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Sir Georg Solti (Yousuf Karsh photo)

As the summer of 1997 drew to a close, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association was putting the finishing touches on Symphony Center, culminating a three-year, $120 million project. To celebrate the renovation of Orchestra Hall and facilities expansion, a three-week festival was planned that included gala concerts and the first Day of Music, twenty-four hours of free, live performances across all genres in multiple Symphony Center venues.

One of the gala concerts was scheduled for Saturday, October 25, with Music Director Laureate Sir Georg Solti leading the Orchestra in an all-Beethoven program: the Seventh Symphony and the Emperor Piano Concerto with Music Director Daniel Barenboim as soloist. The concert would celebrate not only Solti’s 85th birthday (October 21, 1997) but also his 1,000th concert with the Orchestra. In November, he was scheduled to return for two weeks of subscription concerts, leading Ives’s Decoration Day, Schumann’s Symphony no. 3, and Mendelssohn’s Symphony no. 3, along with a full program of choruses from Wagner’s operas with the Chicago Symphony Chorus, to be recorded live by London.

Over the Labor Day holiday weekend, the world had been rocked with the news of the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, on Sunday, August 31. Barely a week later on the morning of September 5 (the day before Diana’s funeral), news outlets reported the death of Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India. And late that same evening, we heard the unthinkable. While on holiday with his family in Antibes, France, Sir Georg Solti had taken ill and died peacefully in his sleep.

Michigan Avenue entrance of Orchestra Hall on September 6, 1997 (Marilyn Arado photo)

“I had just returned hours earlier from Europe, where I was working with Daniel Barenboim on Solti’s 85th birthday celebration concert,” remembered Martha Gilmer, former vice president for artistic planning. After confirming with Charles Kaye, Solti’s longtime assistant, she called Barenboim in Bayreuth, waking him to relay the news.

“I was stunned,” recalled Henry Fogel, then president of the CSO Association. The following morning, senior staff met to determine how to proceed with the plans for the festival, among several other issues. As some of them approached the entrance, “We were very touched because when we came to Orchestra Hall, one person had left a bouquet of flowers at the Michigan Avenue entrance.”

Daniel Barenboim leads Mozart’s Requiem on October 22, 1997 (Jim Steere photo)

The festival would continue mostly as planned. The Symphony Center inaugural gala opened with Barenboim leading Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, performed in Solti’s memory. A special, free memorial concert was added on October 22 with Barenboim leading Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, followed by Mozart’s Requiem with Emily Magee, Anna Larsson, John Aler, René Pape, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus, prepared by Duain Wolfe.

Richard L. Thomas receives one of Solti’s batons from Lady Valerie Solti on October 25, 1997 (Jim Steere photo)

The program for the celebration concert on October 25 changed slightly, and Barenboim led Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto from the keyboard along with the Seventh Symphony. At the beginning of the concert, Lady Valerie Solti presented Richard L. Thomas (chairman of the CSO Association from 1986 until 1991) with one of Solti’s batons.

A special commemorative program book for the memorial and celebration concerts was prepared, and it included tributes from President Bill Clinton, Illinois governor Jim Edgar, and Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, along with Solti’s colleagues from all over the world, members of the Orchestra, and administrative staff. (The program book is available here.)

The block of Adams Street between Michigan and Wabash avenues was named honorary Sir Georg Solti Place on October 24, 1997. The following spring (just before the beginning of the fifteenth European tour with concerts in Paris and Berlin), a small contingent of Orchestra family traveled to Budapest for a ceremony on March 28, 1998, in which Solti’s ashes were interred next to the grave of his teacher, Béla Bartók. During the ceremony, Charles Pikler, then–principal viola, performed Ravel’s Kaddish.

Fogel continued, “One thought that I did keep having was how sad it was that Maestro Solti would never see the renovated hall, with which I believe he would have been thrilled.”

“Solti, so vibrant, such energy, such magnetism, such a life force,” added Gilmer. “It was impossible to believe that it ended so quietly and in a place so far away. . . . He was a young 84-year-old and what occurred to all of us is that we had all been robbed of wonderful musical memories that were yet to be made.”

This article also appears here.

On July 21, 2020, we commemorate the centennial of legendary Russian-born American violinist Isaac Stern.

Stern first appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on January 11 and 12, 1940, in Orchestra Hall. Second music director Frederick Stock conducted an all-Sibelius program, and nineteen-year-old Stern was soloist in the Violin Concerto.

