Muti extends CSO contract through 2020, and holds forth on several subjects

Mon Feb 03, 2014 at 1:12 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Riccardo Muti
Riccardo Muti


Talk about burying the lede.

More than halfway through Monday’s press conference announcing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2014-15 season, Riccardo Muti playfully revealed that he had just signed a contract extension to continue as the orchestra’s music director through 2020.

The new contract will keep the charismatic Italian maestro in Chicago for a decade. His first five-year contract ran from 2010 to 2015. He will now remain as music director through August of 2020.

Muti has honed these winter season announcements into a sort of high-wire performance art. It is something he clearly enjoys and always proves entertaining for the assembled press, if nerve-wracking for CSO staff who never know what the irrepressible maestro is going to say next.

Sitting with outgoing CSO president Deborah Rutter in the ninth-floor conference room at Orchestra Hall, Muti, 72, spoke for over an hour in detail of the upcoming season without reference to notes, and took questions afterwards. As always, he ranged over a wide array of topics with characteristic humor, passion and strong opinions. Here are a few highlights:

* To a photographer trying to avoid blocking the view by kneeling on the floor in front of him.
“I am not the Pope.”

* On last week’s CSO performances of two Schubert symphonies
“I’m very proud of the way the orchestra played these symphonies [in a Viennese style] without losing the personality of the orchestra itself.”

* Next season’s Tchaikovsky cycle
“The popular symphonies are more European. The first three [symphonies] are more in the Russian spirit. That’s why Stravinsky loved the early symphonies.

* Scriabin
“From Sviatoslav Richter I learned to love Scriabin’s music and the symphonies.”

* Classical CD covers and marketing
“Today all you see are violinist’s legs and a conductor with hair like a forest. The future seems to be legs and hair.”

* Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, which will open the season.
“I didn’t conduct this music until I was 46, in Philadelphia. The third movement is maybe written by God. I felt too humble to conduct this metaphysical and spiritual music. I was so nervous, I was shaking. The concertmaster said to me, ‘Coraggio!’

Now, at the age of 22, people conduct not only the Ninth but the Missa Solemnis. Because of the food of today, conductors must be more intelligent.”

* His relationship with the CSO musicians
“I think at this moment the orchestra is shining. We are working together in a wonderful, wonderful relationship. The orchestra has made me feel like I have a second home in Chicago.”

* Why it is important to tour
“A great orchestra like the Chicago Symphony can be considered a world heritage. They can give music to the city, so that people can receive the highest [musical] culture without going to Vienna to Berlin.”

“We have to help the process. If not, we will remain too local. We have to work for our citizens. But we must have a much wider vision.”

* Italy
“Italy is a country based on culture. If you take away the culture, what do you have? Berlusconi.”

* On Pierre Boulez, who has canceled the last three seasons and is not scheduled to conduct in 2014-15
“I hope that will change. I hope that he will still be able to come here to assist and guide, even if he cannot conduct. I hope he will improve for his benefit and for our benefit.”

* What qualities should Deborah Rutter’s successor possess?
[He or she must be] “intelligent, a hard worker and not a prima donna. Someone who understands the needs of the institution and who works with the music director.  And someone who has an international mind and can work with the musicians and understand the needs of the musicians.

“Some members of the board in Philadelphia treated the musicians like slaves. I tried very hard to change this attitude.”

* Why he renewed for five years.
“Because of my love for the musicians. They’ve changed me. I go to rehearsals now very relaxed and happy to work with them.”

* On staying as CSO music director through 2020.
“I will not be 80 yet. My great grandfather remarried at 76.”

Future recording plans.
“I’d like to do all the Beethoven symphonies again, all the Brahms symphonies and some of the Bruckner symphonies. To do all the Bruckner symphonies, I would need another contract.”

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3 Responses to “Muti extends CSO contract through 2020, and holds forth on several subjects”

  1. Posted Feb 04, 2014 at 6:07 pm by A.S. Gauthier

    How wonderfully he has mellowed – I want to hear Chicago again! Its been a long time since Solti’s amazing achievement with the orchestra in the late ’70s to early ’80s.

  2. Posted Feb 05, 2014 at 12:19 pm by Will Roseliep

    Reading this makes me think we need many, many more freewheeling press conferences, especially with conductors who don’t feel the need to hold back.

    How humanizing is it for a public figure like Muti to fire from the hip? Muti’s new contract obviously offers him a measure of protection.

    At the very least, more classical heavyweights should do a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” as a matter of course. No holds barred.

  3. Posted Feb 08, 2014 at 7:53 pm by Christopher Mankiewicz

    Let us hope for the CSO and all of us that Muti will find in his Italian blood the excitement we got from Solti and the unmatched excellence of Fritz Reiner.

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