Riccardo Muti is scheduled to take over the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2010 and the cultural blogosphere is abuzz with commentary and since I don’t want to get another 40 odd email messages asking why I haven’t written anything about yet I decided to finally weigh-in. Frankly, I’m not certain why there is so much chatter since the whole scenario is relatively cut and dry. Most of the discussion centers on three primary points, all of which can be addressed with bite-sized answers…
1) Muti took the Chicago job as a way of thumbing his nose at New York and Milan.
If true, this is shocking to anyone, how? Don’t forget that
after years of rebuffing offers from Philadelphia Orchestra management
to return and conduct, the only time Muti accepted was amidst a full
blown labor conflict and only after the musicians
asked. Consequently, the (now departed) Philly board and administrative leadership were left with more than just egg on their face.
2) Old-school conductors like Muti are dinosaurs that didn’t get the memo about being extinct.
Although the Ponce de León school of hiring music directors
might like the idea of an under-50 litmus test, each orchestra is
(thankfully) different and the person they select as music director
should be instrumental (no pun intended) in serving as a catalyst for
allowing the ensemble to become greater than the sum of its parts.
Based on my time in Chicago, tradition seems to work well with the
ensemble. In fact, I hear many of the same adjectives used to describe
Dudamel and Gilbert coming from patrons who attend CSO concerts led by
Haitink (Muti’s elder no less). Personally, having heard the ensemble
on several occasions with Barenboim at the end of his tenure and
Haitink at the begging of his, I think the ensemble far more energized
and exiting with the latter. As such, scratch the generation discussion
off the list.
3) Muti brings an elitist attitude to the podium.
Speaking candidly, I wasn’t thrilled with Muti’s lecturing
patrons (albeit polite and sincere) who applauded between movements
during one of his Chicago concerts this season. It was the wrong thing
to do and I don’t agree with most of the points he made. But on the
other hand, you can’t argue against the vitalized artistic quality he
has managed to cajole from the ensemble and frankly, if I’m attending a
Muti concert and the ensemble moves me enough to applaud between
movements, I’ll damned well do it regardless of the maestro’s feelings.
I think he is a strong enough to endure it. Worst case scenario is that
the CSO is going to have to work overtime to make the concert
experience as inviting as possible (more on that below).
Will Muti be the next Solti? Probably not, and that’s a good
thing. My observations lead me to believe that the orchestra, and the
city at large, is still in mourning over Solti’s passing. It is both
touching and tragic. At the same time, when compared to his
predecessor, I suspect Muti will do more for the orchestra in the long
run while simultaneously providing some much needed closure. Add to
that another few years to wallow around in the glorious music making
that is Haitink and Chicago has a promising decade in store.
Frankly, if Muti’s tenure produces a critical mass capable of building a new concert hall worthy
of this organization and its patrons then history will look back on it
as a gargantuan success (conductors don’t keep me away from Orchestra
Hall, Orchestra Hall keeps me away from Orchestra Hall). At
minimum, expect a fantastic series of recordings, some heavily
publicized tours, improved new music programming, and a headline
stealing antic here and there (and there, and there).