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Sir Georg Solti and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in front of Saint Basil's Cathedral in November 1990

Sir Georg Solti and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in front of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in November 1990 (Jim Steere photo)

On November 18, 1990, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra departed for a tour that would include its first concerts in Russia as well as in Sir Georg Solti’s native Hungary.

“Orchestra officials concede this trip was the toughest they have ever put together, requiring more than a year’s planning and a major solicitation,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. Quoting Solti, “I fought very hard for this tour. . . .We have the opportunity to send a message from our city, and from this orchestra, which is unparalleled by any ambassador America could send to Russia [and that] America has produced a cultural institution that is the best in the world.”

Early on November 21, Solti and the Orchestra recorded Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony at the Bolshoi Hall of the Philharmonie in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg); that evening they performed their first concert: Bartók’s Dance Suite and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. The following evening’s program featured only Bruckner’s symphony; however, the audience demanded no less than four encores, and Solti and the Orchestra obliged with Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, the second movement (Allegro) from Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and Debussy’s Festivals from Nocturnes.

Russia tour book

Traveling on to Moscow the next day, a truck hauling instruments and luggage broke an axle just outside Leningrad. “It took dozens of midnight phone calls and a full militia escort to get the instruments and performance clothes to the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory just four-and-a-half hours before the CSO was to begin playing,” reported Thom Shanker, a correspondent in the Tribune’s Moscow bureau. “As if that weren’t enough . . . students, soldiers, museum workers, and average folks lied, pushed, and flashed false passes to win their way into the hall. Fire codes were ignored as spectators filled the aisles, exits, and passageways in the balconies of the nineteenth-century concert hall.”

For the November 28 concert in Budapest, Solti led the Orchestra in an all-Bartók program: the Dance Suite, Third Piano Concerto with András Schiff, and the Concerto for Orchestra. Again, the audience demanded more: Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, Shostakovich’s Allegro, and Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger.

This article also appears here.

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Sir Georg Solti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first trip to the Soviet Union and Hungary in November 1990, also including a single stop in Vienna.

Program page for the November 24 concert in Moscow

November 21, 1990 – Bolshoi Hall of the Philharmonie, Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), Soviet Union
Saturday, November 24, 1990 – Great Hall of the Conservatory, Moscow, Soviet Union
Friday, November 30, 1990 – Musikvereinsaal, Vienna, Austria
BARTÓK Dance Suite
MAHLER Symphony No. 5

November 22, 1990 – Bolshoi Hall of the Philharmonie, Leningrad, Soviet Union
Monday, November 26, 1990 – Great Hall of the Conservatory, Moscow, Soviet Union
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 8

Wednesday, November 28, 1990 – Congress Centre, Budapest, Hungary
BARTÓK Dance Suite
BARTÓK Piano Concerto No. 3
András Schiff, piano
BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra

Solti, along with members of the Orchestra and staff, poses in front of Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square

Two recordings were made during the tour, both for London Records. The performance of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony was recorded live in Leningrad on November 22 (London’s first recording venture in the Soviet Union); Michael Haas was the producer, James Lock and Colin Moorfoot were the engineers, and Sally Drew was the tape editor. Mahler’s Fifth Symphony was recorded live in Vienna on November 30, Michael Haas was the producer, Stan Goodall was the engineer, and Matthew Hutchinson was the tape editor.

The concerts in Leningrad and Moscow were part of a cultural exchange that brought the Leningrad Philharmonic to Chicago for two weeks of subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, with Music Director Yuri Temirkanov and Associate Conductor Mariss Jansons sharing the podium:

November 13, 15, and 18, 1990
Yuri Temirkanov, conductor
TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Viktor Tretyakov, violin
TCHAIKOVSKY Manfred Symphony, Op. 58

November 16 and 17, 1990
Mariss Jansons, conductor
PROKOFIEV Excerpts from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, Op. 10
Dmitri Alexeev, piano
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64

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Theodore Thomas

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