Here is the third of three Chicago Sun-Times and suntimes.com stories on Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's upcoming 2010-2011 season, its first with Muti as music director. Herewith my take on Muti's presentation at the Thursday press conference and a brief interview I had with him immediately following that, as reported in the Friday February 26, 2010, edition.
Muti offers a glimpse of his musical leanings
Next CSO music director says he will ‘deeply observe’ for months
BY ANDREW PATNER
Riccardo Muti wanted to deliver his remarks announcing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2010-11 season Thursday afternoon standing at a table before a crowd in Orchestra Hall’s Grainger Ballroom because standing at a podium seemed too formal to him, “too much like a church!”
But the CSO’s music director designate, who hits the ground running here in September, ran into another powerful institution with which he is not totally comfortable: Internet video streaming. Public relations people had to point out to the maestro that viewers on the CSO website could not see his head if he stood. “What’s wrong with that,” the Neapolitan-born conductor quipped. “They can see the rest of me. They can see that I am wearing a very nice tie!”
Chicagoans are becoming accustomed to the wry and discursive humor of the CSO’s next top conductor and artistic leader. At the crowded event, Muti dispensed with many details (“Everything is in your folders. Y ou will have a wonderful afternoon of reading!”), instead focusing on those ways that, for him, music goes beyond the mere notes on a page. Although a stickler for detail, at this stage in his life, Muti, 68, wants to talk more about how music connects people as human beings.
Muti will be taking the CSO to play for and with incarcerated juvenile offenders in the Chicago area. And so he told a moving tale of visiting a prison near Milan, Italy, recently. A prisoner had written to him asking him to come, he said. He came and gave a piano recital for the inmates, “male and female, many of them with faces of innocence, faces that did not look as if they were capable of committing crimes.”
Rather than talk about what had brought them behind bars, he played “Warum?” (“Why?”), a brief piece by Robert Schumann. “I asked them through music,” Muti said. “Then I also played for them works by Schubert, Chopin and more Schumann. All of them people who died young, or relatively young, and suffered in their short lives.”
For a man who has been characterized in the past as an autocrat, Muti was here all about warmth and empathy. Answering an awkward press question about whether the CSO required any personnel changes, Muti replied, “I am just entering the door, and you are asking me if I want to rearrange the furniture?” Once he gets to know the CSO better, he might detect areas that require improvement. “I will deeply observe in these first months,” he said. “But I will do so with love, understanding, friendship, and respect. We are not surgeons here. We make music.”
For his first month, he will be making lots of music. His CSO schedule includes a free “Concert for Chicago” at Millennium Park on September 19, open rehearsals and community appearances, and a double-bill of Berlioz works.
In an interview afterward, I asked him about his philosophy of programming: “To make connections, to show that music is a chain with links.” And so there will be music by the early 19th century Italian composer Luigi Cherubini. “Brahms idolized him, you know. People forget that.” And sometimes does he seek to fill in empty spaces? “Sì, sì!” So there will be a program of Mozart symphonies with two Haydn symphonies that inspired them: works that, even though by Haydn, have never been played before by the CSO.
As for new music, Muti said, “I am not a contemporary music fundamentalist. I do not look to only one style or school. I do not look only for technique -- many people have that. I look for a person with inspiration, an original voice. If the music does not inspire us, then why do we play it?”
Then, concerned that snow predicted on the East Coast might delay his flight back to New York, where he is conducting Verdi’s early opera Attila at the Met as well as two weeks of programs at the New York Philharmonic, Muti got up to leave for the airport. “Ciao!” he waved. “I will be home soon. I promise!”