Georg Solti on his Centennial

Richard S. Ginell - From Out of the The WestBy Richard S. Ginell: From Out of the West

It used to be said that among the living conductors in the 1980s, the three that were at the summit of the profession were Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein and Sir Georg Solti. They departed one by one – Karajan in 1989, Bernstein in 1990, and Solti supposedly had the mountaintop all to himself until his unexpected death in 1997. It was unexpected because even at 84, Solti seemed like an inexhaustible ball of energy; no one could imagine him being ill. And then when he died, few noticed because it happened only five days after Princess Diana was killed, with the news media focused on that event and on hardly anything else.

Sir Georg Solti credit Allan Warren

Since then, Solti has been the least celebrated of the three. For some, his pioneering studio Wagner Ring cycle – winner and still champion on my scoreboard – had become his only claim to greatness; the rest of his large legacy was dismissed as too one-dimensionally fierce and overdriven. Perhaps he simply exhausted people. I saw him conduct his Chicago Symphony six times in the 1980s, and I remember how ceaselessly physical his conducting was, seemingly beating four or eight times in a measure when twice would have been enough. But what a mighty sound Solti could get that orchestra to make; it turned many a jaded head in the hall, one way or another. I approached Mehli Mehta at one concert for his opinion, and he typically didn’t mince words. “Tremendous orchestra. Awful conductor.”