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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.

Andrzej Panufnik acknowledges applause following the world premiere of his Symphony no. 10 in February 1990

Andrzej Panufnik acknowledges applause following the world premiere of his Symphony no. 10 in February 1990

This year we celebrate the centennial of composer and conductor Sir Andrzej Panufnik, one of Poland’s leading musicians of the twentieth century.

In February 1990, Panufnik debuted as guest conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, leading two of his works: his Concerto for Violin and Strings (with co-concertmaster Samuel Magad as soloist) and the world premiere of his Tenth Symphony, commissioned for the CSO’s centennial. On the second half of the program, Sir Georg Solti led Beethoven’s Second Symphony.

In the composer’s own words: “The commission was at once a great honor and a tremendous challenge. My first thought was to write a show-piece with virtuoso pyrotechnics to take fullest advantage of the celebrated technical possibilities of the Orchestra. However, I eventually decided that the best homage to these brilliant players would be a symphony, which, through various combinations of groups and instruments, would demonstrate their supreme sound quality, show off their collective musicianship and humanity, and their ability to convey their intense and profound feeling. . . .

“The symphony is written in one continuous movement consisting of fourteen sections. The first two have the character of an invocation. The following sections, meditative in character, build up gradually to a climax, which is suddenly cut short, leaving the vibration of the piano-strings from which emerges the prayer-like music of the last two sections.” The program page and notes are here.

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Robert Marsh wrote: “The Symphony no. 10 produces mixed impressions and would be best evaluated in a second, and more subtle, performance. This one appeared to be quite episodic, but parts of the score are quite striking, and the quiet close is very beautiful. Panufnik is deeply influenced by Stravinsky, whose spirit haunts the score, but it is Stravinsky rethought by a keen and adventurous mind” (the complete review is here).

And in the Chicago Tribune, John von Rhein surmised that since the work bore no descriptive title, the composer “apparently wishes the listener to consider it as absolute music. Yet hearing the final section—its quietly flowing strings and harp evoking a vast stillness after the jagged rhythmic exertions of the middle pages—one cannot help but think of the recent relaxation of official controls on creative artists in Poland that is allowing Panufnik to return to his homeland for the first time since his departure in 1954. The music seems to carry a fervent (if implicit) message of reconciliation . . .” (the complete review is here).

In September 1990, Panufnik did indeed return to Poland for the first time in thirty-six years, and he conducted the European premiere of his Tenth Symphony. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in early 1991.

This week, Principal Trumpet Christopher Martin is soloist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first performances of Panufnik’s Concerto in modo antico. Riccardo Muti conducts.

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In recognition for his ten years as music director of the Royal Opera,  Georg Solti was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II on March 25, 1972. The news was carried in this article from the Chicago Tribune (courtesy of ProQuest via the Chicago Public Library).

“The last two new productions I conducted during my directorship of the Royal Opera were Eugene Onegin, in February 1971, and Tristan und Isolde, in June, both directed by Peter Hall. At my last performance as music director, Birgit Nilsson took the part of Isolde. After ten years at Covent Garden, I know that it would be an emotional occasion for me and I was worried that I might become overwhelmed. But the night itself was incredibly hot and I needed all my concentration just to get to the end of the opera.

“After the performance, there was a reception in the Crush Bar, attended both by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and by the prime minister, Edward Heath, who made me an honorary Knight of the British Empire. (It had to be honorary, because at that time I was still a German citizen.) . . .

“Despite my marriage to an Englishwoman and my decade-long directorship of the Royal Opera House, every time I landed at London’s Heathrow Airport after a trip abroad I had to go through the foreigners’ immigration queue, while my family joined the queue for British subjects, which was usually shorter. After I had been made an honorary KBE, I applied for British citizenship. . . . Within a short time, in 1972, British nationality was granted to me, and I was able officially to add the title Sir to my name. . . . I have a British wife and two British daughters, and British I shall remain.”

Text excerpted from Memoirs by Sir Georg Solti.

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