According to the Chicago Daily News, “Dr. Frederick Stock had been invited to conduct the Sibelius concert with the Helsingfors Orchestra [arranged when Stock visited Sibelius in Finland the previous summer] as a special feature of the Olympic Games.* But Finland has had to abandon peacetime pursuits and now Isaac [Stern] can thank the Russian regime for both his American citizenship and the chance to play the Sibelius D minor concerto with one of the world’s great orchestras.”

“True to the topsy-turvy condition of the world we live in, while the Finns are playing havoc with the Russians, at home a Russian-born violinist, young Isaac Stern, was the sensation of Mr. Stock’s memorable Sibelius concert at Orchestra Hall last night,” wrote Claudia Cassidy in the Journal of Commerce. “[Stern] has a commanding and comprehensive technique, a bold and beautiful tone never blatant and he has an urgent intensity of projection that seems to start in his firmly planted heels and flow like fire into the hands that make his music. . . . Stock’s accompaniment was brilliant in the perceptive richness that makes so many soloists prefer him to any other conductor.”

January 11 and 12, 1940

November 27 and 28, 1941, Orchestra Hall
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Hans Lange, conductor

November 9, 1943, Orchestra Hall
PAGANINI Allegro maestoso from Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 6
Hans Lange, conductor

November 11 and 12, 1943, Orchestra Hall
SZYMANOWSKI Concerto in One Movement, Op. 61
RAVEL Tzigane
Hans Lange, conductor

July 15, 1948, Ravinia Festival
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Fritz Busch, conductor

July 18, 1948, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Fritz Busch, conductor

December 14, 1948, Orchestra Hall
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19
Tauno Hannikainen, conductor

March 31 and April 1, 1955, Orchestra Hall

December 16 and 17, 1948, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Eugene Ormandy, conductor

December 12, 1950, Orchestra Hall
LALO Symphonie espagnole in D Minor, Op. 21
Rafael Kubelík, conductor

December 14 and 15, 1950, Orchestra Hall
December 18, 1950, Pabst Theater, Milwaukee
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Rafael Kubelík, conductor

July 26, 1952, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Otto Klemperer, conductor

July 31, 1952, Ravinia Festival
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Otto Klemperer, conductor

March 19 and 20, 1953, Orchestra Hall
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Rafael Kubelík, conductor

March 24, 1953, Orchestra Hall
VIEUXTEMPS Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 31
Rafael Kubelík, conductor

March 31 and April 1, 1955, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Fritz Reiner, conductor

April 12, 1955, Orchestra Hall
TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Fritz Reiner, conductor

August 5, 1955, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Enrique Jordá, conductor

July 2, 1959, Ravinia Festival

August 6, 1955, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor, Op. 102 (Double)
Leonard Rose, cello
Enrique Jordá, conductor

November 22 and 23, 1956, Orchestra Hall
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19
Fritz Reiner, conductor

November 27, 1956, Orchestra Hall
WIENIAWSKI Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22
Fritz Reiner, conductor

July 13, 1957, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Pierre Monteux, conductor

July 14, 1957, Ravinia Festival
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Pierre Monteux, conductor

October 28, 1958, Orchestra Hall
BRUCH Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26
Fritz Reiner, conductor

October 30 and 31, 1958, Orchestra Hall
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63
Fritz Reiner, conductor

June 30, 1959, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Pierre Monteux, conductor

July 2, 1959, Ravinia Festival
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Pierre Monteux, conductor

Isaac Stern (William T. Haroutounian photo)

March 31 and April 1, 1960, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Romance for Violin in F Major, Op. 50
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216
Fritz Reiner, conductor

April 13 and 14, 1961, Orchestra Hall
BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 2
Fritz Reiner, conductor

August 1, 1961, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Izler Solomon, conductor

August 3, 1961, Ravinia Festival
BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 1
VIOTTI Violin Concerto No. 22 in A Minor
Izler Solomon, conductor

March 1, 2 and 3, 1962, Orchestra Hall
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Major, K. 207
BARTÓK Rhapsody No. 1
Jean Martinon, conductor

January 24, 25 and 26, 1963, Orchestra Hall
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Josef Krips, conductor

June 29, 1965, Ravinia Festival
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
Seiji Ozawa, conductor

