Muti takes ill, Mutter takes the helm for CSO’s gala concert

Sat Oct 02, 2010 at 10:53 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

With Riccardo Muti’s illness Saturday night, soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter conducted as well as performed as soloist in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Gala symphony events are usually drama-free affairs—at least on stage—featuring a starry guest artist and short undemanding program, the better to get the begowned and tuxedoed guests more expeditiously to the champagne and liver pate.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s “Symphony Ball” program featuring the long-awaited return of Anne-Sophie Mutter took on some unexpected drama Saturday night, with the last-minute announcement that Riccardo Muti had been felled by a sudden, undisclosed, illness.

Though not feeling well, the CSO’s new music director had come to the hall Saturday prepared to conduct the 90-minute program, explained CSO president Deborah Rutter to the packed hall, but was too ill to take the stage.

A shuffling of the program–and removal of the podium—brought a new lineup with the Mozart Symphony No. 34 from this week’s subscription concerts subbing for the slated Rossini and Liszt items. Anne-Sophie Mutter, in her first downtown CSO appearance in 21 years—took on conducting as well as solo duties for the scheduled Beethoven Violin Concerto.

Soloists leading the orchestra are commonplace in Bach and Mozart concertos, but—Pinchas Zukerman, notwithstanding—a rarity with that of Beethoven, due to the greater rhythmic complexity and overall coordinative challenges involved.

Under the circumstances, it was remarkable how finished and eloquent Mutter’s performance turned out to be. As a conductor, she mostly just let the orchestra play, facing them for entrances, leading them on with a gentle swaying movement of her elegant arm.

While recognizing that with the CSO she need not do too much, Mutter clearly knew what she wanted, once firmly gesturing for the cellos and basses to take the volume down a notch.

Perhaps by necessity, this was a more reflective and intimately scaled performance than many, but none the worse for that. If Mutter’s initial entrance was a bit rough and intonation not always airtight, her playing was largely glorious in a searching, often meditative performance of Beethoven’s expansive concerto.

Few violinists before the public can play so quietly with her brand of gleaming intensity, and the soloist brought a confiding intimacy to the Larghetto, paring her tone down to a barely audible golden thread.

The Rondo provided the right contrast, buoyant and taken at a fleet pace. Mutter’s burst of lightning fireworks in her final cadenza made a fine biting contrast to the overall ruminative expression just before the coda’s punchline.

The violinist received thunderous applause and repeated ovations for the evening’s double-duty performance, which she generously shared with her CSO colleagues, motioning many to stand for solo bows.

After several curtain calls, Mutter offered a seemingly impromptu encore with concertmaster Robert Chen of the slow movement from Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, which she dedicated to the ailing maestro. Amazingly put together on the wing, the two soloists played with fine attentive teamwork, the game front desks of the CSO strings backing them with admirable support.

The Mozart symphony also went surprisingly well to open the evening. While less detailed and dynamically nuanced than Thursday night’s reading with Muti, the CSO showed their mettle with a refined and worthy performance.

Posted in Performances

13 Responses to “Muti takes ill, Mutter takes the helm for CSO’s gala concert”

  1. Posted Oct 03, 2010 at 12:55 am by Wesley Kimler

    Good review. Mutter was brilliant, unforgettable. The orchestra rose to the occasion. However – Mutter doing the concerto with Muti -still, has not happened. Ms Mutter! I brought my 4.5 year old daughter Amina to the concert tonight for her to hear you play, and for her to always know, that very first concert she ever went to was this great violinist playing the Beethoven Concerto. As truly great and memorable as tonight was, is it being just plain greedy, opportunistic, to ask that upon Muti’s hopefully speedy recovery, that he and Anne Sophie Mutter return to the concerto and perform it here in Chicago sometime in the near future?

