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Riccardo Muti takes his bow with Chicago Symphony Orchestra

September 20, 2010 | 10:41 am


Italian conductor Riccardo Muti made his debut over the weekend as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's new music director. As befits the inaugural appearance of a world-renowned maestro, the city of Chicago rolled out the proverbial red carpet and threw a public bash to celebrate his arrival.

Muti, 69, is taking the helm of a venerated institution that has lacked a musical director for close to four years. The last person to hold the position was Daniel Barenboim, who stepped down in 2006 after 15 years.

The weekend's festivities centered around a free outdoor concert at Chicago's Millennium Park that drew 12,000 people to the pavilion and lawn, according to reports. The concert was scheduled to include the overture to Verdi's "La Forza del Destino"; Respighi's "Pines of Rome"; Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" Fantasy-Overture; and Lizst's  "Les Preludes, Symphonic Poem No. 3."

So how did the critics respond to Muti's debut? Parsing the hype from the substance can be a difficult task when it comes to large public concerts that are intended to appeal to the masses. Still, Muti appears to have acquitted himself well in the eyes of the city's music critics.

The Chicago Tribune's John von Rhein wrote that what appeared "to be a fairly routine program of standard Romantic repertory was anything but routine in the execution. Muti was in superb form, and the orchestra played its collective heart out for him." He added that the concert served as an "auspicious start to what promises to be an auspicious season."

The Chicago Sun-Times' Andrew Patner praised the orchestra for playing "its collective heart as well as its legendary technical command to its outer limits." He added that "Muti might indeed be the best conductor active today in repertoire that no longer figures in the programs of a number of other leading conductors."

The Chicago Classical Review's Wynne Delacoma observed that "Muti is not a flamboyant, look-at-me conductor; his baton technique is crisp and clear." The critic noted that "Liszt’s 'Les Preludes' sounded a bit raw, blaring in the big climaxes and insufficiently mysterious in quieter moments, though the trouble may have been due to amplification rather than the orchestra’s performance."

-- David Ng

Photo: Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Millennium Park. Credit: Scott Strazzante / Chicago Tribune