Tuesday, May 6, 2008

And the Brass Ring Goes to Chicago Symphony: Riccardo Muti Says Yes

The New York Times, May 6, 2008

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra snagged the prize.

Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Riccardo Muti conducting the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall on Jan. 17, 2008.

In a classical music world of diminishing grandeur, the orchestra has hired one of the last lions of podium glamour, Riccardo Muti, as its music director and in so doing is lending a sheen to the city’s cultural profile.

At the same time Mr. Muti’s embrace of a cold city on Lake Michigan — which he diplomatically likens to the Mediterranean waters off his native Italy — dampened spirits at the New York Philharmonic, which failed to lure him at least once and, by some accounts, including his own, possibly twice.

His decision to assume the helm in Chicago is a remarkable turnaround. As recently as September, Mr. Muti dismissed the idea of taking over the responsibilities of an American music directorship, and all the nonmusical duties the job entails. But on Monday, in his first interview since signing the contract, he said he was fully committed to the position, including supervising auditions, helping raise money and engaging in community outreach.

“From my years in Philadelphia I know exactly what I’m expected to do as music director of an American orchestra,” said Mr. Muti, 66, who was music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1980 to 1992. The job, he said, was not just to make good music in the concert hall “but to serve the community.” He cited his work performing in trouble spots around the world, including the Balkans, Lebanon and Armenia, and giving concerts in places like a prison in Italy.

Mr. Muti called the Chicago Symphony “a perfect machine,” with the versatility to play huge works like Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 3 and Scriabin’s “Poem of Ecstasy” or to display the refined delicacy needed for small-scale Schubert...

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