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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, 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.



September 19, 2010 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

September 19, 2010 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

On September 19, 2010, Riccardo Muti officially began his tenure as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s tenth music director, leading a free concert in Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion. Before a crowd of more than 25,000 people, he led the Orchestra in The Star-Spangled Banner, Verdi’s Overture to La forza del destino, Liszt’s Les préludes, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, and Respighi’s Pines of Rome. Mayor Richard M. Daley had declared that day as “Riccardo Muti Day in Chicago,” and a Chicago City Council resolution launched “Festa Muti,” a monthlong festival celebrating his first residency as music director.

“It was Muti’s desire to make his first appearance as the CSO’s tenth music director by offering what he has termed ‘a gift to the people of a great city.’ He delivered and then some,” wrote Andrew Patner in the Chicago Sun-Times. “And the Orchestra itself played its collective heart as well as its legendary technical command to its outer limits. While arguments over who might be the best living conductor are not even worthwhile for a parlor game, Muti might indeed be the best conductor active today in repertoire that no longer figures in the programs of a number of other leading conductors. And a man who takes every piece seriously, who reminds his musicians that they must take every piece and every measure seriously, has much to share with his audiences.”

“What looked on paper to be a fairly routine program of standard romantic repertory was anything but routine in the execution. Muti was in superb form, and the Orchestra played its collective heart out for him,” reported John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “When, for example, was the last time you heard Verdi’s La forza del destino Overture played with such tingling electricity, such full-blooded drama? Muti has long been celebrated as today’s preeminent Verdi conductor, and this reading told you why.”

September 21, 2012 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

September 21, 2012 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

“The new music director appeared moved, even humbled, by the turnout and the ovations,” according to Patner. And at the end of the concert, Muti briefly addressed the crowd: “ ‘We will try to reach many, many people in Chicago,’ he continued. ‘But please stay very close to your great orchestra.’ He’s serious about this. The players and Chicagoans seem to be, too.”

Muti and the Orchestra returned to Millennium Park on September 21, 2012, to perform Orff’s Carmina Burana with soloists Rosa Feola, Antonio Giovannini, and Audun Iversen, along with the Chicago Symphony Chorus and the Chicago Children’s Choir; and again on September 19, 2014, for an all-Tchaikovsky program featuring The Tempest, a suite from The Sleeping Beauty, and the Fourth Symphony.

This article also appears here.

On June 11, 2015, we celebrate the centennial of Arnold Jacobs, former longtime principal tuba of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Arnold Jacobs

Jacobs was born in Philadelphia and was raised in California. The product of a musical family, he credited his mother, a keyboard artist, for his original inspiration in music and spent a good part of his youth progressing from bugle to trumpet to trombone and finally to tuba. Jacobs entered Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music as a fifteen-year-old on scholarship, where he studied with Philip Donatelli and Fritz Reiner.

After his graduation from Curtis in 1936, Jacobs played two seasons in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra under Fabien Sevitsky. From 1939 to 1944 he was the tubist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Reiner. In 1941 Jacobs toured the country with Leopold Stokowski and the All-American Youth Orchestra.

At the invitation of music director Désiré Defauw, he joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1944 and remained a member until his retirement in 1988. He appeared as soloist with the Orchestra on numerous occasions, recording Vaughan Williams’s Tuba Concerto in 1977 for Deutsche Grammophon with Daniel Barenboim conducting (re-released in 2003 on The Chicago Principal). Jacobs also was a founding member of the Chicago Symphony Brass Quintet, and along with his CSO colleagues, was part of the famous 1968 recording of The Antiphonal Music of Gabrieli with members of the Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras.

Sir Georg Solti congratulates Jacobs following his retirement ceremony on September 29, 1988

Sir Georg Solti congratulates Jacobs following his retirement ceremony on September 29, 1988

Internationally recognized as an educator, Jacobs taught tuba at Northwestern University for more than twenty years and gave master classes and lectured at clinics all over the world. He was especially known for his ability to motivate and inspire not only brass but also woodwind players and singers by teaching new breathing techniques, and many considered him the greatest tubist in the world.

Arnold Jacobs: The Legacy of a Master, a series of writings collected by M. Dee Stewart, was published in 1987 by The Instrumentalist Publishing Company, and Arnold Jacobs: Song and Wind, by his assistant Brian Frederiksen, was published in 1996 by WindSong Press.

Jacobs’s honors included the highest award from the second International Brass Congress in 1984 and honorary doctor of music degrees from VanderCook College of Music and DePaul University. In 1994 the Chicago Federation of Musicians awarded him for Lifetime Achievement at the first Living Art of Music Award Ceremony. Mayor Richard M. Daley proclaimed June 25, 1995, “Arnold Jacobs Day in Chicago” as part of the celebration of his eightieth birthday. Along with Gizella, his wife of over sixty years, he was an active member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association. Jacobs last appeared onstage at Orchestra Hall on June 7, 1998, appearing with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and guests, at a special concert celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of principal trumpet Adolph Herseth.

Jacobs died on October 7, 1998, at the age of 83, and on December 17, a special memorial program was given at Orchestra Hall. Performers included current and former members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra along with brass players from the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra, Northwestern University, DePaul University, Roosevelt University, and the VanderCook College of Music, all led by Daniel Barenboim.

In May 2001, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association announced that its principal tuba chair had been generously endowed in honor of Jacobs. The Arnold Jacobs Chair, endowed by Christine Querfeld, currently is occupied by Gene Pokorny.


On May 31, 1977, a news conference was held at Orchestra Hall to announce plans for the upcoming 1977-78 season. Recently, Sir Georg Solti had been criticized for concentrating too much on recording and touring, implying that he was “manipulating the Chicago situation purely for his own gain—financial or otherwise.”

Chicago Tribune – October 12, 1987

With humor and “more than a trace of seriousness,” Solti replied: “The city should erect a statue to me.”

Fast forward ten years.

The day following Solti’s seventy-fifth birthday concert, on October 10, 1987, a bust was dedicated in the formal gardens in front of the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Commissioned by C. Geraldine Freund—longtime generous supporter of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—the bronze bust was sculpted by Dame Elizabeth Frink.

Press coverage of the event is here and here.

Lady Valerie Solti, Deborah Rutter, Maggie Daley, and Bob O’Neill

In October 2006, the bust was moved south—closer to Orchestra Hall—in what is now Sir Georg Solti Garden in Grant Park. The statue distantly faces The Spirit of Music, a memorial to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s founder and first music director, Theodore Thomas.

The re-dedication was attended by members of the Orchestra, patrons, and staff, along with Lady Valerie Solti, Deborah F. Rutter (president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association), Maggie Daley (wife of then-Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley), and Bob O’Neill (representing the Grant Park Conservancy).

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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The opinions expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.


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