Muti and Joyce DiDonato go play for young offenders

Muti and Joyce DiDonato go play for young offenders


norman lebrecht

September 29, 2016

Earlier this week Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, played piano at a recital for more than 60 young men, average age 16, at the Illinois Youth Center, Chicago.

Joyce DiDonato and Eric Owens sang a programme of arias accompanied by Maestro Muti at the piano. CSO musicians Cynthia Yeh (Principal Percussion), Gene Pokorny (Principal Tuba) and Jennifer Gunn (Flute/Piccolo) also performed.

A Todd Rosenberg photograph of the event has just been released (right-click to enlarge it).


Joyce DiDonato sang:

Handel: “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Rinaldo


Jake Heggie: “Si, son io” from Great Scott

Eric Owens sang:

Verdi: “Infelice! E tuo credevi” from Ernani

Harry Thacker Burleigh: “Deep River” (Traditional/Arr.)



  • John Borstlap says:

    Amazing…. would be great if the music would unlock some hidden little treasure box of aspiration. Not the aspiration to embark upon a singing career, but to experience better things of life.

    Would such community service be the thing to do by such top musicians? Would not simply good, and not necessarily famous performers be sufficient, so that people like Muti can concentrate on their score preparations? As with Simon Rattle inviting underprivileged Berlin kids to dance on his performances of the Sacre, there is a smell of not quite appropriate demonstration about these things, as if classical music has to justify its expensive and elevated position in society by gestures towards community building to show that classical music is NOT elitist and that performers DO care about society’s ills. And also, it smells a bit as a marketing device: see, how humane we are.

  • laurie says:

    Muti has started at home. For years – perhaps decades – he has worked with prison populations and other at risk young people in Italy. Since his Chicago appointment, he has been doing a lot of outreach there.

  • Nick says:

    I agree partly with John Borstlap – “amazing!” Maestro Muti has made a point of visiting prisons. That he and his fellow artists perform for young offenders who may never have been in prion before is a hugely valuable service for these young inmates. Prison should be about rehabilitation. Too often it is just about sending people to jail to forget about them. I doubt if any of those who attended this event/recital will become regular followers of classical music. But I’ll bet this was a day they won’t forget in a hurry – a day when others cared about them.

    I don’t know the facts, but I just do not believe this was any marketing exercise. If so, it would have been announced in advance from every rooftop Lang Lang style. In my experience there are many artists who happily give of their time and money for worthy causes without any fanfare, and I salute those like Muti, DiDonato and Owens. Bravi!

    We would do well to remember the amazing good done by people like Charles Hamlen who gave up jointly running IMG Artists to start up Classical Action. With his knowledge of artists and his organizational skills he persuaded hundreds – if not more – to give free unpublicised recitals in front of wealthy audiences and raised countless tens of millions if not much more for AIDS charities. Surely these members of the profession should be praised – not have their motives questioned!

    • John Borstlap says:

      That is true. When we don’t know about it, it must be genuine. The most genuine is when nobody ever gets wind of it whatsoever.

  • pooroperaman says:

    They don’t look very interested, do they?

    • John Borstlap says:

      They are in deep concentration. Or, the recital took place at a very early hour.

      • pooroperaman says:

        Or they’re just morons with all the aesthetic sense of a cockroach, which is probably why they’re in the institution in the first place.

        • Scott Fields says:

          Having grown up in one of the Chicago neighborhoods that is home to institutionalized young black men such as these, I doubt that they match the baseless, stereotyped assumptions of Pooroperaman. These vile comments say little about the young men in the audience and much about Pooroperaman, who is just another troll too cowardly to use a real name.

        • John Borstlap says:

          A research programme at Texas Institute of Technology has revealed that cockroaches react to different musical stimuli, a result which enriches the knowledge of insects’ behavioral patterns and stimuli processing considerably. Cockroaches seem to prefer Stockhausen and Xenakis to Bach and Mozart, but remain entirely indifferent to Boulez and country and western music, like plants (as a former project at TIT has found). One single cockcroach got very excited about Eugene Birman’s twitter-opera “Nostra culpa”, for which no explanation could be found.

          Do you share cockroach sensitivities? Do the test:

        • Eric Broomfield says:

          You sir, have shown what level of understanding, empathy and sophistication you possess. The arts are for everyone. If this music is to survive many more people need to experience it live. What music expresses goes beyond all the categories you listed. It takes time for these seeds to grow. I feel sorry for you that you have missed this in your own experience.