Chicago renews Muti, reinvites Barenboim

Chicago renews Muti, reinvites Barenboim


norman lebrecht

January 30, 2018

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has added two more years to Riccardo Muti’s contract as music director, taking him to mid-2022.

It has also reinvited former music director Daniel Barenboim after an absence of 13 years.


  • Olassus says:

    What? What! This was not supposed to happen.

  • Alain Louy says:


  • David Boswell says:

    Better still: Haitink is returning to do Bruckner 6 in October.

    • guest says:

      Haitink is not the man I’d want to hear do Bruckner. If you wanted to be put to sleep, maybe. You should have heard Eschenbach do it with New York a few years back, wow!

  • anon says:

    He’ll be 81 by the end of his tenure in 2022.

    Toscanini led the NBC Orchestra until he was 86 or so. Then he died 3 years later.

    Solti quit at 79. And died at 84.

    Just data. Not being morbid or anything.

    • anon says:

      Haitink is still very active at 88-89.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Indeed, there has been no shortage of octogenarian or even nonagenarian conductors doing great work, especially in recent decades, especially with Bruckner:

        Blomstedt, 90 and going strong; Skrowaczewski did memorable Bruckner after 90; Wand well into his 80s. The list goes on and on.

        • Vaquero357 says:

          Skwrowaczewski: heard his last performance, Bruckner 8 with the Minnesota Orchestra in October 2016. He was 93 and visibly frail, but dammit that was a performance that few conductors half his age could have managed. Blew the paint off the walls of Orchestra Hall. I was *SO* glad I made room in the schedule to go up and hear it.

          It was a sad loss when he passed a few months later, but we cannot complain that he left this world owing us anything!

          • Vaquero357 says:

            Or as I like to put it, that Bruckner 8 was the shorted 80 minutes of my life!

          • guest says:

            I heard it too. His performance of Bruckner 8 in 2005 was much better, to be honest. I can’t believe the Minnesota Orchestra let him do the same piece in 05, 12, and 16. There are other great Bruckner symphonies too!

  • boringfileclerk says:

    It only make sense. He’s one of the last of a dying generation. The younger generation of conductors are occasionally, on an odd day, technically competent, despite lacking any sense of artistry or possessing a soul. If anyone has the means, go hear Muti now. We will likely never hear this level of musicianship after his passing for several generations to come.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I find a lot to like in Muti, especially in Verdi, but think you go too far in your assessment.

      This clip makes me quite optimistic about the future, especially in Berlin:

    • Leo says:

      I agree. The young conductors are as you say, but not for blame of their own. It is not for lack of talent, or laziness. The fault lies on their ignorant superiors: today, the demands of making a career do not coincide (and often go directly against) the not less strenuous demands of making music.
      Achieving a big career and evolving as an artist seem to be today mutually exclusive for new conductors, and people like Muti know this. He has articulated it several times.
      See also blog posts on his website.

  • Richard schneider says:

    Chicago is very fortunate that the worlds greatest musician is returning.

    • Joel Stein says:

      Haitink or Muti?…certainly not Muti-as long as Haitink is conducting the CSO, Muti won’t even be the best conductor of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner or Mahler at his own Orchestra.

      • anon says:

        I wouldn’t want to be in an orchestra where its own MD is its best conductor of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, and Mahler, because that would mean the orchestra is unable to attract the best conductors out there.

        All one needs is that one’s MD be the best in ONE area. Muti is hands down the best in Verdi, not a bad corner of the market, no worse than Thielemann being a Wagner specialist.

        Which begs the question, who IS the best conductor of each of these titans, and where are they MDs of?

  • Dean says:

    Barenboim and Haitink back, yes. But moving to the important question: is there a single realistic audition going on here?

    Quoting JvR in the Tribune:

    “Other returning conductors include Esa-Pekka Salonen, David Afkham, Mikko Franck, Jakub Hrusa, Pablo Heras-Casado, Emmanuel Krivine, Andres Orozco-Estrada, Matthias Pintscher, Michael Tilson Thomas, Nikolaj Znaider, Bramwell Tovey and Osmo Vanska.

    Conductors new to the roster are Fabien Gabel, music director of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra; Edward Gardner, chief conductor of the Bergen (Norway) Philharmonic; Giancarlo Guerrero, music director of the Nashville Symphony; Thomas Sondergard, music director designate of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra; and Simone Young, former artistic director of the Hamburg State Opera in Germany.”

