When the announcement was made in May of 2008 that Riccardo Muti had been made music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra after a four-year search, I was quick to note in a Newcity cover story on the process and a “Chicago Tonight” appearance that the Austro-Germanic repertoire of Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler and Richard Strauss, i.e. the CSO’s bread-and-butter repertoire, was not particularly associated with Muti. “Anyone who knows me knows that I conduct music from the Baroque to modern, only the blind or deaf wouldn’t know this,” countered Muti a month later at his first area press conference. Not helping matters was that his only scheduled concerts for the following season—last year’s memorable performances of Verdi’s Requiem”—played to his best-known strength: Italian vocal music. Quite cleverly, Muti is addressing the repertoire issue head-on a year before his official tenure begins by offering two weeks of programs that are all Austro-Germanic: Mozart and Bruckner this week, and Brahms next. By performing a well-known Mozart symphony (No. 35, the “Haffner”) alongside an obscure early Bruckner symphony (No. 2), we should learn a lot about what to expect in the Muti era. The choice of the rarely performed Bruckner Second Symphony is a win-win for Muti, since the work has not been heard here in nearly two decades. Unlike the later symphonies that are performed here almost constantly, since comparisons to other performances for better or worse cannot be easily made (though a handful of us can vividly remember Barenboim performing and recording the piece back in the early 1980s and Solti doing so a decade later), Muti will be congratulated for his adventurous programming by performing a rarely heard masterpiece, even if the performance is not a particularly inspired one. Note that the free 3pm Saturday matinee performance is of the Bruckner alone and is part of a day-long series of free performances and will be followed by what is being called a 4:30pm “Town Meeting,” i.e., the public’s first opportunity to hear Muti speak on his plans for the Orchestra and the opportunity to ask him questions for yourself. (Dennis Polkow)
October 15, 8pm. October 16, 1:30pm. October 17, 2pm (free), October 18, 3pm. Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, (312)294-3000.
Dennis Polkow is an award-winning veteran journalist, critic, author, broadcaster and educator. He made his stage debut at age five, was a child art prodigy and began playing keyboards in clubs at the age of fourteen. He holds degrees in music theory, composition, religious studies and philosophy from DePaul University in Chicago. Polkow spent his early years performing and recording in rock and jazz bands while concertizing as a classical pianist, organist and harpsichordist and composing, arranging and producing for other artists. As a scholar, Polkow has published and lectured extensively and taught at several colleges and universities in various departments. As an actor, narrator and consultant, Polkow has been involved with numerous films, plays, broadcasts and documentaries. As a journalist, Polkow helped co-create the experiential Chicago Musicale and Spotlight, the award-winning tabloid arts and entertainment section of the Press Publications chain of newspapers, which he later edited. He also created and ran the nationally recognized journalism program at Oakton College and was faculty advisor to its award-winning student newspaper; many former students went on to major media careers, including Channel Awesome’s the Nostalgia Critic. Polkow’s research, interviews, features, reviews and commentaries have appeared across national and international media and he has corresponded from the Middle East, Asia and Africa for the Chicago Tribune. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org