Georg Solti was scheduled to make his U.S. debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 14, 1953. However, his visa was denied only a few days before, pending clarification of charges that his name was on the membership roster of the Soviet Friendship Association, affiliated with the Communist Party. On July 13, he appeared in Munich to sort out the details (the information that had been obtained was not a list of members of the Communist Party but simply a mailing list of people in cultural life) and his visa was granted. However, there was not time enough to travel to the United States for his Ravinia engagement. He made his U.S. debut a few months later at the San Francisco Opera on September 25, 1953, leading Strauss’s Elektra.
Solti made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra the following summer at the Ravinia Festival, leading four concerts on August 3, 5, 7, and 8, 1954. The first concert consisted of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, C.P.E. Bach’s Cello Concerto in A major with Paul Tortelier, and Beethoven’s Third Symphony. “Mr. Solti finally has arrived, and last evening led a concert worth anyone’s patience and everyone’s presence,” wrote Roger Dettmer in the Chicago American. “[Solti] led far and away the finest concert heard here in two summer seasons—a thrilling concert in actual fact.”
“These performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Ravinia were an absolute joy. I still remember the performance of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony during our first concert—the most wonderful musical experience of my professional life up to that time,” wrote Solti in his Memoirs. “I had no doubt that this was the finest ensemble I had ever conducted.”
On August 5, Solti conducted Rossini’s Overture to La gazza ladra, Hindemith’s Symphony in E-flat, Paganini’s First Violin Concerto with Ruggiero Ricci, and Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. The August 7 program began with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture followed by Brahms’s Concerto for Violin and Cello with Ricci and Tortelier, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. For the final concert on August 8, Solti led Mozart’s Symphony no. 40, Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with Jacob Lateiner (replacing an indisposed Alexander Uninsky), Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, and Strauss’s Don Juan.
Image above: Solti’s program biography for August 3, 5, 7, and 8, 1954