What we're giving Riccardo Muti for his 70th birthday

What we're giving Riccardo Muti for his 70th birthday


norman lebrecht

July 29, 2011

The Vienna Philharmonic are making him an honorary member after Muti announced he’d never conduct another opera in Salzburg. Apparently. Actually, he confided his plans a couple of months back to Andrew Patner in Chicago.

La mamma gave him two birthdays

Slipped Disc does not like to fall behind the story. So we’ve been shopping hard and this is what we’re putting beside the birthday cake:

1 The earlobes of the last two producers to cancel his record contracts (they freely donated the lobes in preference to other parts).

2 A leather-bound copy of Il Mito del Maestro.

3 Wiped VHS copy of  The Philadelphia Story (he won’t want to remember that place).

4 Framed photograph of Chicago in winter:

5 And a really nice Hallmark card signed ‘tanti auguri, Claudio.’


Tanti auguri, Maestro! One of the few at your exalted level who have kept a sense of perspective and humour.



  • In 1979, my wife (the well-known trombonist Abbie Conant) won the audition for the Maggio Musicale, the orchestra where Muti was the GMD. He was also the GMD of Philadelphia at the time and was not present at the audition in Florence. The orchestra manager spoke with Muti on the telephone and told him that Abbie won the audition. Muti said they should not hire her because “there are already too many women in the orchestra.” So they took the man who came in second.

    It is thus no surprise to see the Vienna Philharmonic make Muti an honorary member. The VPo did not begin admitting women members until 1997 – and even then, only under massive international pressure. In the 14 years since then, the orchestra has hired only four women and about 15 times as many men. Exalted birds of feather…

    • Brian says:

      Appalling, but–unfortunately–not surprising. I am at least gratified to know that such actions could not occur in the U.S.–or could they? We’ll see how Muti plays out in Chicago when he is able to provide a “full season” (isn’t that 8-10 weeks?) commitment.

  • Grazie mille, Norman!

    Andrea di Chicago

  • Gramilano says:

    His sense of perspective went out of the window during his last years at La Scala (you should see the new office he had designed!) and humour (or at least irony) has never been his strong point. Recent interviews, however, seem to indicate a mellowing Muti – smiles, funny stories…

    So for his birthday I’ll be the Lilac Fairy and bestow on Maestro Muti the gift of loosening-up, chilling-out, and taking-it-easy.

    Buon compleanno Maestro!

    • Brian says:

      I still wish that the CSO had joined the twenty-first century and refused to hire one of the “old guard.” They still have a major league principal guest in Boulez who, as far as I can tell, is still going strong in his 80s. With the number of fine young American conductors deserving of a major post (including one just down the road in St. Louis) I would have thought better of the Chicagoans.

  • Steve says:


    Didn’t his wife interfere? I’ve heard that she is the real boss and his very tough manager. I doubt that it was him who had designed his new office. Anyway, could you describe the situation in La Scala in detail? It would be very interesting to know him better as a person.

  • Steve says:

    @ William

    Mr. Osborne why do you think Muti and other conductors did not want more women in the orchestra? What’s their problem?

    • Orchestras have given different reasons for excluding women based on their cultural background and the historical contexts. In the United States, the most common belief was that women were simply inferior musicians, so they weren’t taken seriously in auditions. According to a study by the economists Claudia Goldin (Harvard) and Cecelia Rouse (Princeton,) after blind auditions were instituted in the USA (ca. 1970,) the percentage of women reaching the final rounds and winning auditions increased about 300%.

      In the German-speaking world the most common reason given was the Europe’s progressive maternity laws would allow women to be absent for long periods and that their male colleagues would have to fill in for them. In actual practice, professional women musicians on average have very few children. And the orchestras almost always hired outside substitutes.

      Extremely sexists orchestras like the Berlin Phil (which first admitted women in 1983 and has the fourth lowest ratio of women members in the world) and Vienna Phil (1997 and has the lowest ratio worldwide) felt that they had a special artistic unity as all-male ensembles. They felt (and some members still do) that men make music differently than women, and that all-male orchestras thus have a purer style. They also felt that the presence of women would cause intrigues and destroy the cohesiveness within the ensemble.