BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
As Lady Valerie Solti sat recently in Orchestra Hall—where her late husband, the towering Sir Georg, was music director for 22 years—she mused of telling Riccardo Muti, the Symphony’s tenth music director: “Your old friend is sitting up there in the celestial symphony smiling. The Symphony has never been better.”
The former BBC journalist, known for her tremendous vitality, beauty, and compassion, Lady Solti has devoted her life to pointing musicians at the start of their careers in the right direction. In addition to the recent benefit for the US foundation, which funds budding young conductors, she attends Chicago Symphony Orchestra events as an honorary trustee.
“Chicago is the world’s most vibrant city, there’s always an infusion of energy. People are just so nice and there’s always something wonderful going on.“
A whirl of friends and events for the Solti Foundation always surround Lady Solti during her annual trips to Chicago—she has visited the city every year since 1965.
When not popping in to the Windy City to see friends and do fine work for the Foundation, Valerie divides her life between London; a chalet in Switzerland; and in Italy at Roccamare, in a pine forest close to the sea. She plans to make time to for a behind-the-scenes book crafted from diaries she has kept for many years, perhaps with the title Mrs. Maestro.
But her work with young musicians comes first.
“I try to be available in London as much as I can and open my late husband’s studios to students. Before you see the diva on the stage, you see a person who needs a lot of help. It is a tenacious learning curve. For example, there is a beautiful young singer for whom Jessie Norman is her heroine. I was able to introduce them. Another young conductor was able to get into a rehearsal with Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, who heads the Mariinsky Theatre, and conductor Daniel Harding helped another young conductor find lodging.”
The Solti Foundation in the United Kingdom provides grants to two institutions: Prussia Cove in Cornwall, where students have studied with Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff; and in Italy, where master classes are provided for young singers to work with sopranos Frederica von Stade, Angela Gheorghiu, and others. In addition, over Easter vacation, the foundation funds a two-week course in Venice for future conductors.
Although she still has some of Solti’s scores from the Chicago years, which she shows to visiting conductors, the majority now resides at Harvard in its musical library.
“They offered to digitize the collection, and thus they are available to all. One young tenor went to a digitized aria and was able to see how Solti patterned the breathing.”
Although the modest Lady Solti wouldn’t want it known, she spent much time during her recent Chicago visit caring for a close friend who had been in an accident, just another sign of the truly compassionate person she is.
According to her long-time friend Biba Roesch:
“I admire her love of music but also how she loved the CSO and its musicians. She always followed their personal lives when she and the maestro were away from Chicago. She feels the same way about the young recipients of the Solti Foundation scholarships. I love her humor and wit as well.”
From Chicago, Valerie departed for Los Angeles to visit daughter Claudia and her three year-old twins. Claudia recently produced the opera “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and is a filmmaker as well. The Soltis’ other daughter, Gabrielle, specializes in early childhood education and runs a school in London. Gabrielle’s son, George, plays the trombone and the cello, but according to Valerie, loves football most of all. His sister, Amelie, plays violin.
On September 21, the Solti Foundation U.S. held its annual benefit dinner, celebrating the life of Sir Georg Solti.
Putting the seamlessly elegant evening together were event co-chairs Kay Mabie, Mary Jane Drews, and Zarin Mehta.
Following a talk by Lady Solti, the awards were presented by Solti Chair Penny Van Horn, including the major Solti Award to Karina Canellakis, Assistant Conductor of the Dallas Symphony.
Solti career assistance awards were given to Christopher Allen, Gene Chang, Ankush Kumar Bahl, Daniel Black, Joshua Gersen, Keitaro Harada, Stilian Kirov, Stefano Sarzini, Michelle Merrill, Sameer Patel, and Yaniv Dinur. On top of the monetary gifts awarded to each recipient, the Foundation has a new opera residency program to offer to the awardees, put in place to broaden these individual’s musical experience.
And, of course, the evening was filled with beautiful music. This year’s anticipated performance featured the CSO’s Lawrie Bloom and Takaoki Onishi, of the Lyric Opera’s Ryan Center. These two esteemed Chicago musicians were accompanied by the Lyric’s Betty Buccheri.
Among the evening’s 150 guests were Lyric Ryan Center Director, Dan Novak; Anthony Freud, Lyric Opera General Director, with his partner, Colin Ure; President of the Chicago Symphony, Jeff Alexander, and his wife, Keiko; Christina Rocca, Symphony Artistic Director; Mark George, Chicago Music Institute President, and his wife, Elizabeth Calhan; Tom and Ingrid McNeill; Judy and Joseph Konen; and Stephen Potter.
Since its inception twelve years ago, the Foundation has awarded grants to young conductors exceeding $400,000.
Event photos: Dan Rest