Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Maestro Who Electrifies Listeners in Concert Halls and on Recordings, Georg Solti Has Changed the Way the World Hears Classical Music

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Maestro Who Electrifies Listeners in Concert Halls and on Recordings, Georg Solti Has Changed the Way the World Hears Classical Music

Article excerpt

WHEN Sir Georg Solti receives his Kennedy Center Honor this Sunday in a ceremony at the Opera House of the Kennedy Center in Washington, it will be the fullest recognition to date of the impact this remarkable conductor has had on classical music in America.

It might at first seem strange that a musician forced out of his native Hungary by World War II, now a British subject (he was knighted in 1972), should be receiving this particular award. Even the maestro was at first surprised. "I never thought of it," he says, "because this is an American award, basically. But I am very happy about it."

From the vantage point of 1993, it is all too easy to take for granted Solti's unprecedented accomplishments during his Chicago Symphony Orchestra tenure. Within a few years after assuming the position of music director, he had restored this great orchestra and added a precision, tonal brilliance, and sense of near-infallible virtuosity that electrified the world, transforming the CSO into America's internationally acclaimed representative of New World orchestral standards.

Together, they performed a Mahler Fifth Symphony that - in the concert halls and on records - set new standards for dazzling technical display wedded to a musical sensibility of almost unbearable vitality and tension. Everywhere Solti and the CSO went, the standing ovations and delirious press reviews were almost a foregone conclusion.

In New York, the CSO's Carnegie Hall subscription series was, for a long time, the hardest ticket to acquire, and orchestra and maestro were regularly accorded ovations rare even in the more boisterous environment of an opera house. In many ways, Solti changed the way Americans, and the world, heard music either in the concert hall or on recordings, and his tenure in Chicago was the stuff of magic.

"It was a very lucky period," Solti says. "The chemistry with the Chicago Symphony was a good one - you can hear that. There are certain ground elements which we both like - the clean ensembles, the exceptional precision, the dynamic beauty going up to the extreme ends of volume. The beauty of the Chicago Symphony, I cannot repeat enough, is the tremendous desire for making good music, a tout prix! That's why they are so good."

Solti was hardly an unknown when he took over the CSO in 1969. He was already a well-established figure in European music, especially opera: At the time, he was still head of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, in London, and had also served as the head of both Munich's Bavarian State Opera (1946-1952) and the Frankfurt Opera (1952-1961). And he was a major recording star: For London Records (Decca in Europe) he had already made history with the first complete recording (accomplished over a nine-year period) of Richard Wagner's massive four-opera "Ring" cycle. …

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