1991), Sir Georg Solti held a number of notable posts with other orchestras and opera companies.

At the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in 1952, leading Wagner’s Das Rheingold

His first official post was with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, where he served as music director from 1946 until 1952. Subsequently, he was also Generalmusikdirektor and Impresario for the Frankfurt Opera from 1952 until 1961.

Shortly after his guest conducting debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1959, he was invited by Dorothy Chandler—then the chairman of the Philharmonic’s board—to become their music director beginning the following year. He accepted.

Also in 1959, following the tremendous success in a production of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, he was invited to become music director by their chairman, the Earl of Drogheda.

In Solti’s words: “To his great surprise, I explained to him that although I was honored by the offer, I did not want the job, and that my refusal had nothing to do with the salary. I had accepted the directorship of the Los Angeles Philharmonic because I felt that I had spent enough time as an opera conductor and wanted to concentrate on symphonic music, and privately, I was not certain that I would be able to do justice to both Los Angeles and London if I accepted both jobs.”

While in Los Angeles for concerts in January 1960, Solti met with Bruno Walter who insisted he take the offer from Covent Garden. Solti took Walter’s advice and telegrammed his acceptance to David Webster (general manager of the Royal Opera House). They agreed that his residence would start in the fall of 1961, one year after the beginning of his tenure in Los Angeles.

At the same time, twenty-three-year-old Zubin Mehta had been invited to be an assistant conductor in Los Angeles. For the 1961-62 season, Fritz Reiner had been engaged to guest conduct the Philharmonic, but after his heart attack in October 1960, he canceled all engagements. According to Solti: “Without consulting me, Mrs. Chandler decided that Reiner’s concerts should be given to Mehta. In June 1960, while I was in London on Covent Garden business, I received a telegram from Mrs. Chandler, saying, ‘With your kind permission I have engaged Zubin Mehta as chief guest conductor of the Philharmonic.’ I was horrified. I had nothing at all against Mehta, who was an outstandingly talented young conductor, but the fact that the chairman of my new orchestra’s board had engaged a chief guest conductor without asking my opinion was intolerable. . . . I cabled back to say that under these conditions, I was unable to honor my contract in Los Angeles.”

Receiving applause with members of the Frankfurt Opera on tour in Paris in 1959, following a performance of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro

Solti went on to serve as music director at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden from 1961 until 1971. He also served as music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for the 1961-62 season.

During Solti’s one season in Dallas, he was approached by two members of the CSO’s Orchestral Association, Eric Oldberg (chairman of the board) and Seymour Raven (general manager). Fritz Reiner had announced his retirement at the conclusion of the 1962-63 season and they were searching for a possible replacement. Solti was concerned about not being able to honor his commitment to Covent Garden and wasn’t able to accept an offer.

In 1967, new general manager John Edwards, “came to tell me that Jean Martinon, Reiner’s successor, would be leaving the orchestra the following year and to ask whether I would be willing to become music director. I was certainly willing, but I thought that the job might be too much for me, inasmuch as I was still committed to Covent Garden. I suggested sharing responsibilities with [Carlo Maria] Giulini, who had worked often in Chicago and was much liked there.” After some negotiation, it was agreed that Solti would be music director and Giulini would become the CSO’s first principal guest conductor beginning in the fall of 1969.

Solti also served as music director of the Orchestre de Paris from 1972 until 1975 and as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 1979 until 1983.

Finally, Sir Georg Solti founded the World Orchestra for Peace in 1995 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations. He only conducted the orchestra’s inaugural concert on July 5, 1995, in Geneva, Switzerland. According to Sir Georg, “I was delighted to be involved in this event, as the UN is an organization in which I firmly believe, although I wish it could have more power and be allowed to function more effectively. Fittingly, the orchestra’s seventy-nine outstanding musicians came from forty-five orchestras in twenty-four countries. We played Rossini’s William Tell Overture as a tribute to Switzerland, our host country; Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the composer’s death; and the final scene from [Beethoven’s] Fidelio, for its theme of liberation.”

Text excerpted from Memoirs by Sir Georg Solti.

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On March 27, 1997, Lady Valerie Solti visited the Rosenthal Archives. During her visit, she noticed we had a bust of Sir Georg prominently displayed in the reading room. We mentioned that we really didn’t know the provenance of the sculpture, and she was more than happy to tell us its story. One of my colleagues wrote down her comments, paraphrased below:

“One of the neighbors along the beach in Italy was a painter called Ernesto Galeffi. He lived in a little white house with his girlfriend, and often we would see them on the beach and walk together. They once invited us to go for supper in his house, which was also his studio right on the beach. During one of our many conversations, Galeffi said to Solti, ‘I am going to sculpt you.’

“At regular intervals as we sat sunning ourselves on the beach, Galeffi would appear with his camera and take photographs of Solti from every possible angle. When we left at the end of the summer, we moved back into civilian life again and forgot all about Galeffi and the sculpture. But a few months later, a large wooden box arrived in London and in it was the bust!

“We donated it to one of the early CSO fundraisers. I don’t know who bought it, but it wound up in [CSO General Manager] John Edwards‘s office. And once the archives was started, it obviously came to you. The plinth, also crafted by Galeffi, is actually a piece of driftwood from the beach in Italy.”

There are not many online references to Ernesto Galeffi (1917–1986), but there is a collection of his works at a small museum in Montevarchi, Italy.

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The composer shows the score to Mayor Harold Washington

On March 13, 1986, Sir Georg Solti conducted the world premiere of George Rochberg‘s Symphony no. 5, which had been commissioned to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the City of Chicago. The work was dedicated to Solti and the Orchestra in memory of John S. Edwards, general manager of The Orchestral Association from 1967 until 1984.


The composer was in Chicago for the premiere and contributed to the program notes: “My 5th Symphony is an intense, passionate work of an emotional scale which I hope wholly befits the city, the occasion, the conductor, and the orchestra for which it was written. It was John Edwards, long-time executive director and manager of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who originally approached me with the idea of writing such a work and I am truly sorry he is not here any longer to share these first performances with me and his colleagues.

“The character of this work is mainly chromatic with virtually no overt references to the tonal palette which most people have come to associate with my music. Its form, which derives from its general content, is unique for me, not so much because it is cast in seven sections comprising one large-scale, uninterrupted movement, but because I have tried to mix formal procedures with imagistic ones in a process of organic growth stemming from a core. . . .

The composer and Solti backstage following the world premiere

“One has to imagine a kind of constantly evolving and spiralling funnel, starting from the opening statement—the core of the work—which, as it spirals upward and outward in increasingly widening turns with each new section, gathers up ideas and materials already stated until at the Finale everything which has been previously expressed is brought together and unified.”

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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