Muti to spotlight Beethoven, Brahms and Prokofiev in CSO’s 2016-17 season

Tue Jan 26, 2016 at 3:00 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Yo-Yo Ma will perform the world premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Cello Concerto with the composer conducting in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2016-17 season. File photo: Todd Rosenberg.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2016-17 season will offer an uptick in the amount of new music being presented on Michigan Avenue, including four world premieres.

Of the four premieres, music director Riccardo Muti will conduct only one—a CSO commission by composer in residence Samuel Adams in March of 2017, which is also the only American work on Muti’s concerts all season.

Yo-Yo Ma will perform the world premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Cello Concerto, a CSO co-commission, next March, with the composer conducting. In October James Gaffigan will lead the orchestra in the world premiere of Five Hallucinations by Australian composer Carl Vine with CSO trombonist Michael Mulcahy as soloist. And Susanna Mälkki will be on the podium next June for Proceed, Moon, a CSO commission by American composer Melinda Wagner.

Growing criticism over Riccardo Muti’s conservative programming seems to have little effect on the mercurial conductor, with most of his repertory hewing to familiar symphonic cornerstones, many already heard in the music director’s previous seasons.

In the 2016-17 season the CSO music director will lead ten weeks of concerts. His programs will include the complete Brahms symphonies, three of Beethoven’s five piano concertos and music of Prokofiev marking the Russian composer’s 125th birthday anniversary.

The greatest novelty in Muti’s programs is the CSO debut of Prokofiev’s film score-turned-oratorio, Ivan the Terrible, with mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, bass Mikhail Petrenko and Gerard Depardieu as narrator. Also on tap for Muti is Giuseppe Martucci’s La canzone dei ricordi with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as soloist in her CSO debut, Catalani’s Contemplazione, Liszt’s Dante Symphony and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7. The season will conclude with Muti leading a program of popular excerpts from Italian opera.

There will be no opera in concert next season. Muti will lead the orchestra on a two-week European tour in January 2017, the fifth trip to Europe since he became music director in 2010. He will also conduct one of three concerts at Wheaton College, a new CSO series in the western suburbs.

Other highlights:

Esa-Pekka Salonen returns for two weeks that in addition to his Cello Concerto premiere, will mark the 70th birthday of John Adams with two works by the American composer: Slonimsky’s Earbox and his quasi-violin concerto Scheherazade.2 with soloist Leila Josefowicz.

James Levine, former music director of the Ravinia Festival, will make his belated CSO subscription debut with music of Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Berlioz in November.

Other conductors making CSO debuts will include Fabio Biondi, Jakub Hruska, Emmanuel Krivine, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, and Juraj Valčuha. Soloists bowing with the orchestra are violinist Baibe Skride, sopranos Christiane Karg, Regula Mühlemann, and Chen Reiss, mezzo-sopranos Joyce DiDonato and Sarah Connelly, and baritone Michael Nagy.

Returning conductors are David Afhkam, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Charles Dutoit, James Gaffigan, Bernard Haitink, Manfred Honeck, Neeme Jarvi, Nicholas Kraemer, Jesus Lopez-Cobos, Susanna Mälkki, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Michael Tilson Thomas, Bramwell Tovey and Jaap van Zweden.

Returning guest artists include pianists Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman, Paul Lewis, Radu Lupu, and Mitsuko Uchida; violinists Robert Chen, Vadim Gluzman, Leila Josefowicz, and Christian Tetzlaff; cellists Gautier Capuçon, Yo-Yo Ma, Truls Mørk and John Sharp; and vocal soloists, tenor Stephen Gould, soprano Amanda Forsythe, mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, baritone Matthias Goerne, and bass Mikhail Petrenko and Riccardo Zanellato.

The CSO also announced its Symphony Center Presents lineup Tuesday. For more information, go to

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8 Responses to “Muti to spotlight Beethoven, Brahms and Prokofiev in CSO’s 2016-17 season”

  1. Posted Jan 26, 2016 at 3:35 pm by Spencer Cortwright

    I’m hopeful Salonen’s cello concerto is going to be solid contribution. His violin concerto is very good, while his piano concerto is not.

  2. Posted Jan 26, 2016 at 4:32 pm by Tod Verklärung

    The CSO is like a luxury ocean liner adrift. The next season may be the least interesting (in terms of repertoire) in a half-century. As Mr. Johnson acknowledges, the concerts will be populated by pieces over-played here, apparently aimed, in part, at overseas tour audiences. Muti does not tax himself to learn the enormous repertoire of wonderful music (much easily accessible) of the past 100 years that he might play in preference to Martucci , a composer no great conductor has valued in 60 years other than our Music Director. Apparently 2.2 million dollars, Muti’s last reported annual salary (2011), doesn’t go far these days. Where is the traditional responsibility of a Music Director to inform the taste of the audience?

