Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Muti Blues - The Mysterious Case of the Missing Maestro (and What I May Have Missed)

Classical Music Review

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Guest Conductor: Harry Bicket
Symphonies by Mozart (#25 & 34) and Haydn (#39 & 89)
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In mid-September, with the type of fanfare usually reserved for new Cubs managers--and seemingly greater expectations--acclaimed Italian conductor Riccardo Muti assumed his post as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

As part of his much heralded inaugural fall residency--the Chicago Tribune dedicated a special section to Muti, an honor, in these days of evaporating newsprint, that I recall only the Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks previously receiving this year--the maestro was to conduct a number of performances through October 17, including three of a program of Haydn and Mozart symphonies.

Although my knowledge of classical music is still extremely sparse, I have come to enjoy it far more than in my youth, and try to take in a few concerts and/or operas each year. So with all the hype about Muti, on Wednesday, September 29, I purchased a gallery ticket (the cheapest kind) to see Muti conduct the Mozart and Haydn pieces on Tuesday, October 5.

Here's what's happened in between, for those who don't keep up with these things:

Last Thursday and Friday, Muti conducted the Mozart/Haydn program, receiving a strong if not quite completely raving review from the Chicago Tribune's John von Rhein.

Saturday, Muti was to conduct a special Symphony Ball concert in his honor, but had to bow out due to illness (Tribune story here, including how the program was quickly revised and guest violin soloist Anne Sophie Mutter also filled in as a conductor).

By Monday morning, the Tribune reported that Muti was canceling the remainder of his fall residency concerts, saying: The Italian conductor, 69, is "suffering from extreme gastric distress" and, on the advice of local physicians, "must fly home to Milan to consult with his doctors," according to a statement released by the orchestra Sunday.

The same article also revealed that Harry Bicket would take over the final performance of Muti's Haydn-Mozart program on Tuesday, the one for which I had just bought a ticket 5 days earlier.

I looked on the CSO Website and it said, as it still does for Muti's upcoming scheduled fall performances:


Now I imagine that means I could have called and requested a refund, as I don't think the Patron Services Department would be revealing whether it was an overload of Al's Italian Beef or Lou Malnati's Pizza that was wreaking havoc in the maestro's innerds. But as I honestly don't know if I could sonically distinguish the CSO from a very good college or suburban orchestra and would still be clueless if they had substituted pieces by Brahms and Bach for the intended ones by Haydn and Mozart, to skip seeing and hearing 50 gifted musicians because a different guy would be waving the baton, seemed kind of silly.

Although I'm sure that orchestra conductors must be vitally important, as a classical music novice I've long wondered how much the guy waving the baton really affects on a nightly basis. I mean, haven't the musicians been practicing for weeks on end and know the arrangements set forth in compositions written 200+ years ago? And aren't they looking at their hands and the sheet music, not the guy gesticulating wildly?

And if a new guy, albeit another "internationally renowned conductor" (I've never read of one who wasn't), could be brought in on a day's notice and be good enough not just to satisfy a lummox like me but actual symphony aficionados, well maybe this whole mythologizing the mighty Muti is a bunch of hoo-ha.

OK, OK, I'm sure he's as great as advertised and do hope his doctors in Milan can give him something more than the Pepcid he could have gotten in Chicago (I know if my gut was all jacked up, the last thing I'd want to do is fly 8 hours).

Obviously, he's seriously ill and I don't mean to make light of that. It's a shame for a whole bunch of people and I did admire the strides Muti was making to bring the CSO to different areas of the city (he was scheduled to hold an orchestra practice session in Pilsen).

But understanding the adage, "the show must go on," I just wonder how much I missed out on by having a substitute conductor. If it was immense, at least to the folks in the ritzy seats, shouldn't the performance have been postponed until Muti hopefully recovers?

That said, to this classical music moron, the symphonies played on Tuesday sounded just fine and really nice, even if not of the jump out of your seats and scream "Hallelujah" variety. I don't feel gypped because I saw the back of one guy's head instead of another's. It just seems kind of weird that such a big deal was made about "Muti, Muti, Muti" and yet he's seemingly (perhaps not in theory but definitely in reality) that easily replaceable.

The banners I included here were as close as I came to seeing the maestro; here's hoping I can get another chance, and even more so, that perhaps one day I'll be able to tell the difference.


In the CSO program, where stuff about Muti takes up about 25 pages, I thought he answered the following interview question quite adroitly:

Why do audiences sometimes lose their concentration during performances?
Muti: Because the public often expects music to be spectacular, and many times music is the opposite.

Interesting, because I admittedly always love the faster and louder stuff in classical (and other musical forms with which I'm not deeply knowledgeable, like jazz), but know that in rock music a great slow song can be every bit as enjoyable as one that romps & stomps. But if it starts getting too slow at the symphony, sorry but true, I do get bored.

1 comment:

Sophia said...

Could you present all Muti's answers, please? He is a very interesting talker. Thank you in advance.