Brainchild of the outstanding conductor Sir Georg Solti, the World Orchestra for Peace was formed in 1995 at the behest of the United Nations to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its founding. The seed of this ambitious idea had been sown three years previously, at a concert to celebrate Solti’s 80th birthday at Buckingham Palace, hosted by TRH Prince Charles and Princess Diana. As well as the many stars who paid tribute to Solti, thirteen musicians from thirteen of the greatest orchestras in the world gave a performance of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll without a conductor. As Solti thanked them, he explained what had most struck him as he listened: ‘I could not escape one very essential idea. Isn’t it amazing that we musicians can produce a united Europe or more… even a united world. Why can’t the politicians?’
The World Orchestra for Peace is an orchestra put together to serve music’s highest aspirations, as an expression of harmony on all levels. In keeping with that aim, its players are the finest, drawn from top ensembles all over the world to form a truly ‘all-star’ orchestra. At the inaugural UN concert in Victoria Hall in Geneva, astonishingly every single one of the 81 players Solti had asked accepted immediately and came. They played Rossini’s William Tell Overture as a homage to Switzerland, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra to mark the 50th anniversary of the composer’s death, and the finale of Act II from Beethoven’s Fidelio, to reflect its qualities of brotherhood, liberty and humanity. It was an inspiring realisation of Solti’s vision, as he was able to declare then: ‘I am a passionate believer in peace. All my life I have been involved in revolution, both fascist and communist. It has taught me to believe passionately in peace. When we started this concert idea, I wanted to prove – which I now prove so brilliantly – we are about 40 nations in this orchestra together, [and] we live in such harmony, playing so beautifully [together], we prove that we can live in peace. I wish politicians, left and right, could do the same.’
The second occasion the orchestra was due to reassemble was for the inaugural concert of the new Festsspielhaus in Baden-Baden in 1998. Preparations were progressing well, nearly threequarters of the original Geneva players had signalled their readiness to play again when, in September 1997, Solti suddenly died.