Riccardo Muti: ‘Conductors are sprouting like mushrooms after rain’

The Chicago music director is in colourful mood, chatting in Milan at the opening of a Toscanini exhibition.

He complains that young conductors urn up unprepared and insufficiently aware of their responsibilities. ‘We have forgotten the lessons of Toscanini, his way of thinking about theatre.’

Read here (in Italian).

riccardo muti

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  • Being 74 and at the peek of ones career doesn’t give anyone, not evenRiccardo Muti, the license to offend a whole category ! Sorry ,Maestro Muti may be right about a few people in this business , a few,as he calls them, “improvised” conductors who don’t study enough. But there are plenty of serous people out there who work hard and do study and have something to say. Some of them don’t get a chance because they don’t have the right connections , others are doing decent careers and they seem to be very well prepared and hard workers .
    People like the young Mariotti , Yannick Nezet Seguin, Andriss Nelsons,just to mention a few .I am sure they have studied a lot . The young Scappucci,who was recently featured in Opera News as a rising star , seems to be of the old school tradition .From her interviews we gather that she is capable of sitting at the piano and playing from the full score and coaching singers just like the old school conductors in Toscanini/Muti tradition used to do. So why shoot on everyone ??? Is it the fact that after 40 years of not quite caring about bringing up and teaching the new generation about conducting, now the Maestro has decided to found an Academy and he feels the need justify its existence ?! Where was he when Abbado Barenboim Rattle started fostering their next generation ( Dudamel Harding etc) ? For better or for worst they are now the future . Maybe Muti should have thought about it sooner or maybe simply if he has finally decided to do something , he should just do it and not insult everyone who is young and is trying hard to succeed in a very difficult world just to show that he wants to save the world !
    As for what he says about conductors abdicating in front of bad directors I completely agree. It is indeed the conductors fault if regie has taken over . Conductors need to speak up and need to study the score so well that they can fight their nonsense and defend the music.

    • Even when younger, it was always Muti’s habit to slag off most other rival conductors with the exception of Carlos Kleiber and his own teachers. He has now become a boring old man imagining himself to be the final arbiter of quality and thinking people care what he says. Basta cosi.

      • He sees a responsibility to speak out on certain issues and is putting his energies (and perhaps money) where his mouth is with the new Italian Opera Academy. You might wish to pay closer attention.

      • After well over a year of having heard other conductors and performances, I just happened to have heard a Toscanini concert last night, his 1945 NY Philharmonic farewell. (Recently released by Andrew Rose)
        The blazing conviction, gorgeous shaping, utter musicality and naturalness, subtle straightforwardness in molding of the musical line in music by Haydn, Weber, Sibelius, Wagner and Respighi was something that, on that level, I hadn’t heard for over a year. And yet with an unmistakable stamp of personality and individuality that permeated the interpretations (as they also did with Beecham, Koussevitsky, Stokowski and Walter and others in that era.)
        It was like a revelation as I had frankly forgotten all about him for awhile.
        Modern Beethoven interpretation alone would not be what it is without his example.

      • Dear Milka, I think you must have forgotten to add an emoticon indicating sarcasm in your comment on Toscanini. For a moment I thought you had just made the stupidest, least musically educated comment I had ever read on Slipped Disc (*which is really saying something) but then I realized that you couldn’t possibly be that out to lunch, and that your comment must have been meant as sarcasm. My apologies for not catching on sooner…

    • Roberto, at what age is one allowed to found a school? Pierre Monteux was 68 when he founded his famous Ecole Monteux. And he obviously felt the need for it in 1943. And if Scappucci is the exception in being able to sit at the piano, play from the full score and coach singers, we are in sorry shape indeed. That should be a minimum job requirement.

      • I think it’s never too late and good for Muti for waking up and doing something ! He is a legend and one of the greatest conductors alive , anyone that can take advantage of studying with him is lucky . My point is that while he accuses conductors of not being prepared , there are plenty of them that know how to work with singers , who know exactly what they are doing and take their profession very seriously .. wouldnt it b nice to admit that there is a young crop of good ones coming up too?lately he is simply nihilist … He has never spoken nicely of any LIVING other conductor…

  • Muti is correct. It started with universities offering degrees in conducting. There are too many of the baton wielders who can make fancy patterns, but their knowledge of the music is often shallow and learned from listening to recordings. There are, to be sure, a good number of younger conductors out who are outstanding. But there is currently no one (well, maybe Chailly) worthy to be mentioned alongside Furtwangler, Karajan, Solti, Bernstein, Szell, Barbirolli,Monteux, etc. And they didn’t get degrees in conducting!

    • No, but they all started in major posts in their 20s and late teens, when no doubt they were surrounded by moaning dinosaurs telling them they’d had it easy, didn’t know the repertoire, would never be a match for Richter, Bulow, Levi, etc etc

    • The facts are inescapable. For every real talent like Daniil Trifonov there are hundreds (yes, hundreds) who have the technique but nothing in the way of personality. The same applies to the conducting profession: lots and lots of time-keepers but very few who have the ability to energise and inspire.

