The Kennedy Center

Georg Solti


Georg Solti
(conductor, born October 21, 1912, Budapest, Hungary; died September 5, 1997) Few conductors in our country have inspired the sort of legend that surrounds Sir Georg Solti. His extraordinary performances of Beethoven, Wagner, Verdi, Mahler, and Strauss are revered on disc and treasured in memory. Sir Georg was the first to record Wagner's monumental Ring of the Nibelungs. He has won more Grammys and Grand Prix du Disque than any other conductor. His staggering achievements with two of the world's outstanding arts organizations--at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and London's Royal Opera at Covent Garden--have made him a colossal force on both sides of the Atlantic as well as in the surprisingly different worlds of operatic and orchestral music.

It was in Chicago that musical history was made. Solti's "Chicago sound" become a synonym for excellence. The big, decisive, exciting style--perhaps inspired by the "City of Big Shoulders" itself--was instantly recognizable. Under his direction of 22 years (from 1969 to 1991), the Chicago Symphony made more than 50 recordings, countless triumphant tours, and all the world took notice. "The central feature of the Solti-Chicago success was the sheer stunning quality of the playing, which few other groups could rival. For many listeners there suddenly seemed something new under the sun: an orchestra that could grasp those huge complex works whole and with remarkably sustained virtuosity and power, render them as gleaming monolithic units, seemingly perfect in every detail and cumulatively overwhelming" (The New York Times).

He began studying piano at six, made his first public appearance in Budapest at 12, and studied with Dohnanyi, Kodaly, and Bartok at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. His conducting debut, a brilliant performance of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at the Budapest Opera, was on March 11, 1938--the very night Hitler sent his armies across the Austrian border. A year later, Solti left his homeland for Switzerland, giving piano recitals there throughout the war years.

With the end of the war came the resumption of his conducting career--in Germany--and under his guidance, the Munich State Opera rose from the rubble and was restored to its eminent standing. In the 1950s, his conducting reputation flourished with major engagements around the world--Frankfurt for nine years and 44 new productions beginning in 1952; a debut at Edinburg also in '52; a 1953 U.S. debut in San Francisco with Elektra; a Glyndebourne debut in 1954; and a Metropolitan Opera debut in 1960 with Tannhauser.

In 1961 he promised to make Covent Garden, whose standing had declined in the postwar years, one of the great opera companies of the world. Ten years later, his job there was complete (his British knighthood, no doubt, largely a reward for keeping his promise).

Simultaneously, he made an impact around the world through his many recordings (a 1980s collected edition counted more than 200 LPs). Always a man of the theater, he pioneered development in the use of stereo techniques to simulate the theatrical dimensions of opera, brilliantly rendered in the definitive recording of Salome with Birgit Nilsson and culminating with the historic Ring of 1965.

He then switched his attention to the symphony orchestra--with a vengeance--taking concurrent major positions with the Chicago Symphony ('69), L'Orchestre de Paris ('70), and London Philharmonic ('71).

"Although many orchestras have tried to steal the fire of Solti and the Chicago Symphony, no one has yet come close. No combination has captured the public imagination in any such intense and lasting fashion" (The New York Times).
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