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Report: Riccardo Muti, facing surgery, drops out of CSO’s Asian tour; Maazel steps in

Submitted by on Jan 18, 2013 – 12:35 am

Report: Doctors in Italy discover Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director has abdominal hernia; conductor Lorin Maazel, who took New York Philharmonic to North Korea in 2008, will lead CSO concerts in China, South Korea.

By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz

Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has dropped out of the orchestra’s impending Asian tour for medical reasons and will be replaced for most of the tour concerts by conductor Lorin Maazel.

The CSO announced Thursday night that after Muti returned home to Italy last week suffering from flu symptoms, a further medical examination revealed an inguinal (or groin) hernia. Muti’s doctors determined that immediate surgery was required and that “to delay the surgery until after the scheduled tour to Asia could lead to complications,” the CSO said.

Musicians of the CSO were informed of Muti’s indisposition after a performance Thursday night conducted by Edo De Waart.

“When I spoke to the musicians, they were very subdued,” said CSO president Deborah F. Rutter, “but I know they’re concerned for him and they are planning to get together to send good wishes for a speedy recovery. I have to say the concerts last week and this week have been very, very special, not just because of the tenderness of everybody’s feelings, but also because they have been working so beautifully with Edo de Waart (who has been substituting for Muti in concerts at Orchestra Hall). Edo has done a fantastic job with them, and the musicians have risen as they always do to the occasion.”

When it was first announced that Muti had cancelled Chicago concerts this week and last, he was described as suffering from flu.

“I would say at this point that the symptoms led everybody to believe it was the flu,” Rutter said. “And when I spoke to him earlier this week to discuss what was happening and who was coming, I could barely understand him because he had lost his voice.  But he has also complained of abdominal pain, and for something that was causing him so much distress, to finally be able to identify it, it must be a relief.”

Muti is being treated for the flu at a hospital in Italy, Rutter said, adding that the conductor is recovering sufficient strength to meet the surgeon’s benchmark for hernia surgery.

In a written statement from Italy, Muti said, “I feel very sad, frustrated and upset to leave my wonderful musicians and audiences in Chicago and on this very important tour that I was expecting with great anticipation. I look forward to returning to Chicago in April when we can once again make beautiful music together.”

The CSO president described a feverish scramble to make the late change in tour conductors.

“I did not know about this until Tuesday morning, and then we were having to deal with not only the complications of who’s available but also the different time zones,” she said. “The agent who was putting the tour together for us is in London, and of course we also had to communicate with six different Asian presenters and the unique needs of every city, which meant we were often sending messages in the middle of the night for them. There were lots of twists and turns and ups and downs.”

It was not until Thursday at 10 p.m. that Rutter was able to announce Maazel would be taking over most of the cities. “He cannot join us in Taiwan (for the first two tour dates),” Rutter said. “He’s performing at the New York Philharmonic through Saturday (Jan. 26) and then he gets on a plane that night and joins us in Hong Kong.”

In order to make the trip, Maazel had to reorganize his rehearsal schedule at the Metropolitan Opera, where he is preparing for upcoming performances of Verdi’s “Don Carlo” in late February and March. “The Met has been very helpful to us,” Rutter said.

Maazel, who turns 83 in March, is a former music director of the New York Philharmonic who led that orchestra on a historic visit to North Korea in 2008. He also has a long history with the Chicago Symphony. Since his CSO debut 40 years ago, he has conducted the orchestra many times in a wide range of repertoire from Brahms, Mahler and Bartok to Stravinsky and Sibelius. In 2000, Maazel and the CSO gave the American premiere of his own composition “Farewells” as part of his 70th birthday celebration.

The CSO has had its share of last minute scrambles in the past.

“But I think this is a record,” Rutter says. “Not just because of the timing of it, but also because it’s such an acutely high-profile trip. We have had to change a conductor or a program in the past, but it was not a situation of quite this stature — traveling to Asia with Riccardo Muti. There isn’t anything bigger. In Asia where they are anticipating this, it is a momentous tour, and it will continue to be something very special. Maazel has come to Chicago many times before, and we couldn’t hope for a better partner under the circumstances. It is really great that he can do this. The orchestra knows how to work with him.”

On the Asian tour, Maazel will conduct two different programs, one pairing Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 in C major (“Jupiter”) and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D major and the other consisting of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A major (“Italian”) and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”).

As of Thursday night, Maazel was scheduled to lead performances in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin in China as well as the final concerts in Seoul, South Korea. The tour begins Jan. 24 in Taipei, Taiwan, where the orchestra will play two concerts. No conductor has been named for those performances.

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Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: Conductor Lorin Maazel, former music director of the New York Philharmonic, will replace Riccardo Muti for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Asian tour concerts in China and South Korea. (Photo by Chris Lee) Descending: CSO music director Riccardo Muti (Photo by Todd Rosenberg) CSO president Deborah F. Rutter (Photo by Todd Rosenberg) Below: Maazel, who has been conducting the CSO since 1973, is seen below in a 1984 video of a New Year’s concert with the Vienna Philharmonic. 

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