It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Yonty Solomon. Yonty was a pioneer in the public appreciation of the music of Sorabji, an important aspect of a lengthy and illustrious musical career. After graduating in both Music and Psychology from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, he studied with Myra Hess, Guido Agosti and Charles Rosen and embarked on an astonishingly varied life and career in which he excelled as performer and teacher. He performed with major orchestras throughout the world, and appeared as soloist and in partnership with many leading musicians. His career extended to the worlds of television and film, in which he acted as musical consultant on a number of productions including the movie "Madame Souzatska". He touched many lives both within and without the world of music and the arts through his friendship, generosity and kindness.
To describe him as a pianist of unique gifts is so obvious as to be redundant. Anyone who ever heard him was instantly struck by his unique sound; a combination of an apparently unlimited palette of exquisitely nuanced colour, apparently defying the limitations of the mechanics of the instrument; an absolute refusal to make an ugly sound at any dynamic level; a huge and precisely graduated range of dynamic from pianissimo down. This suggests the ideal pianist for a certain type of repertoire, of course; the languorous and perfumed nocturnes of Sorabji and their antecedents in the works of Ravel, Debussy, Szymanowski; Albeniz, Granados and a particularly colourful and detailed approach to Chopin. But his playing of Bach was equally revelatory. Far from the impressionistic washes of colour that he conjured from the keyboard with no apparent effort, his Bach was a jewelled mechanism of perfect precision; a masterpiece from the workshop of one of the great jewellers, a perfect fusion of ornamented artistry and impeccable function. He was equally at home in the grandest of Romantic repertoire; the present writer remembers especially a performance of the Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini as muscular and commandingly virtuosic as one might wish, technically as secure and as adorned with scintillating bravura as any of the young lions of the keyboard might have occasion to envy. He played the complete sonatas of Beethoven, a wide range of contemporary music, including works composed for him, and was also active as chamber musician covering the classical, romantic and contemporary repertoire.
It is probably fair to suggest that Yonty had only a fraction of the performing career that he would have had, had he pursued the way of the travelling virtuoso. Certainly he gave a generous number of concerts over many years, performing a wide and varied repertoire, and there were many broadcasts and a handful of recordings. But it was entirely typical of Yonty's generosity that it obviously meant more to him to devote a great part of his career to teaching. Undoubtedly aware of his self-worth, he nevertheless deliberately eschewed the 'vanity native to the concert platform' and any hint of self-aggrandisement in favour of working tirelessly to pass on his encyclopaedic understanding of the art and craft of the piano to his innumerable students. Individual pupils who benefitted from his insights and guidance will undoubtedly be able to offer their own tributes to his gifts as a teacher, but a frequent comment concerned his encouragement and insistence on nothing less than complete involvement in their work; it seemed to physically upset him to encounter in a student anything less than total commitment to all aspects of technical and musical understanding. To those students who responded to his demanding yet open-minded approach, he was unstinting in his encouragement and unfailingly generous with his time.
A genuinely warm and kindly man, he delighted in good company and always seemed to have time to invite acquaintances around for tea or a meal (he was an excellent cook), where they were treated as old friends, and rapidly became new friends. He kept his private life private, yet gave so generously of himself that it is hard to imagine that anybody ever felt that they knew less of him than they should. Witty, entertaining and erudite in conversation, he was loved and respected by many friends from all walks of life. He will be sadly missed and fondly remembered.
The Daily Telegraph (London) obituary: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/3198191/Yonty-Solomon.html
The Times (London) obituary: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article5033071.ece
The Guardian (London) obituary: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2008/nov/19/classical-music-yonty-solomon-obituary
The Jewish Community Online obituary: http://www.thejc.com/articles/obituary-yonty-solomon
A tribute and guest book with many recollections from Yonty's friends, colleagues and students is available at http://www.legacy.com/TimesOnline-UK/gb/GuestbookView.aspx?PersonId=118631122&PageNo=1
The current issue of International Piano carries an obituary and appreciation of Yonty's life and work by pianist Murray McLachlan