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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.


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.

the vault

Theodore Thomas


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

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