    Now THAT’S a lineup that will not help in the search at all (to put it mildly). I’m going to choose to be “glass half-full” and say that they couldn’t invite bigger or more obvious candidates so as to not insult Muti in any way (the CSO did it for years under Solti) so I’m looking forward to the conducting rosterin the next few seasons… hopefully… Meanwhile, IMHO, the schedule this coming year — while not pushing boundaries — is at least full of good stuff.

    p.s. not that it should have to be said, but I’m not attempting to diminish good young conductors, a few of whom are on the new season’s schedule. But the CSO has not gone with a relative unknown in my lifetime and is not about to start, no matter how talented a youngin’ might be.

    • MacroV says:

      My guess – based on nothing but conjecture – is that the next CSO MD will be either Sir Simon or Thielemann. Two A-list conductors with whom the CSO has no recent relationship, who regularly make clear they have no interest in a US gig. But the CSO, always adamant that they demand (and can get) the best and unobtainable, will lean on them to guest-conduct, and one of them will say, “I had no interest, but the musicians just blew me away…” and sign on.

      Probably a good thing Barenboim is coming back.

      • Vaquero357 says:

        And, if I remember correctly, after his Philadelphia gig was over, Muti said he’d never take another MD job in the U.S. So there’s one case of the CSO turning a No into a Yes.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Rattle is unlikely to leave London having only just arrived (unless something goes seriously wrong he is here for the long-haul).
          While Thielemann is too committed to Germany and German cultural traditions (and some believe his private views are “controversial”). I would be surprised if either went to Chicago, or any other US orchestra.

    • Vaquero357 says:

      They tried the “relative unknown” strategy back in the ’60s with Jean Martinon. Didn’t work out. Not so much because he was a bad conductor or musician (listen to his CSO Nielsen 4th Symphony or his later stuff with the ORTF orchestra) but because it was just a bad personality fit.

      • MacroV says:

        I absolutely love the CSO/Martinon Nielsen 4th. I’ve heard all their recordings and they’re all great, nothwithstanding the perception that it was a disappointing tenure.

        • Vaquero357 says:

          Yes! The CSO/Martinon recordings are all “quite” to “very” to “really, really” good. RCA was unhappy because Martinon did different repertoire from Reiner and it just didn’t sell as well. And there was internal dissension within the orchestra and between some members of the orchestra (>>cough!<>cough!<<) and Martinon, but to a lot of audience members it was *not* a bad time.

  • Vaquero357 says:

    Muti: I was happier to hear the news he’d been appointed CSO MD than I have been with the results. I’ll preface this by saying I was – and still am – a big fan of Early Muti, including the (sometimes maligned, by the critics) Philadelphia years. And nobody can pump the adrenaline into a Verdi opera (e.g., Atilla at the MET in the 2009-10 season). And temperamentally, he’s a much better fit with the CSO than Barenboim; after the decades of Reiner and Solti, even the younger members of the orchestra seem happiest with a maestro who knows what he wants and can articulate his desires clearly. (Search for the “CSO bass blog” for an insider’s view, though it’s not much updated nowadays.)

    But I fear much of the fire has gone out of his belly. Almost invariably now, when I hear him do something with the CSO that he performed or recorded back in the 70s or 80s, the old performance always strikes me as more vital, more cogent, less bored with itself. Muti has never been interpretively “deep,” but back in the day he never failed to generate excitement.

  • stickles says:

    I have attended most if not all of his subscription programs here in Chicago. With the CSO, Muti probably has no equal in the works of these three composers: Verdi, Schubert, and Prokofiev. He is also near the top with Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Bruckner. At his age, he is content to let the music unfold of its own accord. However, there is no shortage of vitality in these performances of composers he know very well. They are just more nuanced and less driven. His concert versions of Otello, Macbeth, and Falstaff are revelations, especially Falstaff. He turned in a superb Schubert symphony #2, with the 4th movement played at such a neck breaking speed, that I wonder how the string players in the CSO survived it all. However, he does have a tendency to linger on some slower moment, as if mesmerized by the beauty of the CSO sound, and refuses to move forward. That is unfortunate, as it often breaks the momentum. Despite the vacancy of many principal chairs, the CSO is in surprisingly good shape. The only seat that needs to be filled immediately is the principal oboe. And no more subpar guest trumpet principals please! As the for Muti’s successor, I have my own short list of Bychkov, Honeck, Malkki, and Mena, but I also suspect a lot of the board members are eyeing Dudamel since he finished with LA in 2022.

    • ChiLynne says:

      Some of us would love to see an acting principal elevated to principal in at least one chair. Long overdue!

