Muti offers Chicago a 10th anniversary Beethoven cycle

Muti offers Chicago a 10th anniversary Beethoven cycle


norman lebrecht

January 29, 2019

Next year is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and the 10th of Riccardo Muti’s leadership of the Chicago Symphony.

Season highlights, announced today:

Riccardo Muti conducts the complete Beethoven symphonies as part of a season-long celebration of the great composer’s 250th birthday.

A master of Italian opera, Muti leads a concert performance of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and an international cast.

Celebrated guest conductors and artists join the CSO for electrifying performances of Carmina burana, Holst’s The Planets, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Ravel’s Boléro and much more.

Acclaimed pianists including Evgeny Kissin, Maurizio Pollini and Sir András Schiff perform the complete Beethoven piano sonatas on the Symphony Center Presents Piano series.


  • Cubs Fan says:

    Another Beethoven cycle? Really, do we need that? Other than the 250th anniversary, who cares? It’s too bad there’s so little adventurousness in music. Why not a cycle of the Bax symphonies? Or Schmidt? Or Alfven, Prokofiev, Shostakovich? Something new and different.

    • We privatize your value says:

      Or Honegger, Wellesz, Penderecki, Gerhardt, Vermeulen, Schnittke, Pettersson, Nørgård, Tournemire, Sessions, Mennin, Simpson, Arnold, Karen Khachaturian, Panufnik, Krenek, Younameit, Etcetera, and Soforth… And that’s only the 20th century.

      • Dave T says:

        I’d even settle for a cycle of symphonies by Glinka, Franck, Rott, Lalo, Grieg, Dukas, Holst, Ciurlionis, Bizet, Wagner, or Korngold.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Especially Younameit has been unjustly neglected, one of the most interesting composers from Algeria.

      • Novagerio says:

        You don’t get it, do you? Beethoven changed music history and turns 250 next year, and is still at the top of its immortal fame.
        The composers you mention are good and even great, but none of them changed music history and none turns 250 next year – plus, I’m not that sure that 10 out of 15 will even be remembered in 200 years from now.

        • Harrumph says:

          No, YOU don’t get it. Beethoven does not “turn 250 next year” — what an absurd and meaningless notion — and his “immortal fame” is the slag heap of a tiny sliver of humanity that suffers from aesthetic necrophilia. But fortunately your fossilized view is dying out and good riddance.

    • aj says:

      Something new and different …are you mad ???
      You don’t come here for something new and
      different . So called “classical music” for most
      of its followers is about the remastered dead.

    • Anthony Gigliotti says:

      That was also my first thought. We need more programmers like Neeme Järvi.

    • Euphonium Al says:

      I can’t say I object to Muti doing another Beethoven Cycle per se, but I would love to see him tackle Bax, Prokofiev, or Shostakovich cycles instead. Not that they are mutually exclusive propositions, theoretically.

      • aj says:

        Why should he tackle anything ? He has worked
        himself a good deal which seems to please his
        crowd , and as long as they make little demands
        and he gets his salary why go out of the way
        and introduce creative programming . It might
        upset the apple cart and then where would
        he be ? out –minus a handsome salary . No
        dummy he ………..

    • Anon says:

      Yes, we need it.
      4 performances of each program will be sold out = 10,000 seats. Multiply that times the number of programs. People want to hear it.
      You can stay home and listen to Bax and Alfven, and that goes for the other 50 people worldwide, that feel the same way as you.
      You guys are the reason “classical music is dying”.

      • Euphonium Al says:

        You aren’t wrong, financially. I think with creative programming, especially with an orchestra that plays as often as the Chicago, I just think you can do both. Play a lot of greatest hits and you can play some more obscure composers.

        • JAS says:

          Like Avner Dorman? Or Henryk Wieniawski? Or James Lee III? Or Florence Price? Or 3/4ths of those featured in the MusicNow series?

    • Andrew says:

      Amen, Cubs Fan. I’ll be skipping all of these Beethoven performances and spending my recreation dollars elsewhere in Chicago.

      I can’t believe that your post has nearly as many downvotes as likes, but this is Slippedisc, after all…

    • Bruce says:

      LOL. I can just see Muti conducting a Bax cycle.

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      Totally Agree!

    • Spenser says:

      Got to agree with you there, Cubbie.
      But how about the adventurousness starts in 2021, and let Beethoven have his anniversary celebrations? He deserves them.
      And I’ll add Piston, Schuman, Diamond, Harris, Martinu and Nielsen to your list.

      • Jean says:

        Beethoven is already celebrated every year in every concert hall in the world

      • Euphonium Al says:

        That is a great list! Especially in American orchestras, I think one can get away with thematically programming the likes of Piston, Schuman, and Harris. Muti did Schuman’s 9th, the Aventine Caves, recently. Harris is grossly underestimated as a symphonist.

      • BrianB says:

        Piston, Diamond (especially the 2nd and 4th), Martinu and Nielsen, yes. But only Schuman’s 3rd and Harris’s 3rd are worth the time. Harris, especially, spent his career rewriting No. 3 over and over again.

        • Keith Clark says:

          Check out Roy Harris’ 5th, 6th, and 7th. They are hardly retreads of the 3rd.

