In January 1970, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its new music director traveled to New York for their first concerts together in Carnegie Hall. The concert on January 8 included Georg Solti leading Haydn’s Symphony no. 102, Bartók’s Dance Suite, and Brahms’s First Symphony; and the following evening, the program was Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder with contralto Helen Watts and the Fifth Symphony.
Solti and the Orchestra were hardly prepared for the reception following the January 9 concert. Multiple accounts reported the thunderous cheers and applause—calling Solti to the stage for twelve curtain calls—that continued even after the performers had left the stage.
“Is the Chicago Symphony the greatest orchestra in America? Stravinsky has said so, and it was impossible not to agree with him when this orchestra appeared in Carnegie Hall last Friday night in an all-Mahler program under the baton of Georg Solti,” wrote Winthrop Sargeant in The New Yorker. “Its brass section is unique in its power and beauty of tone, and its first horn player [Dale Clevenger] is a virtuoso who has a huge tone or a delicate tone—whichever you prefer—and who can hit his upper notes with exemplary accuracy. The woodwinds and strings are not far behind. There is a solid craftsmanship about the whole ensemble, which leaves the conductor nothing to do except exert his leadership and artistic ideas. The Orchestra itself is already trained in everything that pertains to technique, intonation, beauty of tone, and accuracy of attack. Add to all this a conductor of Mr. Solti’s stature (there is none greater at this moment in history), and you have an unusual treat. . . .
“Mahler’s Fifth Symphony was something of a sensation,” Sargeant continued. “There is a special brilliance and drive about Mr. Solti’s conducting that illuminate and emphasize not only large lines but details that escape one in most performances of this symphony. . . . The conclusion of the final Allegro was the occasion for the largest ovation I have seen any conductor receive since the time of Toscanini.”
In March and April 1970 at Medinah Temple for London Records, Solti and the Orchestra—collaborating in recording sessions for the first time—recorded Mahler’s Fifth and Sixth symphonies along with the Songs of a Wayfarer and selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn with mezzo-soprano Yvonne Minton.
Image above: Georg Solti and the Orchestra onstage at Carnegie Hall on January 9, 1970 (Robert M. Lightfoot III photo)