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Riccardo Muti, fit and jovial, pitches CSO’s agenda from Verdi to Canary Islands tour

Submitted by on Apr 10, 2013 – 3:35 pm

Report: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director, amused by attention his health is getting, says he’s excited about next season’s projects, including a visit to the Canary Islands Music Festival.

By Lawrence B. Johnson

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra announced a bundle of developments at a press conference Wednesday morning, but the best news may have been the vigorous appearance and high spirits of music director Riccardo Muti.

Back in Chicago for the first time since severe flu and an abdominal hernia cut short his January run of concerts before it even got started, and forced him to drop out of the orchestra’s Asia tour, Muti joked about the many expressions of concern for his health since he arrived in town April 5. “In Europe, no one cares,” the Italian maestro quipped, drawing laughter.

Muti begins a three-week stint of CSO concerts April 11-13 with a production of Bach’s Mass in B Minor at Orchestra Hall, followed by a Mozart-Beethoven program April 18-20 and an engagement with the venerable pianist Maurizio Pollini April 25-27.

His sit-down with the press was to make several additions to the earlier announcement of the CSO’s plans for 2013-14, which came in February while Muti remained at home in Italy recovering from hernia surgery.

Sharing the top spot on the maestro’s list were two events linked to this year’s Verdi bicentennial celebration: The September CD release of the opera “Otello,” performed by the CSO, its chorus and soloists, and plans for a live concert Internet streaming of Verdi’s “Requiem” on Oct. 10, the date of his birth in 1813.

Also announced Wednesday:

  • A January 2014 tour to the Canary Islands, Essen (Germany) and Luxembourg.
  • A one-year extension by Bank of America as the CSO’s global sponsor.
  • Four new gifts totaling $13 million to support CSO programs.
  • The extension of composer-in-residence status for Mason Bates and Anna Clyne through the 2014-15 season, a total of five years for each composer.
  • Chodl Auditorium in Cicero as site of the CSO’s annual free pre-season concert, on Sept. 18. The Chodl concert will mark the CSO’s first appearance in that 2,545-seat auditorium. The beaux-arts structure, part of Morton East High School, was built in 1925 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Commenting for the first time on CSO programing plans for 2013-14, Muti noted that the concert version of Verdi’s opera “Macbeth,” scheduled for the fall, had a larger purpose than merely to give another Verdi performance.

“This orchestra is a great Wagner orchestra because it has had many opportunities to play Wagner’s music,” he said. “The Verdi celebration presents an opportunity to become a great Verdi orchestra, by learning to play in the correct style. ‘Otello’ is not played in the way as ‘Nabucco’ or ‘Traviata.’ To play Verdi well is like playing Mozart or Schubert. It is very precise.”

Schubert also was on Muti’s mind. Next season the music director will conduct the full cycle of Schubert’s symphonies, a curiously numbered lot that runs 1-6, followed by the fragment of a seventh, the self-sufficient “Unfinished” and the monumental “Great” C major. Muti’s season-long Schubertiade also will include song-cycles, masses and chamber music.

“Schubert is the doorway to Brahms,” Muti said. “The tenderness we hear in Brahms comes from Schubert. Because of the technical precision his symphonies demand, they are excellent for raising the level of any orchestra. One violist in this orchestra told me he had never played the Second Symphony.”

Asked if his Schubert cycle might portend a CSO recording of the complete symphonies, Muti reaction only confirmed his serious purpose. “Let us see how it goes,” he said, with the faintest of smiles.

The CSO’s fifth international tour of the Muti regime will bring its debut at the Canary Islands Music Festival, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2014. Muti will lead concerts in two cities, Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

After that, the two-week jaunt moves on to Essen, Germany, for a  single performance at the Philharmonie, then the tour finale in Luxembourg.

Muti himself raised, as a rhetorical question, the issue of why Essen rather than Berlin. He didn’t quite provide an answer, except to say he was confident that critics from across Germany would gather to hear the CSO.

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Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: Auditorio Alfred Kraus Canary Islands is a 2014 tour stop for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Descending: Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg) Composers in residence with the Chicago Symphony: Anna Clyne and Mason Bates. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg) Interior of the Auditorio Alfred Kraus concert hall, Canary Islands.  

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