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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the loss of legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who died earlier today, July 6, 2020, in Rome following complications from a fall last week. He was ninety-one.

Ennio Morricone (Tammie Arroyo photo)

Riccardo Muti, writing from Paestum, expressed that Morricone was “a maestro for whom I had friendship and admiration. I conducted his Voices from the Silence which received a very emotional response from the audience. An extraordinary musician not only for film music but also for classical compositions. Ennio Morricone will be missed as a man and as an artist.” (Last evening, Maestro Muti led a Roads of Friendship concert—dedicated to the city of Palmyra in Syria—at the Archaeological Park of Paestum, in the province of Salerno in Campania, Italy.)

Riccardo Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Morricone’s Voices from the Silence on February 6, 7, and 8, 2014. Ora Jones was the narrator and Duain Wolfe prepared the Chorus.

“It was Riccardo Muti who suggested Morricone compose a work that paid tribute to 9/11 which Muti would premiere at the Ravenna Festival,” wrote Phillip Huscher, the CSO’s program annotator. “The Ravenna Festival began its series, Roads of Friendship, in 1997, by taking concerts to crisis points around Europe and beyond, including Sarajevo, Beirut, Jerusalem, and Istanbul. Voci dal silencio (Voices from the silence) now added another city, New York—one that had only recently been thought of as a crisis point—to the list. Four years after the Ravenna premiere, Voices from the Silence was performed at the United Nations, with Morricone on the podium.

Riccardo Muti and Ennio Morricone acknowledge applause following the CSO’s first performance of Voices from the Silence on February 6, 2014 (Todd Rosenberg Photography)

Voices from the Silence is a cantata for chorus, narrator, prerecorded sounds, and orchestra. Morricone said he composed the score in response to ‘the terrorist attacks of September 11 and all the massacres of humanity all over the world.’ At the head of the score, Morricone writes: ‘Against terrorism, against racism, and all forms of ethnic persecution. For equality among all people.’ For his text, Morricone turned to a poem by the South African writer Richard Rive, who was born and raised in Cape Town’s District Six, a lively multiracial community that was condemned as a slum in 1966, bulldozed, and rezoned exclusively for whites. ‘I always feel when I am here in District Six that I am standing over a vast cemetery of people who have been moved away against their will,’ he said in 1988. ‘The legacy of District Six is to show what avarice and political bigotry can do.’ The following year, Rive was found murdered in his house near Cape Town. He had been stabbed several times and beaten in the face. A solitary man without family, Rive lives on in his highly charged writings about oppression.” (The program book is available here.)

Morricone’s music has been performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on several other occasions, as follows:

July 15, 1990, Ravinia Festival
MORRICONE Main Theme from The Untouchables
Erich Kunzel, conductor

February 25, 2005, Orchestra Hall
MORRICONE Main Theme from The Untouchables
Richard Kaufman, conductor

February 25, 2011, Orchestra Hall
MORRICONE/Mancini Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission
Richard Kaufman, conductor

June 26, 2014, Morton Arboretum
MORRICONE Main Theme from The Untouchables
Richard Kaufman, conductor

July 29, 2017, Ravinia Festival
MORRICONE/Williams Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso
James Conlon, conductor
Itzhak Perlman, violin

Tributes have been posted at the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and The New York Times, along with the composer’s website and countless other news outlets.


In addition to his incredibly vast discography, Sir Georg Solti has left behind a distinct legacy, dedicated not only to the next generations of musicians but also to music lovers.

Headquartered in Belgium, The Solti Foundation provides support to young instrumentalists and composers from all over the world, preparing to embark on international careers. On the foundation’s website, Lady Valerie Solti provides this mission: “Following his death my daughters and I established the Solti Foundation as a memorial to his life by continuing the help he gave. Graduating from a music school is a critical time—financial support comes to an end as well as pastoral care. The Solti Foundation’s aim is to assist this transition period. The small grants are not intended to replace awards and bursaries from larger institutions, they are to be used for projects such as coaching, travel to competitions and auditions, short periods of study, the hire of rehearsal facilities. A team of volunteers also provides pastoral care and career advice.”

The mission of The Solti Foundation U.S., also founded shortly after Sir Georg’s death, is “to assist talented young American musicians at the start of their professional careers. It has made annual grants to awardees since 2003. Since 2004 it has focused on helping exceptional young conductors.” Lady Solti reiterated: “Sir Georg Solti believed in a guardian angel that guided his life and he was grateful to the agents of that angel—the people who helped him at difficult times. The Solti Foundation believes that music is essential—especially during these troubled times—to healing and connecting individuals and global lives. Therefore, we are committed to realizing Sir Georg’s passion for excellence in music and extending help to further the early careers of those with exceptional talent.”