        • Euphonium Al says:

          I don’t agree about either Schuman or Harris; dig beneath the conventional wisdom. Nonetheless, the Lenny Bernstein disc with a Schuman 3 and Harris 3 concert is great.

    • Michael B. says:

      With very few exceptions, American concert planners (and radio broadcasters) are wimpily conservative. In general, the major orchestras stick to Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvorak (maybe Sibelius, Mahler, Bruckner, and Richard Strauss in some areas), rinse, and repeat. Alan Gilbert was gently eased out as the music director in New York because of his repertoire choices; for much of his board, Carl Nielsen was too scarily radical. You don’t even have to mention Ligeti, Magnus Lindberg, and Christopher Rouse.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Gilbert was not good enough for the repertoire which shows your musical abilities: the classics. That is why he wanted to focus on moderns, since they are, from a musical point of view, easier.

        • MacroV says:

          Gilbert was admittedly not as good at Mahler as Haitink, as good at Bruckner as Blomstedt, at Bartok as Ivan Fischer, or at Tchaikovsky as Gergiev. But he was great as an institutional leader, one who saw the relevance of newer music in an orchestra’s programming. And there were always old masters available to come in and deliver those canonical works. But if Nielsen is too modern for the NY Phil audience, well, that says more about them than him.

          Take a look at his website; his calendar is full of engagements with A-list orchestras, so apparently some hold him in high regard. The problem on SD is a conductor has to have at least one foot in the grave to be well-regarded.

      • BrianB says:

        What Sibelius, Bruckner, Mahler and Strauss are neglected in this country? In the cities I’ve lived in in the U.S. they are frequently programmed aside from the two “Sixes” of Sibelius and Bruckner.

    • Jack says:

      Oh! An Alfven cycle!! When are tickets going to be available?!?!?! I can’t wait!

    • BrianB says:

      Because like it or not a Beethoven, Brahms, or Mahler cycle will put butts in seats and those other composers are risky. For his 250th, LVB deserves a cycle (though not sure Muti is the man I want to hear doing it). All of the LVB Nine are masterpieces, one can’t claim the same for Prokofiev or Shostakovich, or Schmidt or Alfven. More dismaying is yet another Carmina or Planets. Though they too help satisfy the bottom line. But, I agree, individual concerts should give us underplayed works along with chestnuts. When was the last time you heard the Chausson or d’Indy 2nd in concert? And Tournemire’s 2nd is all but unknown and deserves attention.

  • John Borstlap says:

    A new Beethoven cycle…. what a wonderfully original idea. We do hear that composer far not enough. There are so many music lovers today who even have forgotten the name. I had to look up the name myself in the encyclopedia. So happy the man’s music is finally dug-out and given a hearing…. after 250 years of waiting. Some musicologists even maintain that the music is quite nice.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      The problem is not that the public has too much of Beethoven, or of Mozart, Schumann, Brahms, et al. Complete cycles of their music should be played every year. The problem is that the public gets too little new music that can be listened on and on, and you know well why. Let’s hope that a Classical Revolution becomes reality

      • Harrumph says:

        And part of the reason for that is conductors like Ricardo Muti who aren’t willing to take the trouble to seek out good new music and instead take the easy route and program another Beethoven cycle. Don’t blame the victims.

  • Steve says:

    Apart from the great artists and great orchestra what a disastrous program. So we are using Beethoven’s 250th anniversary to bury classical music once and for all?..

    • John Borstlap says:

      Many symphony orchestras treat music as a commodity in a business: an entirely commercial undertaking. Whether the offerings are interesting or not, is irrelevant; the only parameter is whether they get the hall filled and they think that repeating the familiar will be the easiest way.

    • Anon says:

      Absolutely not.
      This will draw thousands of people to the concerts.
      It’s the “interesting” and “adventurous” programming that will kill classical music.

      • Stuart says:

        Classical music is already dead, at least in the US. It was the lack of music education in schools that is partly to blame, and the laziness of audiences who are too intellectually challenged to accept interesting and adventurous programming. I love Beethoven symphonies (but Muti is boring) but Ligeti, Ives, Dusapin and Eotvos as well. The very term Classical Music is part of the problem. If your musical world stopped in 1900, you died a long time ago. I visit museums, but also spend time at art galleries.

      • Euphonium Al says:

        There simply isn’t any programming, even 100% Beethoven and Mozart, that will bring untold thousands into American concert halls. This is certainly true of Chicago, and I say that as a huge fan of the orchestra who loves just a few hours north of Chicago. Muti also commissions and conducts excellent new work, so I’ve no problem with him doing a Beethoven cycle. Nothing can “save” classical music in America; it’s already moribund but unlikely to get worse than present as long as it maintains a prestige cultural product underwritten by the immensely wealthy. Might as well have some variety.

  • Bruckner says:

    This is definitely the most boring and non inspirational programming I have seen for years even in mainstream orchestras.

  • Jean says:

    Wow. Originality at its peak.

  • Alexander says:

    I would love to listen to him with Pollini , just a wish of mine 😉

  • Michael says:

    I guess this was the best they could come up with in Chicago?

