Solti and New Music

I lived in Chicago from 1977 to 1989, where I frequently heard Georg Solti conduct the Chicago Symphony, and several times reviewed him and wrote about him. Around 1985, Solti held a press conference which I wasn’t present for, but a tape recording was made that I transcribed shortly afterward. Someone asked why the orchestra didn’t perform more new music. Solti responded to the effect that new music was always experimental, and that a great instrument like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra could not be used for “experiments.” This is why, in my previous blog entry, I called him an anti-new-music snob. He then continued, “And why should I conduct a symphony by Mister X when there are Haydn symphonies I haven’t conducted yet?” This is why I called him self-indulgent: his pleasure in conducting the repertoire he already loved was more important to him than his sense of responsibility toward keeping classical music a living art. Chicago’s composers (notably Ralph Shapey) were livid, and damned Solti for months in conversation and print. I remember Solti conducted (and commissioned) Lutoslawski’s Third Symphony during those years, but I remember nothing he did for any composer born as late as 1920.

So with all due condolences to the person who wrote me royally pissed off about my glancing snipe at St. Georg, my opinion stands, for the period I was familiar with and for that incident in particular, and I am entitled to it. Perhaps after I left in 1989 Solti became a heavy-metal freak and commissioned seven symphonies from John Zorn, but if so I didn’t hear about it.

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