Breaking: Muti signs for Chicago til 2020

Breaking: Muti signs for Chicago til 2020


norman lebrecht

February 03, 2014

Jubilation in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Riccardo Muti, 72, has committed til the end of the decade, amid signs that he’s really enjoying himself. Here‘s Larry Johnson’s report, with plenty of Muti quips.

muti blackhawks


  • Rosana Martins says:

    Great news for the Chicago Symphony! I am sure they will have wonderful seasons. Muti is an intelligent programme builder…

    Loved his interview as well.

  • Rgiarola says:

    That’s the best ensemble in the US nowadays. It’s seems they are trying to keep the team for next seasons.Good news

  • mhtetzel says:

    The interview is very good and witty, Muti style.

    Each of the big orchestras in America says it is the Best in the country:

    Chicago Symphony is the best orchestra in America. The Cleveland Orchestra is the best orchestra in America. The Boston Symphony is the best orchestra in America. The New York Philharmonic is the best orchestra in America. The Los Angeles Philharmonic is the best orchestra in America. The San Francisco Symphony is the best orchestra in America. The Philadelphia Orchestra is the best orchestra in America. WOW! Which is really the Best isn´t important, what is really amazing and fantastic is that one Country alone can boast of these fabulous orchestras. We, the public, are very lucky.

    • harold braun says:

      Absolutely true,mhtetzel!And then there is Pittsburgh,Dallas,Washington,St.Louis,Detroit,Minnesota,Houston,Utah,Nashville,and the list goes on and on….

    • Rgiarola says:

      You’re right mhtetzel.

      I said it completely based on my personal amateur opinion, after a tour during last October to 10 US orchestras. I’m sure many ones (dis) agree. That’s part of the game.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      These are all very good orchestras, and there are a few more which are really good, too, but that’s not really such a big deal and not much to boast of for a big country like the US. THere many very good orchestras in many countries today, the general level of playing is much higher than it was only 30 years or so ago.

      Frankly, I am more impressed by how many very good orchestras some small countries, e.g. Finland, Sweden or the Netherlands maintain, relative to their population size.

      • PR Deltoid says:

        “Finland, Sweden or the Netherlands” – yes, those small Northern European countries are extremely impressive on the orchestral front, but they seem to be really exceptional. What puzzles me is why much larger countries like France, Spain and Italy, with their own great artistic traditions, seem to lack world-class symphony orchestras of their own. Or am I off base on this?

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Maybe a little bit. I think French orchestras are much better than their reputation, even among the French themselves. I am told by friends in Paris that their orchestras can be very good but also inconsistent, sometimes they are on, sometimes they are not. But I have heard the Orchestre National de France several times, and every time, they were totally on. The last time I heard them was here in Boston, with Tchaikovsky 5 with Masur, and they were so good, I more or less stopped going to BSO concerts after that because, frankly, they are a very good orchestra, too, but nowhere near as stellar as their reputation, and the concerts are often very lackluster and the playing not even as polished as one might expect.

          And one thing I love about French orchestras is that while they don’t sound quite as distinctly French anymore as they used to in the 70s and even the 80s – orchestras everywhere now sound much more “globalized” than they used to -, they still have retained a noticeable French element in their sound and playing style.

          Italy and Spain are different stories because they don’t really have that much of a symphonic tradition in general. But Italian orchestras have definitely improved a lot, too. The way was probably led by Abbado creating the Filarmonica della Scala in the early 80s. That is essentially the same orchestra that plays operas there, but under Abbado, symphonic programs gained more prominence and more importance. I have heard them and also the Santa Cecilia orchestra from Rome live a few times, too, and I would say they are also really good orchestras now, if not necessarily the most virtuoso and polished. But the difference between them and so-called top orchestras isn’t all that big anymore either.

          Spain has done a lot to improve the standards of orchestral playing in the past decades. They poured a lot of money into new and reformed orchestras and into music academies. It remains to be seen if they can maintain that since the country is essentially broke, but their efforts have yielded very good results so far, as you can see (and hear), for instance, in these videos:

  • William ford says:

    Pittsburgh is the best! Just my 2 cents worth.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Can you explain why you think that Pittsburgh is “the best”?