      • In trying to outdo Gould as Quasimodo at the piano Trifonov comes off very much
        like the drama queen Hollywood actresses of the past .Impresses the great unwashed .
        Makes Dudamel seem a reflective artist if that is possible.
        For every Trifonov there are thank heavens artists like Piotr Anderszewski.

    • Ticciati — what the he** is he doing on the podium of major orchestras. In an interview, he remarks, “Conducting is like sorcery.” No wonder. “Look ma, no hands”

    • It is not necessary to mention names of conductors who are purported to be great or whatever, dead and especially living because of the subjectivity. And let us not forget that the book is already written on the Myth of the maestros by our author.
      I don’t find Muti’s comments out of line with what is simply truth. “These” conductors he refers to are musically shallow. They simply regurgitate the instructions given to them by their teachers largely and without substance. I call them “post-it-notes” conductors. They will stick a “post-it-note” at particular spots in the score and literally read it out as instructions to the orchestra regardless of how well the orchestra executed a musical passage. They simply don’t listen or simply don’t hear. Their teacher told them that a certain section of the score will have either ensemble problems or intonation or balance problems at designated spots. Indeed, many times it is true, however, many times the passage is performed very well but the conductor will still mention a particular problem.
      There was one conductor that I accept as a “post-it-note” conductor who does this and he only conducts Mahler #2, is a financial manager millionaire, and does not claim to be a musician. He just loves Mahler 2. He studied with many conductors who gave him specific instructions on the score and what to comment on. His score, at that time, was full of “post-it-notes”.
      I find him more honest than some regurgitated puppet conductor that has no musical sense nor musical integrity. And yes, Toscanini was a passionate musician that had a great passion and respect for music but was as well a teacher. Muti is simply saying that we should go back to our musical roots.

      • You mean Gilbert Kaplan. Lovely man; I sang in the chorus on his first Mahler 2 recording. He was courteous, well informed and knew what he wanted, unlike some professional conductors. The LSO liked him and so did we. I also got the chance to sit next and talk briefly with the great Maureen Forrester who learned her Mahler from Walter, who learned it from Mahler. Almost a brush with history. Thanks Mr Kaplan.

  • I was in the audience and I spoke with Maestro Muti before and after this event. He is totally right. He has never told the ALLl the actual, or young, conductors are unprepared did he? He did not name anyone. He just told to the audience that too many are not prepared and I can confirm this also being conducting teacher right in Milano. Most of the people who tries to enter in the class do not know how many strings a violin has , they are not accepted and you can find them conducting here or there soon only because they know the right people. You have also to consider where he stated his opinion, in my country unfortunately there are many that are doing a career only because they are sons of influent personalities. Some of them are real clowns. Muti told just the truth, it is so simple

  • Muti on Regietheater:

    “Oggi … si invita un imbecille che si inventa una storiella, e la musica diventa una specie di colonna sonora.”

    BRAVO!

    • Muti has stood by quite a few atrocious examples of Regie in his time, perhaps none worse than a disastrous ATTILA at the met.

      • He didn’t stand by it. He had approved of Audi, but at curtain on opening night he stood far from the director and looked displeased. Of course, Audi was not the main culprit — that was a tie between Miuccia Prada (for bad costumes; she didn’t show up for the bows) and the inept Swiss architect duo Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron (for bad sets; one didn’t show up). Peter Gelb had hired these.

  • “….vestiti da indiani” Isn’t this racist? 🙂 The well-known conductor of a British orchestra wore a kind of maternity smock until recently. A crash diet has led to a much more traditional look.

  • I was a student at the Florence Conservatory many years ago when my teachers-members of the Maggio Musicale Orchestra- complained bitterly about their whiz- kid conductor, who was ill-prepared and constantly raced; who was incapable of holding a tempo. Vittorio Gui, di Sabatta, the less-known Dean Dixon and Ernest Bour; these were the real conductors. The whiz-kid conductor they were referring to was Riccardo Muti. Things ain’t what they used to be and never will be.

  • I agree that there are too many stick wavers out there who wouldn’t know musicality if they heard it and certainly have no voice or ideas of their own. This doesn’t mean I’m siding with Muti though; he’s an overpaid pompous ass.

  • Maestro Muti is right about the fact that conducting is a serious profession, that needs years of studies and depth in knowledge. Obviously when you are young you also need to build experience . Surely when he started he did not have the knowledge he has today. But yes, you should not step on the podium before long studies and not so much related to how you move your arms, more about music itself. But I tend to agree with Roberto up in the first comment….there are big exceptions and seeing only black doesn’t seem to be right. There is hope for good musicians along side with the many “mushrooms” as he calls them. It would be healthier to look also at the positive

    • Did you write this?
      “We were rehearsing the Blue Danube Waltz, that pinnacle of classical kitsch, completely easy to play for everyone, and so simple to conduct that probably a trained monkey could do it, or a child, or certainly any member of the orchestra.”

      Because that waltz is NOT easy to conduct, not at all. You have no clue.

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