Orchestra struggles to fill Solti's shoes

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The Independent Online
The death of Sir Georg Solti has thrown the orchestral world into disarray. Not only has the legendary 84-year-old Hungarian conductor's passing resulted in some short-term logistical nightmares, but it has, in the longer term, left a vacuum which may not be filled for generations.

Whilst Sir Colin Davis has agreed to step in at the eleventh hour to conduct Verdi's Requiem at the Proms tonight, the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) has not yet found a stand-in for later this month when Sir Georg was due to conduct Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at its opening night at the Royal Festival Hall on 24 September.

The latter has been turned into a tribute in honour of Sir Georg with a pre-concert discussion on his life and work in the auditorium hosted by his wife, Valerie Pitts. Although celebrated conductors would jump at the chance to conduct on such an historic occasion - Sir Georg first conducted in England when making records with the LPO and was the orchestra's principal conductor between 1979 and 1983 - they are committed to conducting other concerts.

"We've got not a lot of time and we still haven't been able to name a conductor," said a spokeswoman for the LPO. "The world-wide search goes on. Obviously one wants one of the high-profile conductors and they are all terribly, terribly busy and booked up years ahead."

Looking ahead, the question is: "Who will replace the grand maestro?" In many ways, Sir Georg, who was nicknamed "the Screaming Skull" on account of his volatility in rehearsals, is irreplaceable. As Bill Holland, divisional director of Polygram classics, which owns Decca, Sir Georg's record label, put it: "His stature is so unique. He was the last of a particular breed. Along with Bernstein and Karajan, Solti was the last of the titans."

Mr Holland compared the problem of replacing Sir Georg with that of replacing the three tenors. "If you took a look around for the next three tenors, you'd really have quite a job," he said.

In his view, talent to the tune of Sir Georg will not emerge until the generation after next. He tipped the German conductor Christian Thielemann, 37, and the Russian Valery Gergiev, 44, two relative youngsters, as the most likely figures to one day fill Sir Georg's shoes. These two, he said, possess that elusive, charismatic "star appeal", and could, in time, turn into "living legends".

"If you're trying to act as a conduit between the music and the public, you're the person who reads the page and interprets it," Mr Holland said. "No matter how good or how musical your mind might be, unless you can really communicate the intentions of the composer to the listener there's something missing. All the really great conductors could make the music come alive in a very distinctive way - and Solti was one of them."