The Muti Era Begins in Chicago
By Barbara Sealock
A bold new era is underway at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with the arrival of Maestro Riccardo Muti as the Orchestra’s tenth music director.
Muti’s much-anticipated tenure bodes well for the CSO, its mission, reach, and direction. Outlining a “fresh approach to programming in general,” the maestro will bring wide appeal and vibrant change to Symphony Center and beyond.
No stranger to Chicago, Riccardo Muti made his debut with the CSO at Ravinia in 1973 and was resident conductor in 2007 for a month-long series of subscription concerts, a sold-out opening night, and a triumphant European tour, during which time he had the opportunity to get to know members of the orchestra and staff as “members of an extended family.”
Early on, Muti appointed world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma to the newly created position of Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant, which began in January 2010. The appointment of Ma as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first creative consultant is a cornerstone of Muti’s vision for the CSO: to collaborate with visionary artists in order to create unparalleled musical experiences.
Yo-Yo Ma and Evgeny Kissin will have residencies spanning both the CSO subscription and Symphony Center Presents series. Among other plans are multi-cultural initiatives, outreach to the Chicago community, programs for incarcerated and at-risk youth, and live performances in schools. A European tour is projected for 2011 and a Carnegie Hall performance is scheduled for April.
The new International Chicago Symphony Orchestra Sir Georg Solti Conducting Competition and Apprenticeship will be launched this season, offering a conductor at the start of his or her career the opportunity to come to Chicago to study and train with Riccardo Muti and other distinguished guest conductors. The selection of an apprentice will be made through a competitive process, and applications are currently being accepted.
A month-long inaugural celebration opens with “Festa Muti: Concert for Chicago” at Millennium Park on September 19, with pre-concert performances by Chicago area youth musicians beginning at 4:30 p.m. Free concerts, open rehearsals, community events and subscription programs will be presented throughout the month. A Gala Ball and concert featuring Anne-Sophie Mutter as guest soloist will be held at Symphony Center and Millennium Park on October 2.
The first CSO recording of Muti’s tenure—a poignant and powerful live performance of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem—will be released September 28 in the U.S. on the CSO’s Grammy-winning label, “Resound.” Featured vocalists are Barbara Frittoli, Olga Borodina, Mario Zeffiri, and Ildar Abdrazakov.
Program innovation will be evident at A Berlioz Spectacular, September 23-25 and 28. Featuring Symphonie Fantastique not as the stand-alone work it is generally perceived to be but paired with Lelio, its companion piece, the performance will be narrated by renowned French actor Gérard Depardieu. “The two works belong together in performance, as the composer intended,” Muti said.
In collaboration with 50 Chicago cultural organizations, the CSO will celebrate Mexico 2010 as part of a citywide celebration honoring the bicentennial of the Mexican independence and the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. Performances will include Carlos Chávez’s Sinfonía India and the world premiere of Bernard Rands’ Danza Petrificada, incorporating Mexican folk music and rhythms and inspired by the words of Mexican poet Octavio Paz.
A tribute to Chavela Vargas will be offered on October 15 as part of the Symphony Center Presents series, featuring flamenco vocalist Bulka from the island of Mallorca, Spain, and native Oaxacan singer Lila Downs, whose exotic style draws on music from bolero, corridor and ranchera, blues, jazz, and opera.
New Music will occupy a prominent place in the upcoming season. Anna Clyne’s «rewind« and Mason Bates’ The B-Sides will be performed by the CSO and led by Muti in celebration of Bates’ and Clyne’s first season as CSO Mead Composers-in-Residence. “Mason Bates and Anna Clyne will not only shine a new light on the artistic excellence of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra but also will place a special importance on the human element of cultural exchange and further define what an orchestra’s role should be in its community,” said Deborah F. Rutter, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association.
The CSO will perform four commissioned works by Osvaldo Golijov, Bernard Rands, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Esa-Pekka Salonen, and will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Luigi Cherubini with rare performances of his Requiem in C Minor.
Muti will lead the CSO in Verdi’s “Otello” next spring in Chicago and on April 15 at Carnegie Hall. “Otello” is not heard enough, and opera teaches musicians to ‘play singing,’ almost like imitating the voice,” Muti said. “It gives the orchestra the opportunity to become more subtle, more nuanced. Most conductors don’t know anything about voices. Otello is one of the most fantastic scores written in the 19th century. The great conductors of the past came from the opera: Klemperer, Toscanini, Mahler, and others.”
Given the CSO’s existing high level of attunement, he observed that “A great orchestra, with the right leadership, can be more finely nuanced and brought to an even higher standard.” The maestro noted that Americans like to use the word “vision” when speaking of future plans, “whereas in Italy, the word ‘vision,’ usually refers to a saint. Unlike a saint,” he said, “my vision is not going to go away. In music—as in love, as in life—things that are done abruptly are not done well. All of this will take time.”
“Having worked with Muti for over 25 years, I never cease to be astounded by his passion, intellect, force of will and physical vitality,” said Yo-Yo Ma. “He not only cares deeply about the music and the score, but he’s tremendously concerned about the health of our planet, our children, and the least fortunate among us."
“What I’m excited about Maestro Muti is the incredible chemistry he has with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, certainly one of the greatest cultural institutions on our planet. Together, their chemistry and imagination and creativity will certainly set the musical world on fire.”
“Personally, I am thrilled, honored, and humbled at the prospect of working with the entire staff and musicians of the CSO.”
“The start of Riccardo Muti’s tenure as our music director marks an exciting time in the history of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the city,” said William A. Osborn, chairman of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association board of trustees. “We are immensely proud to welcome him to our family, and we look forward to deepening the scope of our ongoing commitment to serving the broader Chicago community.”
“We express our extreme gratitude to Bank of America, our first global sponsor, for providing the support that will help make so many of the elements of Muti’s vision for our Association and our city a reality.”
According to CSO organizers, “Riccardo Muti’s vision for the CSO—to deepen the Orchestra’s engagement with the Chicago community, to nurture the legacy of the CSO while supporting a new generation of musicians, and to collaborate with visionary artists—signals a new era for the institution.”
“Making great music with the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is just the beginning,” Muti said. “The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and I will become ambassadors to the community and the world. We have a responsibility, as musical ambassadors, to serve our communities and we must not take this responsibility lightly."
“Chicago has a true treasure in the CSO, one that should be shared with as many people as possible.”
Tickets to Chicago Symphony Orchestra events may be ordered through the Orchestra’s website at cso.org or by calling 312- 294-3000
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra International George Solti Conducting Competition. After a preliminary and objective review of applicants, finalists will be invited for a round of auditions leading the Civic Orchestra of Chicago; the finals will be chaired by Riccardo Muti in February 2011. cso.org
New CSO Recording. The Verdi Messa da Requiem, Muti conducting, will be released on the CSO Resound label on September 28 in the U.S. The recording will be available on CD, Hybrid SACD and as Digital Download; iTunes: September 21; International Release: October 15; and additional major digital retailers: October 28.