Civic Orchestra open rehearsal/Photo: Todd Rosenberg
By Dennis Polkow
“Are there conductors out there?” asks Riccardo Muti, before starting a Civic Orchestra rehearsal Monday afternoon in front of some visiting music students. No response. “Who is studying conducting?” A handful timidly raise their hands. “Where are you studying? Who is your teacher? Do you study from books or in front of an orchestra?” “Bene,” says Muti, to the responses. “You know, the traditional Italian method is to have conductors study composition for ten years and you do not conduct until the last three, until you have mastered counterpoint, orchestration, etcetera,” says Muti, with a hard c so it sounds like “et-chetera.” “Today we are a visual society and people think conducting is waving your arms. The truth is, you actually have more control with less gestures. Do my young colleagues agree?”
“Come to me,” Muti adds, with a lower voice and deliberateness, intently staring at each of them. “If you have any problem, come to me. I am not sure I will give you the best advice, but, I am here for you.” Read the rest of this entry »
“This piece is very near to my heart,” says Riccardo Muti, touching his breast twice. “It is the grandest setting of all of the masses, a piece that I have done several times. You know, Beethoven wanted a copy of the [Mass in b minor] before he began writing his ‘Missa solemnis.’
“Incredibly, Bach wrote the first part of the piece to get a better job that he never got. And it was never performed. Amazing how such a circumstance can produce such a magnificent masterpiece. Yet there is no doubt that he wanted this to be a Catholic, not a Lutheran mass, because he includes [“catholic and apostolic”] in the ‘Credo.’ ” Read the rest of this entry »
2013 is the bicentennial of both Wagner and Verdi. Whereas Verdi will be getting numerous salutes from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, oddly enough, Wagner, whose influence spread across the continent and even influenced Verdi himself, is getting quite little by comparison, particularly odd given that the CSO is considered by many to be the greatest Wagnerian orchestra in the world.
The biggest Wagner salute comes this week from Finnish conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, a relative newcomer to Wagner but who like so many contemporary composers, including Pierre Boulez, has been influenced and remains enraptured by the music. Salonen will be conducting two performances of the Prelude and Act II of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” with German tenor Stefan Vinke as Tristan and soprano Linda Watson as Isolde. Act II includes the most rapturous and sensual music between the lovers. The Prelude will be the subject of a Beyond the Score entry called “The Tristan Effect” with Salonen and the CSO sans the singers. Read the rest of this entry »
Sir Georg Solti
By Dennis Polkow
When former Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Sir Georg Solti turned eighty in 1992, the British Royal Family threw a surprise birthday party for the legendary conductor at Buckingham Palace. The highlight of the bash was a performance by a chamber orchestra made up of players from all over the world from various orchestras that Solti had conducted, including the CSO.
Solti was visibly moved and wondered aloud at the gathering, “Why, if it were possible for musicians from various countries to come together in peace and harmony, why couldn’t politicians from various countries do the same?”
That hope gave birth to the extraordinary idea: creating a World Orchestra for Peace to perform for a special concert made up of world leaders to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations in Geneva in July of 1995.
Solti himself made a list of the best players across the world’s orchestras to participate and much to his amazement, every invitation was accepted. That first concert was conducted by Solti and was broadcast live via satellite radio as well as recorded for television broadcast and was an enormous success. Read the rest of this entry »
Anne-Sophie Mutter conductorless at the 2010 Symphony Ball/Photo: Todd Rosenberg
The last time the Chicago Symphony Orchestra went on strike in 1991, it took three weeks before a new contract was negotiated. If last Saturday’s strike had lasted three weeks, the orchestra would have lost its Thursday night performance in Ann Arbor, Michigan, its tour to Mexico, its opening of Carnegie Hall, et al, as well as Saturday night’s Symphony Ball. And at what point would a homesick Italian music director without an orchestra to make music with simply head home? Thankfully, these are questions that will remain unanswered as both sides, with the help of a federal mediator, did manage to come to an agreement Monday night that was ratified by the players Tuesday morning and subsequently expected to be approved by the CSO board. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
By Dennis Polkow
Two years ago, Riccardo Muti inaugurated his tenure as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with a free outdoor public concert in Millennium Park that brought out throngs of music lovers and curiosity seekers. This year, Muti and the CSO are returning to the park Friday night, this time along with the Chicago Symphony Chorus and the Chicago Children’s Choir for another free event.
