Unsettled atmosphere at reshuffled CSO concert after another sudden Muti illness

Thu Feb 03, 2011 at 11:23 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Riccardo Muti

Thursday night’s Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert was to have marked the triumphant return of Riccardo Muti, hale and healthy after his inaugural weeks as music director were cut short by what was described as “extreme exhaustion” and a quick trip back to Italy to recuperate.

Instead, after Muti, 69, fainted during a rehearsal Thursday and was rushed to a hospital, the CSO is now facing even more questions about the health of its new music director rather than putting them to rest.

At an intermission press conference Thursday evening, CSO president Deborah Rutter provided a few more details without yet being able to shed any light on what caused Muti’s collapse or whether it was related to the exhaustion of last year.

At 12:40 p.m. near the end of an extended rehearsal to make up for those lost due to Wednesday’s blizzard, Muti suddenly fell forward off the podium and onto the stage face first, suffering cuts to his face and a deep laceration under his chin.

He is in stable condition at an undisclosed hospital where Rutter said he is “alert and in very good spirits,” even asking for his scores to study. She said the doctors recommend that he stay in the hospital overnight to treat his injuries and determine the cause of his sudden illness.

In response to questions, she said she was not aware of any previous history of Muti passing out or having fainting spells.

The CSO musicians’ concern for their ailing maestro was clear in their somber faces and quiet conversations before the evening’s performances of Shostakovich and Mozart.

Fortunately, Leonard Slatkin was in town to take part as a judge in the Solti Conducting Competition and –for the second time in a month–provided yeoman podium service on very short notice.

Considering the total absence of rehearsal time, Slatkin and the CSO rose to the occasion with a compelling, largely well played account of Shostakovich’s mighty Fifth Symphony.

Slatkin is a sure guide in the byways of this thrice-familiar score and while it  understandably wasn’t the most individual interpretation, all the large moments registered with firm impact without bombast, the coda neither ironically empty nor tub-thumpingly victorious.

The conductor was particularly inspired in the symphony’s architecture and the long line, as was manifest in the Largo. Without overdoing the darkness or tragic element, Thursday’s performance  was more affecting for its restraint,  the expressive flute and oboe solos of Mathieu Dufour and Eugene Izotov sounding a plaintive human voice. Apart from a dismal solo from the principal horn, the CSO rose to the occasion with gleaming and committed corporate playing

The reshuffled program repeated the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21 from last week rather than the Schumann concerto that was scheduled.

Mitsuko Uchida was if anything even more vigorous Thursday night than last week, more boldly pointing up dynamic contrasts in the orchestra. Once again she brought an airy grace to her solo playing in the slow movement and fleet articulation to the finale. A couple slips in the opening-movement cadenza were forgivable considering Uchida believed she’d be playing Schumann tonight until just a few hours before the curtain.

The revised program will be repeated 1:30 p.m. Friday. No announcement yet on whether Muti will return for the rest of this weekend’s performances. cso.org; 312-294-3000.

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2 Responses to “Unsettled atmosphere at reshuffled CSO concert after another sudden Muti illness”

  1. Posted Feb 04, 2011 at 12:36 am by Brad

    Considering the difficult events this week culminating in Maestro Muti’s collapse during today’s replacement rehearsal, I think everyone on stage did an exceptional job. The Mozart with Mitsuko Uchida might not have been perfect, but it was pretty great. She was also so clearly genuine in her appreciation of the audience and the ovations it gave her. Other than the horn solo in the first movement of Shostakovich 5, which was painful and embarrassing to witness, Maestro Slatkin and the orchestra pulled off a surprisingly elegant and powerful performance that possibly benefited by the rawness in the “by the seats of their pants” playing. The confidence and focus Slatkin demonstrated on the podium seemed to be a great asset to the orchestra under these bizarre and unfortunate circumstances. I guess this concert also served as Slatkin’s rehearsal time with the orchestra. Amazing.

    Let’s hope Mr. Muti recovers soon and fully!

  2. Posted Feb 04, 2011 at 10:20 am by WL Weller

    I think it perhaps a blessing in disguise that the maestro was afflicted in Chicago. Here he will have access to some of the greatest medical care available anywhere. The Italian medical system is also excellent, howver, it appears Muti’s physicians in Italy didn’t look deeply enough. Information coming from the CSO management reminds me of the cryptic messages that used to come out of the USSR. I hope for his full recovery.

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