      • Stickles says:

        Yes, Mark Ridenour was superb in Mahler 5 under Honeck last Thursday. In fact I am at Orchestra Hall again tonight for a second helping, waiting for that trumpet call to start.

        • Vaquero357 says:

          Oh, Mahler 5 with Honeck!! I can completely understand going back for seconds at *that* yummy buffet.

          Gotta keep my eyes peeled for a broadcast. He’s built such a superb orchestra in Pittsburgh, I’d hate to lose him there (for sure!)….but would make an excellent CSO MD.

          • Triangular Planet says:

            I suspect that the PSO would make any conductor sound much better than they actually are. I have heard Honeck conduct some of the same pieces in Pittsburgh and in Boston and he’s always much more exciting with the PSO.

      • guest says:

        Why didn’t they offer Mark Inouye the job? I heard he was their choice but then they backed out. What a mistake.

    • herrera says:

      My money is on Malkki, it’s a very good fit (she’s had stellar reviews, musicians respect her, the audience likes her), assuming LA, where she’s principal guest conductor, doesn’t grab her first, which they certainly will to be the first woman and all, when Dudamel’s contract expires at the same time as Muti’s in 2022.

      Dudamel won’t go to Chicago because after the excitement of LA, a finer orchestra is not what a conductor seeks, at least not at his age, he’d want yet more excitement, which only London and Berlin can offer.

      • KAREN says:

        San Francisco will need a new conductor before either Muti or Dudamel steps down. It would be very disappointing if they don’t consider Mälkki.

      • guest says:

        The “excitement” of Dudamel is about 7 years out of date. He’s nothing but show.

    • Vaquero357 says:

      “[H]e does have a tendency to linger on some slower moment, as if mesmerized by the beauty of the CSO sound, and refuses to move forward. That is unfortunate, as it often breaks the momentum.”

      A *very* good assessment. You’ve hit the nail on the head. And I agree that the Verdi he’s done with the CSO is top-drawer. I also remember a recent, eye-opening Bruckner Ninth and a Mozart Piano Concerto 22 with Andsnes….then a totally lifeless, dispiriting Mendelssohn Reformation. So there are ups and downs, and overall, who would I have preferred for the MD post back when it came open? Haitink, for sure – and maybe he’d have taken it if he’d been 10-20 years younger (but he still gave us lots of exciting performances during his “music advisor” tenure).

      Finally….yes, most of the “acting” principals need to be given the job permanently (including, as somebody said, Mr Ridenour).

      Geez, I gave up the CSO as my “home” orchestra 10 years ago, but it’s a lot like being a Cubs fan. You can move away, but you never stop being a fan.

    • Daniel says:

      As a resident of the state of Pennsylvania, I am fortunate to have easy access to Philly and NY, and to some degree DC and Boston, depending upon whether i want to take a train or my car. So, it is with absolute excitement that i was surprised with Chicago Symphony tickets for my birthday. I will hear Maestro Muti, live for the first time conducting music by Shostakovich and Prokofiev. The program in June will include: Festive Overture, the 2nd cello concerto and finally my favorite Prokofiev symphony – the 3rd.

      My favorite recording of the piece happens to be the first one i ever bought with Muti when he was in Philly. I hope that the CSO will punch me in the gut with an outstanding performance. Any other Americans in the area planning to attend this series of concerts?

      • John Kelly says:

        I well remember Muti’s Prokofiev Third Symphony with the Phillies in the early 1980s at Carnegie Hall. While not a profound work, it’s tremendously exciting and he does it very very well. I remember being absolutely blown away by the Philadelphia brasswork in the finale. They’ve for a long time had an insanely good trombone section notwithstanding personnel changes. Still true today.

        • Triangular Planet says:

          Their trombone section from about 1981-85 was possibly the greatest ever assembled. Glenn Dodson, Joe Alessi, Charlie Vernon. The section now doesn’t have as good of players in any of the three chairs.

        • Tod Verklärung says:

          I heard Muti’s Philadelphia Orchestra debut with the Prokofiev 3. I later attended a repeat with the Philharmonia Orchestra and much later, with the CSO. With each attempt the fire diminished. Muti of this day almost always lacks the searing intensity of his youth, though the gloss – the surface of things – is still present. Perhaps one expects too much from any man soon to be 77. The Maestro will be almost 82 when his new contract ends. Baseball free-agents, like conductors, are signed to “long term” deals based on past performance, in the hope of a future close to the same lofty level of attainment. The data tell us they usually disappoint. The Toscaninis and Soltis of the world attest to that. Keep your finger crossed.