Claudio Abbado, Martha Gilmer, Yo-Yo Ma, and Isaac Stern onstage at Orchestra Hall during recording sessions for Brahms’s Double Concerto in November 1986 (Jim Steere photo)

July 1, 1965, Ravinia Festival
BRUCH Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26
Seiji Ozawa, conductor

July 3, 1965, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor, Op. 102 (Double)
BEETHOVEN Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano in C Major, Op. 56 (Triple)
Leonard Rose, cello
Seiji Ozawa, piano and conductor

March 31, April 1, and 2, 1966, Orchestra Hall
DVOŘÁK Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53
Seiji Ozawa, conductor

January 19, 20 and 21, 1967, Orchestra Hall
HINDEMITH Violin Concerto
Jean Martinon, conductor

February 13 and 14, 1969, Orchestra Hall
MOZART Rondo in C Major, K. 373
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19
Irwin Hoffman, conductor

October 2 and 3, 1969, Orchestra Hall
October 6, 1969, Pabst Theater, Milwaukee
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor

April 15, 16, and 17, 1971, Orchestra Hall
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
Georg Solti, conductor

November 22, 24, and 25, 1972, Orchestra Hall
December 9, 1972, Carnegie Hall
BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 2
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

April 10, 11, and 12, 1975, Orchestra Hall
ROCHBERG Violin Concerto and Orchestra
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

July 31, 1976, Ravinia Festival
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Andrew Davis, conductor

March 2, 3, and 4, 1978, Orchestra Hall
March 6, 1978, Pabst Theater, Milwaukee
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor

March 28, 29, and 30, 1985, Orchestra Hall
BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 2
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

November 5 and 7, 1986, Orchestra Hall
MOZART Sinfonia concertante for Violin and Viola in E-flat Major, K. 364 (performed by violin and cello)
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Claudio Abbado, conductor

Isaac Stern and music director designate Daniel Barenboim following the Centennial Gala concert on October 6, 1990 (Jim Steere photo)

November 6 and 8, 1986, Orchestra Hall
BRAHMS Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor, Op. 102 (Double)
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Claudio Abbado, conductor
Recorded in Orchestra Hall on November 7 and 8, 1986. For CBS Masterworks, Bud Graham was the control engineer, Tom MacCluskey was the editing engineer, and Tim Geelan was the post-production engineer.

October 6, 1990, Orchestra Hall (Centennial Gala)
MOZART Rondo in C Major, K. 373
Leonard Slatkin, conductor

May 23, 24, 25, and 28, 1991, Orchestra Hall
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

September 16, 1992, Orchestra Hall
BRUCH Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

October 1, 2, and 3, 1992, Orchestra Hall
BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 1
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

Under the auspices of Allied Arts and Symphony Center Presents, Stern also appeared in recital and with ensembles on several occasions in Orchestra Hall, as follows:

Program book advertisement for the November 19, 1969, Allied Arts concert in Orchestra Hall

November 14, 1948
Alexander Zakin, piano

October 8, 1950
Alexander Zakin, piano

March 2, 1958
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
National Symphony Orchestra
Howard Mitchell, conductor

June 1, 1963
Alexander Zakin, piano

April 5, 1964
Alexander Zakin, piano

November 27, 1966
Leonard Rose, cello
Eugene Istomin, piano

May 5, 1968
Leonard Rose, cello
Eugene Istomin, piano

April 27, 1969
Leonard Rose, cello
Eugene Istomin, piano

November 18, 1969
Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Zakin, piano

May 17, 1970
Leonard Rose, cello
Eugene Istomin, piano

February 14, 1971
Alexander Zakin, piano

Program book advertisement for the November 19, 1969, Allied Arts concert in Orchestra Hall

November 4, 1979
David Golub, piano

March 26, 1990
DUTILLEUX L’arbre de songes
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
David Zinman, conductor

December 9, 1990
Jaime Laredo, viola
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Emanuel Ax, piano

April 18, 1993
Cho-Liang Lin, violin
Jaime Laredo, viola
Michael Tree, viola
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Sharon Robinson, cello

December 8, 1996
Philip Setzer, violin
Lawrence Dutton, viola
Lynn Harrell, cello
Yefim Bronfman, piano

February 25, 1998
Jaime Laredo, viola
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Emanuel Ax, piano

*On July 16, 1938, a year after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, it was announced that the 1940 Summer Olympics would not be held in Tokyo, as originally scheduled. The International Olympic Committee then awarded the games to Helsinki, the runner-up city in the original bidding process. However, following the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939, the Olympic Games were indefinitely suspended and did not resume until 1948.

