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March 2010
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The CSO Introduces the First Muti Season: Indelible Impressions of the New MD

This past Thursday afternoon, February 25, I had the pleasure of accepting the Chicago Symphony’s invitation to its 2010-11 season announcement, with remarks from CSO Association president Deborah Rutter and from the orchestra’s new music director, Riccardo Muti.

Maestro Muti is a compelling, eloquent, and humorous speaker: qualities all the more remarkable when I remembered that English is not his native language. His commitment to high-level music-making, with an orchestra for which he has the highest praise, is clear. But the memory I carry away is of his commitment to the community that exists outside the concert hall. Without using vague, platitudinous words like brotherhood, or justice, or peace – laudable as concepts but overworked as mere words – Muti makes clear his feelings about the need – the requirement – for musicians to help improve our world.

Such feelings aren’t new, nor are they limited to conductors. What makes Muti so compelling, as he expresses his feelings, is his evident passion for bringing music to a wider world, and his conviction that music can help the world heal.

He started, ironically, with a regret: “Without a title [as music director of an orchestra or an opera house], I felt I was a free citizen.” Then he recalled his re-introduction to the Chicago Symphony a few seasons back, his first meetings with Rutter, that landmark tour he led, and his decision to accept the post. “It is a great honor and privilege,” he said, to be the new music director of the CSO. He recalled his first performances with the orchestra, decades back, and noted that like a lot of us, he’s grown older. “But I am like the best Italian wine, with age it becomes better.” Getting the first of many laughs.

He touched on how he plans seasons. Not caring for themes – all Mozart, all Verdi – he said, “It’s important for an orchestra like Chicago to give a panoramic view of the history of music.” Therefore, in 2010-11, we’re going to get a musical palette that ranges from Baroque to contemporary, the latter represented in part by a new score from Bernard Rands, who was in attendance and whom Muti specifically acknowledged. Mr Rands’ new commission will be based on poetry by Mexico’s Octavio Paz and will be part of the season-long CSO participation in Chicago’s Mexico 2010 celebration. Muti then waxed convincing on why Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and its sequel, Lelio, should be performed together, since they complement each other both musically and emotionally. He’ll pair the works on concerts this fall.

These are the kinds of season-preview comments the audience might have expected from its new MD. It may not have expected him to share his poignant memory of a two-hour piano recital he gave for inmates of a Milan prison. A prisoner wrote to him, probably not expecting an answer, to ask if he would visit them, since one of his plans for Chicago is to perform music at sites of incarceration. He replied, he visited, he performed, choosing music by composers who died young and suffered: Schubert, Schumann, Chopin. He was struck, he told us, by the youth of the prisoners, and wondered why they were there.

“We are not only musicians but human beings,” Muti reminded us. “In a world full of anger and violence…music can educate [the] soul.” And later, “Music speaks to the heart…the heart does not know” differences of religion and culture.

And toward the end of his remarks, he noted: “Everybody has a little bit of truth; together, we have Truth with a capital T.”

I hope the laughter, the murmurs of surprise, the applause showed Maestro Muti that we’re happy to welcome him to Chicago. And grateful for his commitment to our orchestra and our city.

— Andi Lamoreaux

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