      • William ford says:

        Outstanding reviews worldwide e.g., their recent Strauss CD. Music Director Honeck gets rave reviews, here and in Europe, both with the PSO and as a guest conductor. Their brass section is widely considered to be outstanding. Their strings are not far behind. But seriously- the “best.” In the US, we indeed do have many great orchestras, and to some degree, I think the notion of the “best” is sort of silly. That’s why I offered only two cents about it.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          I agree. To me, it is not even worth one cent. I have heard most of the world’s so-called “great” orchestras live, many of them multiple times, and many of the slightly less famous ones, too, but I have never heard the PSO live. I think it is important to actually hear an orchestra live, preferably more than once, in order to form a realistic idea of and opinion about its qualities.

          But of course, that also applies to other orchestras one might want to compare an orchestra to and “rank” it with. And I sincerely doubt that many of those who declare this or that orchestra to be “the best” – in the country, in the world, whatever – have that broad basis for comparison.

          I was very lucky in that I grew up in a city (Berlin) which has an orchestra which has more often and, over decades, more consistently been called “the best in the world” than most other orchestras, so I got to hear them live many, many times. But also the other very good orchestras in Berlin, and many orchestras from many countries which came through Berlin regularly. But I never felt the need to “judge”, “compare” to or “rank” any of them against our famous local band to find that most of them aren’t maybe quite as good as the BP and then be a sob about that. When I sat in another orchestra’s concert, I listened to what they had to offer and I enjoyed the differences in style more than I felt the need to decide which one is “best” or whatever.

          You seem to be based in Atlanta, another orchestra which I have actually never heard live but only on recordings, but those recordings generally left a rather good impression on me. Do you think the PSO is “better” than the ASO?

          • William ford says:

            The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is very, very good. It has imaginative programming and recently benefited from an acoustical upgrade in Atlanta Symphony Hall. It has a wonderful woodwind section. But, like others, its performances vary in quality depending on who is conducting. Several musicians in the ASO say that Pittsburgh (and the traditional “Big Five”- I really dislike that label) are a step up; The biggest compliment to the Pittsburgh Symphony I have heard was from a patron at Philadelphia’s Mann Music Center, who after hearing Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, played by the PSO, said that “our orchestra used to sound that.good” When i travel, I usually try to catch a concert or two and I have enjoyed so many great orchestras in the US and in Europe. My conclusion it that that two key indices of a great orchestra are that the audience enjoyed its performance and that the house is rather full. You can see my reviews at my website at

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Why do you think Robert Spano hasn’t been “snatched up” by any of the so-called “Big Five” (a label I dislike, too, and one that I don’t think applies anymore anyway) yet? Judging only from recordings (I have never seen him live), he seems to be one of the most interesting conductors active in the US today. Why is it that “top” American orchestras prefer to hire faded European maestri (that’s not a stab at Muti as such, I am kind of a closet Muti fan, although I really don’t see why they hired him when he really had no relationship with the orchestra before, also see what I quoted from Donald Peck’s book near the bottom of this page) or flashy young stars with great hair but little experience when local talent like Spano is available?

  • shlomo tamir says:

    Both The New Yorker and the Grammy voters say Minnesota Orchestra is the best. Take the challenge, Bloated Five. Come to our house and we’ll kick your tuchus.

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    Here is what Donald Peck, former principal flute of the CSO, has to say about Muti in his memoirs. It’s probably a good thing that Peck is not there anymore (he retired in 1999)…

    “Riccardo Muti appeared with us a few times. At that time, he was distinctly the wrong influence for the CSO: driven, tight, and edgy. When he had a position with the Philadelphia Orchestra, he purposefully set out to change its famous sound. In so doing, he ruined the essence of that orchestra. It wasn’t until a few years later, with Wolfgang Sawallisch, that the Philadelphia Orchestra was able to regain some of its grandeur. Muti’s attitude created problems at La Scala in Milan, where he was artistic manager, and eventually he left.”