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.

Sir Georg Solti (Yousuf Karsh photo)

As the summer of 1997 drew to a close, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association was putting the finishing touches on Symphony Center, culminating a three-year, $120 million project. To celebrate the renovation of Orchestra Hall and facilities expansion, a three-week festival was planned that included gala concerts and the first Day of Music, twenty-four hours of free, live performances across all genres in multiple Symphony Center venues.

One of the gala concerts was scheduled for Saturday, October 25, with music director laureate Sir Georg Solti leading the Orchestra in an all-Beethoven program: the Seventh Symphony and the Emperor Piano Concerto with music director Daniel Barenboim as soloist. The concert would celebrate not only Solti’s 85th birthday (October 21, 1997) but also his 1,000th concert with the Orchestra. In November, he was scheduled to return for two weeks of subscription concerts, leading Ives’s Decoration Day, Schumann’s Symphony no. 3, and Mendelssohn’s Symphony no. 3, along with a full program of choruses from Wagner’s operas with the Chicago Symphony Chorus, to be recorded live by London.

Over the Labor Day holiday, the world had been rocked with the news of the tragic death of Princess Diana on Sunday, August 31. The day before her funeral on September 5, news outlets began to report the death of Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India. And late that same evening, we heard the unthinkable. While on holiday with his family in Antibes, France, Sir Georg Solti had taken ill and died peacefully in his sleep.

Michigan Avenue entrance of Orchestra Hall on September 6, 1997 (Marilyn Arado photo)

“I had just returned hours earlier from Europe, where I was working with Daniel Barenboim on Solti’s 85th birthday celebration concert,” remembered Martha Gilmer, former vice president for artistic planning. After confirming with Charles Kaye, Solti’s longtime assistant, she called Barenboim in Bayreuth, waking him to relay the news.

“I was stunned,” recalled Henry Fogel, then president of the CSO Association. The following morning, senior staff held a meeting to determine how to proceed with the plans for the festival, among several other issues. As some of them approached the entrance, “We were very touched because when we came to Orchestra Hall, one person had left a bouquet of flowers at the Michigan Avenue entrance.”

Daniel Barenboim leads Mozart’s Requiem on October 22, 1997 (Jim Steere photo)

The festival would continue mostly as planned. The Symphony Center inaugural gala opened with Barenboim leading a performance of Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, performed in Solti’s memory. A special, free memorial concert was added on October 22 with Barenboim leading Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, followed by Mozart’s Requiem with Emily Magee, Anna Larsson, John Aler, René Pape, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus, prepared by Duain Wolfe.

Richard L. Thomas receives one of Solti’s batons from Lady Valerie Solti on October 25, 1997 (Jim Steere photo)

The program for the celebration concert on October 25 changed slightly, and Barenboim led Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto from the keyboard along with the Seventh Symphony. At the beginning of the concert, Lady Valerie Solti presented Richard L. Thomas (chairman of the CSO Association from 1986 until 1991) with one of Solti’s batons.

A special commemorative program book for the memorial and celebration concerts was prepared, and it included tributes from President Bill Clinton, Illinois governor Jim Edgar, and Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, along with Solti’s colleagues from all over the world, members of the Orchestra, and administrative staff. The program book is available here.

The block of Adams Street between Michigan and Wabash avenues was named honorary Sir Georg Solti Place on October 24, 1997. The following spring (just before the beginning of the fifteenth European tour with concerts in Paris and Berlin), a small contingent of Orchestra family traveled to Budapest for a ceremony on March 28, 1998, in which Solti’s ashes were interred next to the grave of his teacher, Béla Bartók. During the ceremony, principal viola Charles Pikler performed Ravel’s Kaddish.

Fogel continued, “One thought that I did keep having was how sad it was that Maestro Solti would never see the renovated hall, with which I believe he would have been thrilled.”

“Solti, so vibrant, such energy, such magnetism, such a life force,” added Gilmer. “It was impossible to believe that it ended so quietly and in a place so far away. . . . He was a young 84-year-old and what occurred to all of us is that we had all been robbed of wonderful musical memories that were yet to be made.”

