The excursion boat Theodore Roosevelt heads east under the State Street bridge in 1910/Photo: The Lost Panoramas (CityFilesPress.com)
By Dennis Polkow
City on a river. Chicago is many things, but whatever qualities that make Chicago Chicago exist in no small part because it is a city on a river, albeit a river by and large taken for granted.
For many of us, our own placement as a city on a river is something we forget about until we are inconvenienced by having to go over a bridge or have to wait for a bridge that a boat is passing through or that is undergoing construction.
“The Chicago River is the city’s defining characteristic because it is what built the city,” says Martha Gilmer, vice president for artistic planning and audience development at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as the curator of the CSO’s month-long Rivers Festival which runs May 9-June 9. “The river has taken a second place to our lakefront, but Mayor Daley—and now Rahm Emanuel—is very interested in the development of the Chicago River.” Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
Anna Clyne and Mason Bates/Photo: Todd Rosenberg
By Dennis Polkow
Over the next couple of weeks, Chicago will be treated to not one, but two world premieres, one each from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s co-composers-in-residence, Anna Clyne and Mason Bates. Before bringing them on board in 2009, music director Riccardo Muti had never met either but chose them for these positions, and chose them by and large based on their scores.
“I didn’t know either one of them,” says Muti over lunch at his hotel, “but I asked to have scores of many different composers and I chose them on the basis of the music. Many times today you see scores that are the triumph of complicated rhythms or sounds that just create effects for the sake of effects to impress the public with noise or with complicated rhythms. But I found that the scores of these two young composers had substance. 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 »