  2. Posted Oct 03, 2010 at 1:56 am by Jake H.

    Thanks for the fine review. I just got back, and hope you don’t mind another take:

    It was definitely a memorable, interesting evening. It was also, I thought, quite satisfying, despite some drama of the unwelcome variety. I certainly hope Muti is okay! I actually preferred the Mozart to the planned program, as I had heard their stirring Les Preludes at Millennium Park already, and the William Tell overture is, well, a bit hard for me to enjoy. The Mozart was perfectly precise and lovely, and the Beethoven made a fitting finale.

    As the review suggests, the Beethoven did not really have a conductor. Mutter waved her arm in fluid motions and half-faced the orchestra while playing, but she wasn’t really giving beats, and I wonder whether she needn’t have bothered with most of what she did do. It seemed that the unusual double duty she was called upon to perform was a bit of a distraction for her. In the third movement, it appeared at one point that she was getting ready to signal an orchestral entrance too early, when it was still her. (She quickly recovered.) The performance had a few other oops moments. I think that she dropped a minor passage half-way through in what seemed like a momentary freeze. I’m not sure that she played every last note of the Kreisler cadenza, though it was generally impressive. (She plays it for drama, and takes some of those double-stop passages devilishly fast.) And yes, there were a few intonation concerns early that were more-or-less covered with her wide vibrato.

    Coordination problems were minimal, but present on a couple of occasions. I think that Mutter is a bit of a romantic gypsy at heart. She loves big dynamic contrasts, and I love her pianissimos. Her trills — in ample supply in this piece — are just gorgeous. She likes to take her time, but was perhaps not free to do whatever all she wanted due to her rudderless backup. The orchestra got a ahead of her at one point and everyone had to correct. She’s playing during a key out-in-the-open cello and bass entrance toward the end of the third movement, so she didn’t decisively cue it, and it was not perfect.

    All of these issues were fairly minor. I enjoy Mutter’s playing a great deal, which is emotional and beautiful and charismatic — never dull — and her virtuosic fireworks during the last movement were a particular thrill — off the string, very fast, and perfectly executed.

    The evidently impromptu slow movement of the Bach Double was certainly unusual! Chen and Mutter were not matched in terms of style, tempo, and tone. Chen was straight, fast, and quiet. Mutter was more affected, slow, and big. I don’t turn off to a performance of this piece that milks the second movement for its romantic beauty — it’s beautiful music, after all — and that seemed to be Mutter’s inclination. (She added some improv and ornament that are not period-inappropriate, but her general approach was not period-oriented.) Chen, however, started things off on the brisk side, only to have Mutter slow it down significantly when it was her turn. Mutter generally dominated, even when she shouldn’t have, and I wanted more out of Chen, who seemed to be excessively deferring to the star of the evening.

    Speaking of whom, Mutter is as lovely as ever, and was decked out in a striking October-themed black and orange gown. The gala audience was similarly dressed to the nines, though there seemed to be a wider-than-usual lack of familiarity with the custom of holding applause until the conclusion of a piece, which one wouldn’t necessarily expect from a donor crowd. Oh well.

    All in all, this was one to remember.

  3. Posted Oct 03, 2010 at 6:40 am by Sophia.

    Maestro get well, and PLEASE, take a rest for a month. Concerts can wait; the quality of your life is more important than fame and money.

  4. Posted Oct 03, 2010 at 8:04 am by Julie Bishop

    I simply loved the concert – unforgettable. Anne-Sophie Mutter was great.

  5. Posted Oct 03, 2010 at 9:07 am by John Diefenbach

    The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s “Symphony Ball” program featuring the long-awaited return of Anne-Sophie Mutter was brilliant. Her solo was most memorable. Congratulations to all who worked so hard to make the Opener a huge success in the absence of Ricardo Muti. We wish for a speedy recovery and a spectacular return. Indigo, the Ball band, by the way, was awesome.