Decca Classics is releasing a 108-CD set of Sir Georg Solti’s entire catalog with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in the United States on September 15, 2017. It can be pre-ordered here.

During Sir Georg Solti‘s tenure as eighth music director (1969–1991) and music director laureate (1991–1997), he and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus amassed an astonishing discography. Decca Classics—to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Solti’s death—is releasing a set of these complete recordings in a 108-CD boxed set.

“Recording with the Chicago Symphony was the fulfillment of Solti’s dreams and ambitions, to be able to record for posterity the ephemeral quality and emotions of a performance by this world-class ensemble,” writes Lady Valerie Solti in the accompanying book. “The orchestra were enthusiasts, hard workers, and brilliant musicians who were as eager as Solti to make first-class records and to create for the future a lasting document, a legacy of their wonderful relationship, a collaboration which won worldwide acclaim and unparalleled Grammy awards.” The 180-page hardcover book also includes articles by mezzo-soprano Yvonne Minton; producer and author Humphrey Burton; Martha Gilmer, who served as the Orchestra’s vice president for artistic planning during the latter half of Solti’s tenure; and CSO archivist Frank Villella; along with previously unpublished images from recording sessions.

The range of repertoire is vast: complete cycles of symphonies by Beethoven (twice, see here and here), Brahms, Bruckner, and Mahler (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here); Beethoven’s piano concertos; world premieres of Del Tredici’s Final Alice and Tippett’s Symphony no. 4 and Byzantium; complete operas including Beethoven’s FidelioSchoenberg’s Moses und AronVerdi’s Otelloand Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The set also includes hallmarks of the choral repertoire, featuring the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by directors Margaret Hillis and Duain Wolfe) performing Bach’s Mass in B minor and Saint Matthew PassionBeethoven’s Missa solemnisBerlioz’s The Damnation of FaustBrahms’s A German Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s The Creation (twice) and The Seasons, Shostakovich’s Babi Yar Symphony, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, and Verdi’s Requiem, plus many more works by these composers along with Bartók, Berg, Debussy, Dohnányi, Dvořák, Kodály, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Ravel, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and Weiner.

Solti leads the Orchestra in a recording session for Mahler’s Symphony no. 3 in November 1982 in Orchestra Hall (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)

Solti wrote in his Memoirs, “My term as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was the happiest time in my professional life . . . the fulfillment of my dreams, but at the same time, it was a new learning experience for me, a master class in musical directorship.” This set is a testament to that remarkable partnership.

The set releases in the United States on September 15, 2017, and is available here.

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McBurney

Gerard McBurney (Dan Rest photo)

On November 13, 2005—under the leadership of Martha Gilmer, vice president of artistic administration, and composer and writer Gerard McBurney—the Chicago Symphony Orchestra launched Beyond the Score with an in-depth analysis followed by a complete performance of Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben. Daniel Harding conducted.

“The introduction deftly mixed vintage photos projected onto a huge overhead screen, excerpts from Strauss’s letters, commentary from his contemporaries, and short excerpts from the tone poem itself,” wrote Wynne Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times. “The pacing was seamless, the information on Strauss and his era coming in easily digestible but never watered-down nuggets. When the CSO played the entire work straight through after intermission, the large audience couldn’t help but feel like newly minted connoisseurs. Enjoying subtleties well below the surface beauties of Strauss’s tone poem, they were attentive, at times rapt. McBurney and his colleagues at the CSO succeeded brilliantly with the most difficult aspect of these kinds of programs: keeping the focus on the music.”

In May 2006, McBurney officially joined the staff of the CSOA as artistic programming advisor. Since then, the Beyond the Score concept evolved into freer and more vivid presentations and collaborations with a wide variety of art collections, scholars, libraries, folk musicians, and actors from all over the world.

A Pierre Dream

A Pierre Dream, November 14, 2014 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Highlights of the series have included thorough analyses of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Holst’s The Planets, and Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony. Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead and Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde were presented as seamless dramatizations, and Pierre Boulez led Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin and closely advised on Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire. Concertmaster Robert Chen was featured in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade; and Gwendolyn Brown, an alumna of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center, performed Negro spirituals as part of Dvořák’s New World Symphony. In 2014, McBurney—collaborating with architect Frank Gehry—presented a special and comprehensive examination of music by Pierre Boulez.

This article also appears here.

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