    Nor has the CSO appointed a Principal Guest Conductor, a tradition going back to 1969, who might offer something less stale, as well as a close look at a possible successor to Muti.

    One wonders about Mr. Muti’s priorities now that he has established a record label of his own and issued a performance of the Tchaikovsky Symphony #5 with an inferior ensemble, a piece recently played in Chicago and from which a local broadcast might easily have been edited into a finished product. Where are new CSO recordings of guest conductors, as were issued under Solti and Barenboim? Mr. Muti chooses to allow only CSO recordings of pieces he recorded elsewhere — generally inferior to discs he made in Philadelphia, so say the critics.

    On the occasions I attend there are many empty seats in evidence, even with dozens of school children occupying some of the best locations. The current artistic administration of the CSO, at least at the highest levels, was chosen by Muti. Do not look for change as the aging Music Director plows the same field over and over.

  3. Posted Jan 26, 2016 at 9:36 pm by Peter Borich

    The redundant complaints cocncerning the Chicago Symphony’s programming and its music director on this site is nauseating. I find next year’s line-up to be varied and interesting. What’s next? Criticizing James Levine for choosing the over-performed Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique for his first subscription concerts downtown, rather than an all-John Cage concert?

    The Grant Park Symphony can afford to be extremely adventurous in its programming because it has no bottom line to fret over. The Chicago Symphony, however, cannot avoid the repeat of some standard repertory, as as it must constantly worry about keeping fannies in the seats.

  4. Posted Jan 27, 2016 at 5:42 am by Tod Verklärung

    In response to Mr. Borich, tastes differ. I’m glad you are pleased with the CSO’s repertoire. If, however, this conservatism were an effective response to the economy, the hall would be filled every week. Other orchestras (San Francisco and New York, for example) seem to honor terrific composers like Carl Nielsen or Vaughan Williams without having to close down. Even the Milwaukee Symphony performed the Nielsen 5th and the William Schuman 6th this season.

    One needn’t look to John Cage in order recognize that the CSO’s Music Director is not cultivating a wide-ranging audience taste. This, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: the patrons become gun-shy of the unfamiliar. All praise to Muti for keeping the orchestra in great shape. As for the rest …

  5. Posted Jan 27, 2016 at 3:25 pm by Odradek

    Peter Borich: “The Chicago Symphony, however, cannot avoid the repeat of some standard repertory, as as it must constantly worry about keeping fannies in the seats.”

    Maybe I’m just lucky in the choice of my concerts, but whenever I go to a CSO concert featuring modern and/or unusual music, the hall is full or nearly so. Also, there are more young people present, which is not just good in itself, but necessary to build the future audience.

    I see no point going to hear the same old stuff, especially considering how expensive tickets are now.

  6. Posted Jan 28, 2016 at 1:46 pm by Spencer Cortwright

    The CSO not long ago performed Neilsen’s 5th and Schuman’s 6th. The CSO does 30 programs and there is good breath in there of standards, unheralded gems, and new works. One need not moan that number of new works determines adventurousness of an orchestra when perhaps 9 out of 10 new works fail to get a second reading anywhere. Judicious focus on a few new works is far better and puts fannies in the seats rather than an unfocused gush of new works.

  7. Posted Jan 29, 2016 at 4:23 pm by Tod Verklärung

    For those interested, here is a partial list of worthy composers we rarely if ever hear: Alan Pettersson, Walter Piston, Nicolai Myaskovsky (a favorite of Frederick Stock), Carl Vine, Brett Dean, Paul Creston, David Diamond, Roger Sessions (championed by Jean Martinon), Morton Feldman, Kurt Atterberg, Vagn Holmboe, Farten Valen, Artur Schnabel (yes, the pianist), Kalevi Aho, Harald Saeverud, Peter Racine Fricker, etc. All have been recorded. Full length symphonic works, no less, not the token short pieces our Maestro occasionally plays. Some have been played by the very guest conductors who are encouraged to offer standard works in Chicago. If you’d like to know what you are missing, try youtube or, for better sound, a commercial disc.

  8. Posted Jan 29, 2016 at 10:26 pm by Matthias

    “Fannies in the seats” sounds nice, but like Tod V. above, I haven’t personally noticed that this orchestra’s current programming strategy is actually filling its hall week after week. And I too have noticed a great contrast between the young, excited audiences at (for example) last season’s Salonen/Turangalila program vs. the norm.

    I’d even say I feel mildly insulted that an orchestra would announce a focus on Beethoven, Brahms, and Prokofiev in its season marketing. They focus on exactly these composers every season!!

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