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Sir Georg Solti still on the move a decade after his passing





A memorial bust of the legendary former music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra finds a new home.

 -by Lynn Becker








“They should erect a statue to me,” is how Georg Solti testily responded, in bust of Sir Georg Soltithat unmistakable voice with its thick Hungarian accent that could rise from a guttural growl to high falsetto in the space of a single sentence, to a reporter who dared to ask why the conductor didn't seem to spend much time in this city outside of the days he was conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

If Solti felt us a bit ungrateful, there was good reason. When he was appointed music director in 1969, he took on an orchestra that was at low ebb after the reign of his predecessor, Jean Martinon, who not only had had the impossible task of following the legendary Fritz Reiner, but whose unsuccessful effort to fire principal oboist Ray Still ignited a bitter labor dispute that had split the orchestra in two, to the point where Still and first flute Donald Peck, sitting side by side, refused to speak to each other.

Under Solti, the CSO was transformed, seemingly overnight. He reincarated the virtuoso orchestra that Reiner had created and raised it to new heights. He created a sensation, with concerts that took Carnegie Hall, not to mention Vienna and Berlin, by storm, with sold out performances and rapturous, foot-stamping ovations an almost nightly occurence. In 1973, Solti made the cover of Time magazine. The bust of George Solti at Lincoln Park Conservatoryheadline? The Fastest Baton in the West.

So, if Solti asked us to erect a statue, we, of course, had no choice but to do it. In 1987, on the occasion of Solti's 75th birthday, a bust by British sculptor Dame Elisabeth Frink was dedicated on the grounds of the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Ever since (except for a brief period where, if I remember correctly, the bust was actually stolen), Solti 's visage has looked out across a broad, flower-filled garden, bursting with color in the summer months.

It was a beautiful site, but something of an exile - miles from downtown and
Orchestra Hall. That situation was remedied on a crisp beautiful day earlier this month, when the bust was rededicated at its new location, in Grant Park a block south of Symphony Center (the new official name for Orchestra Hall), just off Michigan avenue. By next year, new landscaping and gardens are expected to be in place.

bust of Georg Solti in Grant Park

The small but attentive crowd attending the ceremony included a number of CSO musicians, as well as guest conductor Paavo Jarvi, Chicago First Lady Maggie Daley, CSO President Deborah Card, Art Institute Director James Cuno, and Lady Valerie Solti.

Bob O'Neill, Deborah Card, Lady Valerie Solti

from left: Bob O'Neill, Deborah Card, Lady Valerie Solti

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Principal Violist Charles PiklerThe orchestra's Principal Viola Charles Pickler began by playing the Meditation from Massenet's opera Thais, his beautiful, clean tone cutting like a diamond into the aural clutter of the urban acoustic.

Grant Park Advisory Council President Bob O'Neill talked of taking Valerie Solti on a tour of the site "two years ago in the cold dead of winter. 'Trust me, you're going to love this,'" he told her. O'Neill related that much of the funding for project came from monies generated from Lollapalooza, the weekend rock festival held in Grant Park earlier this year. He estimated the cost of the move to be about $100,000, with another $100,000 needed to complete the gardens next year.

Card talked about going to the Solti gravesite in Budapest with a group of CSO musicians including Pikler and long-time first trumpet Adolph Herseth during last year's European tour, saying Solti's spirit remains very much alive. "He is someone we talk about each day in that building across the street."

"This is a most remarkable global city," said Valerie Solti. "I know my husband would have been so enormously happy to know he would be remembered in this way."

bust of George Solti in Grant Park

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© Copyright 2006 Lynn Becker All rights reserved.

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