According to their website, the Georg Solti Accademia “aims to educate highly talented young singers and repetiteurs from all over the world in the art of Italian opera and song. The Accademia offers masterclasses of the highest standards in musicianship, language and dramatic interpretation, providing students with the vital bridge between the end of formal training and professional life. . . . [The] annual Georg Solti Accademia di Bel Canto takes place in the Tuscan seaside town of Castiglione della Pescaia where Solti spent his summers. The course brings together the greatest living interpreters and teachers with outstanding student singers and repetiteurs. Each summer twelve young singers receive scholarships to come to Castiglione for three weeks of intensive training in Italian music, culture and language. The Accademia has already established itself as one of the leading Italian opera courses in the world, and in 2008 added a two-week programme for repetiteurs.”

Sponsored primarily by the Alte Oper, the Frankfurt Opera House and Museum’s Orchestra, and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, the International Sir Georg Solti Conductors’ Competition seeks to discover and identify new talents. The mission statement on their website includes: “Numerous competitions are being organised for instrumentalists, ensembles, and even for composers; conductors rarely have the chance to match with their competitors. This made it an urgent need to create a forum where young talents can present themselves and receive competent assessment of the standard they have reached. The competition’s superior rank can also be found in its name: Sir Georg Solti, who led the Frankfurt Opera during 1952-1961, referred to this decade as ‘ten happy and fruitful years.’ But how is one to select? What paths does one follow in one’s search? And how does one best present one’s findings to orchestra and public alike? These considerations make the conductors’ competition more than just a qualifying contest; it also offers an opportunity for all involved to usefully gather and exchange experiences.”

The Sir Georg Solti Conducting Apprenticeship, hosted by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, invites young conductors to “apply for a two-year conducting apprenticeship. The winning candidate, chosen by an international jury chaired by Maestro Riccardo Muti, will have unique access to the CSO’s music director and to key guest conductors of the CSO. Both Riccardo Muti and his predecessor Sir Georg Solti (CSO music director 1969–91) followed the same traditional path to their conducting careers through their work in the opera house. Maestro Muti remains passionate about the importance of a conductor’s ability to rehearse with an artist at the piano. . . . As the CSO’s Conducting Fellow, the winning candidate will have invaluable access to observe and study with preeminent musical leaders. The apprenticeship offers the opportunity, over two consecutive seasons, to spend at least four weeks a year in Chicago studying with CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti, Helen Regenstein Conductor Emeritus Pierre Boulez, and other guest conductors of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.”

Founded in 1995 by Sir Georg Solti to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations and to reaffirm, in his words, “the unique strength of music as an ambassador for peace,” the World Orchestra for Peace “draws its players come from orchestras all over the world, many of them concert masters and section leaders in their own right, and the orchestra has no existence outside the very special occasions that call it into being. The orchestra is also unique in practical terms. There’s the logistical challenge of assembling everyone. The eminent players must put aside issues of status: their seating positions rotate, and the section leaders vary from work to work. Even tuning can be tricky since orchestras play at different pitches across the world. Its members do not draw a salary from it, yet return time after time to bear witness to the spirit which animates it.”

“Solti only conducted the first concert in Geneva on July 5, 1995. But this key element of his legacy has been kept alive and administered by Director and General Manager Charles Kaye, Solti’s former executive assistant, who invited Valery Gergiev to take over the baton as its conductor. In the seventeen years since—culminating in the Centenary Concert at Orchestra Hall in Chicago on Solti’s 100th birthday (October 21, 2012)—the World Orchestra for Peace has given twenty concerts in fourteen countries, with the participation of 388 players representing over seventy-five orchestras from more than sixty countries of the world.”*

And finally, in addition to the bust of Solti that resides in Grant Park, there is a small legacy here in Chicago that many of my colleagues and I walk by nearly every day. At the corner of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street and the corner of Adams and Wabash Avenue, there are honorary street signs—identifying Honorary Sir Georg Solti Place—that were dedicated on October 24, 1997. The signs serve as a small reminder to us of the musician who contributed so much to our Chicago community.

*The second paragraph of the section regarding the World Orchestra for Peace—provided by a representative from the ensemble—was added on January 24, 2013.

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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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