  6. Posted Oct 03, 2010 at 10:03 am by Tammy Anderson

    My husband and I splurged on tickets to this concert for only two reasons: to see Muti conduct, and to hear the William Tell Overature. We did not get to experience either one. Although a program was performed it was not what was promised. I intend to seek a refund. I realize Muti’s illness was unavoidable, but the CSO failed to fufill their end of the contract and should be willing to refund the ticket purchase price to its customers.

  7. Posted Oct 03, 2010 at 2:46 pm by Hans Mooser

    thank you Anne-Sophie for a great night, it sure was a bittersweet night for me, however I noticed the chair at the podium, that made me wonder, what we will be in this evening, since I have seen the Maestro at rehearsals in New York and elsewhere, never sitting down, made me think he will be absent this evening, I hope he is doing well, and will recover very soon!I t was a great night, I was also surprised by the crowd, not holding there clapping beetween movements, I believe everyone should review the program before every concert! Great night. Kudos to our great Orchestra!!

  8. Posted Oct 03, 2010 at 5:41 pm by Roderick Branch

    The peevish nitpicking that is going on in some of the comments here is truly difficult to believe.

    What this orchestra was called to do yesterday was the effective equivalent of asking a high-wire artist, moments before he’s about to walk across the line, to perform on a completely different wire, with a blindfold and in a high wind.

    Bravo to all of the splendid musicians of the Chicago Symphony who did exactly that, delivering an exciting and memorable performance under unexpected and adverse conditions at a level higher than one would have heard in any but a small handful other cities around the world.

  9. Posted Oct 03, 2010 at 7:53 pm by Yoshiyuki Mukudai 椋代能行

    I wish I had been there. Must have been Memorable…

  10. Posted Oct 03, 2010 at 8:28 pm by Nicholas Malik

    CSO executives pleaded forgiveness because the Maestro took ill. There is nothing to forgive here. Anne Sopie Mutter was triumphant and rose to the occasion with outstanding grace and beauty. The world class artists in the CSO and the great Anne Sophie Mutter proved greatness under pressure. No need for apology. The concert last night was outstanding and memorable. Thank you Anne-Sophie and many thanks to Robert Chen and his team and my best wishes to the Maestro for a speedy recovery.

  11. Posted Oct 04, 2010 at 2:05 am by Wesley Kimler

    It is unfortunate that Conductor Muti fell ill -and yet what took place in his absence was truly extraordinary. I posted earlier that I hope the conductor and Ms Mutter will revisit this piece here in Chicago sometime in the not so distant future..; in no way was I intending to diminish the marvelous -great performance we were all so privileged to be part of last evening… to reiterate if I may, I found it unforgettable.

    As for anyone coming to hear the William Tell uuhmmmm…. ‘Overature’, when a player of Mutter’s caliber is onstage, playing a very great piece,…well, they probably should get a refund.

    I just want to see her play it again, with a recovered Muti steering the ship!

  12. Posted Oct 04, 2010 at 11:35 am by robert martini

    Thoughts on 10/2 CSO-Muti-Mutter.Thoroughly enjoyed every moment. Mozart was beautifully done…We often read about glitches during Beethovens lifetime ..the nuances just bring the listener closer with ears and eyes…It was absolutely just fun and exciting to be a part of. The encore was a neat choice, and are we so sure that Bach’s music was not interpreted with emotion and feeling in his day? i.e.the concept of the soul was certainly prevelant…and that’s what Ms.Mutter is about in my view…She has soul,and she has the unique ability to show it with a classical of the finest in the world…whether LVB or JSB. Her dress reminded me of a flamenco dancer. What we did miss though was Maestro Muti getting a workout so to speak conducting the Rossini. Safe travels to Milano..Get well soon.

  13. Posted Oct 04, 2010 at 3:09 pm by Wieland & Sylvia Ludwig

    our 46 TH . Wedding Anniversary we will never
    forget. Bravo to the CSO. And to MS. MUTTER
    Just Great.Thank You.

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