Lady Valerie Solti has long been a well-loved figure in the world of the Arts. Amongst her many commitments, she acts as chair of the Mariinsky Theatre Trust, is advisor to the Hungarian Cultural Centre in London, is the president of Sadler’s Wells Theatre Trust, and acts as patron of the UN’s World Orchestra for Peace. She has been involved in various fields of the arts herself, as well as having closely followed the career of her late husband, Sir Georg Solti, in latter years becoming a figurehead in her own right. She also happens to have recently been awarded the Montblanc de la Culture Patron of the Arts title. We caught up with Lady Solti to discover why she feels patronage still matters.
When it comes to understanding how difficult it can be to start out on a career in the arts, Lady Solti is by no means under any illusions as to the obstacles that can be encountered: “I know, having worked in theatre, having worked in television, having seen my husband’s life, that it’s not an easy life, as being a writer isn’t either – it’s the same thing. You have to be very realistic about it.”
After studying at RADA, Lady Solti made her debut in the West End shortly after graduating. She then went on to working for the BBC where she was an interviewer for the Arts programme. She met Sir Georg Solti whilst working at the BBC; after a chance interview with him, they married in 1967, and the rest, of course, is history.
After her husband’s death in 1997, Lady Solti created the Solti Foundation, with a clear aim in sight: to continue the work that her husband had begun: helping young musicians, providing the necessary support while they were starting out on their careers. She has steadfastly committed herself to helping out a younger generation of artists since 1997. “You don’t want to bother them – you just want to be there for them, a sort of silent person in the corner, or backstage, and see if you can help in any way.”
Pianist Lang Lang features in the long list of young people she has followed throughout their careers. “I was amazed to see his career develop as it did – it was really meteoric. I love all my chicks, my babies, because you want them to succeed,” she explains. The young pianist in fact performed at the awards ceremony, and proceeded to thank his mentor and friend for all the support she has given him since their first encounter in 1988, when he performed at the first Solti Memorial Concert.
The foundation was set up, she explains, with the clear purpose of helping out in the vital first steps of a young musician’s career, such as transport to auditions: “We only do the small things, which are so little, yet so important. If you’re a student and your parents can’t help you, or once you’ve left home, you’re on this great journey all by yourself.” This is precisely where the need for patronage comes in. Lady Solti is keen to stress the need to continue supporting art in all its forms: “I think that, in all walks of life, we’ve got to go back to helping each other, listening to each other, respecting each other,” she explains. “We must get away from this vision of art as a commodity, to realise that we can create art, we can create pleasure, we can create a feeling of cohesion, of teamwork without this enormous feeling of ‘it won’t work unless we’re spending 2 million.’”
When we leave Lady Solti, she concludes with a brief reminder about the value of the arts in everyday life: “Fundamentally, the Arts, music especially, are about sharing these sounds. You can create them anywhere! You can do them in the middle of the road. And I think that’s what we mustn’t lose sight of.”
Words / Patrick Clark