“I have wonderful memories of the last concert in Millennium Park,” says Muti from his home in Italy as he is preparing to leave for Chicago. “The atmosphere was fantastic. I could feel that the public had such warm feeling for the orchestra. Even though there were many thousands of people, the way that they followed the performance was so intense. I could feel that the audience was with the orchestra, was with the music. I hope—I am sure—it will be the same thing now.”
Unlike the event in September of 2010 which featured a handful of pieces by various composers, Muti has decided to present a single work “very dear to me” at this year’s outdoor concert, Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” which he performed last season at CSO subscription concerts and will perform on tour at Carnegie Hall next month. Read the rest of this entry »
Riccardo Muti/Photo: David Banks
Not to take anything away from the Grant Park Music Festival across the street, nor Ravinia up on the North Shore, but it’s hard to think of the summer music season as having begun in earnest when Riccardo Muti is upstaging everything else by closing out the regular Chicago Symphony Orchestra season in late June this year. After leading the CSO on a triumphant tour of Russia and his Italian homeland, Muti is with us during the summer for the first time in his tenure as music director. That has its own curious advantages, including Muti being the first CSO music director to throw out a ceremonial opening pitch at a sold-out Cubs game at Wrigley Field last Wednesday night, an extraordinary feat for a man who will turn seventy-one next month who admits having no prior experience with the American pastime. (Yes, he took the task very seriously, did practice and cleared the plate.) Read the rest of this entry »
Yes, I was there for Thursday night’s pugilistic outburst at the CSO, but I didn’t start it: honest. In case you haven’t heard, the fight started as an argument over a box seat, and when the seated sixty-seven-year-old man didn’t relinquish his seat, a post-intermission man in his thirties began slinging at him while the music was well underway. This, despite the fact that box seat patrons are asked to exchange seats after intermission in any case. Amazingly, it didn’t happen during “The Rite of Spring,” which inspired fistfights in the aisles at its world premiere a century ago, or even John Cage, who so enraged CSO concertgoers in the mid-1970s that some indeed, stepped outside. The fight took place during, of all things, the Brahms Second—the tranquil end of the second movement. Read the rest of this entry »
This is the third and final week of the fall residency of Riccardo Muti’s second season as music director, which has thankfully thus far gone off without a hitch. The music-making has been glorious and Muti’s community outreach has stretched beyond CSO president Deborah Rutter’s wildest expectations.
Muti has professed his dislike for composer anniversaries and has chosen a unique method of dealing with them; namely, resurrecting offbeat programs from the past. Last week for the Liszt bicentennial, Muti recreated the same CSO concert that had been presented a century ago to celebrate then the Liszt centennial by then-music director Frederick Stock. This week, Muti is saluting the Mahler death centennial by recreating the final concert conducted by Mahler a century ago with the New York Philharmonic. Read the rest of this entry »
At the Illinois Youth Center/Photo: Todd Rosenberg
By Dennis Polkow
The Gospel of Matthew states, “I was in prison, and you visited me.” It’s an adage Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti takes very seriously. He has visited prison a number of times in his native Italy, and during the first days of his inaugural season last year as music director it was a top priority for him.
“The experience was wonderful, fantastic,” Muti said of his first visit to the Illinois Youth Center in west suburban Warrenville, an incarceration facility for female juveniles, where he gave a concert and first visited with the inmates in September of 2010. Read the rest of this entry »