  • Mick the Knife says:

    I’m waiting for Muti to do something interesting, such as choosing a principal trumpet and principal horn.

    • anon says:

      An interesting trumpet or horn has to show up first.

      • NYMike says:

        NY Phil, Cleveland and Chicago all have principal horn vacancies. In this country of many top conservatories, one would think that there must be SOME horn players up to the job?? Re principal trumpet – NY signed Chris Martin away from Chicago a couple of seasons ago. Again, there must be SOMBODY in the US up to the job??

    • lovelyboy says:

      The fools are looking for a carbon copy of Clevenger when another Clevenger is not going to show up. Everybody is different and they need to accept that. As for trumpet, they are just fine with Ridenour.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    Muti = Boring

    Thank you but I’ll wait for the next cycle.

  • guest says:

    Imaginative programming, that. Never heard the CSO play Beethoven Symphonies before.

  • anon says:

    The classics are like bread and butter (or rice and soy, depending on your culture), it’s a staple you can easily complain about, but if you didn’t have it, you’d starve.

    When doing a Beethoven cycle, the trick adopted by Rattle, Dudamel, Chailly etc is to spice it up with a new composition, but I challenge anyone to name a single piece that was paired with the Beethoven (no googling!) and I challenge anyone to show me that that new composition was ever played again.

    We’d all starve without a regular diet of Beethoven.

    (And the musicians will certainly and literally starve if they did an Alfven cycle, the CSO could just declare bankruptcy right now to save themselves the trouble later on.)

    • Harrumph says:

      “We’d all starve without a regular diet of Beethoven.”

      Speak for yourself. Some of us have had our fill of that deaf Kraut-corpse’s dust.

  • anon says:

    It is extremely brave for an artist to do a Beethoven cycle, because it immediately opens you up to comparison to all the greats, living and dead.

    Muti doing a Beethoven cycle at age 80 is an artistic statement/summation of a lifetime of musical development, and his doing it after 10 years with the CSO is a similar statement/summation with his orchestra.

    Does every good British actor (and actress) have to do Lear once they hit 75? No, but if they feel up to the challenge, I’m interested in seeing what they have to bring to the role after a lifetime of developing their craft.

    It’s the same with the Beethoven 9 symphonies.

    • Euphonium Al says:

      I will say this: one nice thing about Beethoven cycles is you get to hear the less-loved and less-performed among them. Same with Mahler.

    • Harrumph says:

      > It is extremely brave for an artist to do a Beethoven cycle, because it immediately opens you up to comparison to all the greats, living and dead.

      Muti doing a Beethoven cycle at age 80 is an artistic statement/summation of a lifetime of musical development… <

      Hahaha! Thank you, I always feel better after an emetic purge.

  • Tod Verklärung says:

    Perhaps brave, perhaps a matter of arrogance. Muti recorded all these with Philadelphia long ago. Those recordings are rarely mentioned these days. Though some believe conductors improve past 75, few if any do. If Muti had something both distinctive and persuasive to say, then I’d attend. Having heard three of his Beethoven interpretations during his CSO tenure, he reminds me of that old John Cage quote, “I have nothing to say and I’m saying it.”

  • MacroV says:

    I’ll agree that the CSO under Muti isn’t the most innovative of programmers, but there’s something to say for one of the world’s top orchestras and conductors making statements with core works.

    To give him credit, Muti is also leading Florence Price’s 3rd symphony, a work of William Grant Still, and several premieres, including a new concerto for bass clarinet.

  • Caravaggio says:

    Beethoven or no Beethoven, Muti has lost his mojo. His performances nowadays are boring and sorely lacking in profile.

  • Paul Wells says:

    The Chicago Symphony is more conservative than a lot of other orchestras under Muti. But these paragraphs from the season announcement were left out of the summary above — not that there’s anything wrong with selecting which elements to highlight for this blog — and they paint a slightly different picture.

    “In the new season, Riccardo Muti and guest conductors also introduce works that represent some of the most
    original and powerful voices of composers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

    “In 1933, the Orchestra gave the world premiere of African American composer Florence Price’s Symphony
    No. 1—the first large-scale composition by an African American woman to be performed by a major American
    orchestra—under the baton of the CSO’s second Music Director, Frederick Stock. In April subscription concerts,
    Muti conducts the Orchestra’s first performances of Price’s Symphony No. 3, a work of power and originality
    premiered during a time of war, as well as Mother and Child by William Grant Still, a composer who is
    sometimes called the “Dean” of African American composers.

    “Muti also introduces new works by leading contemporary composers including three world premieres of CSO-–
    commissioned works by CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence Missy Mazzoli, Nicolas Bacri and Pulitzer Prize–
    winning composer Bernard Rands. The CSO also performs the U.S. premiere of Avner Dorman’s new
    percussion concerto featuring Principal Percussion Cynthia Yeh. Additionally, the Orchestra performs music by
    American composers John Adams, Samuel Barber, Mason Bates, Jennifer Higdon and James Lee III. The
    MusicNOW series, curated by Mazzoli, also features two world premieres of CSO—commissioned works by
    composers Wang Lu and Courtney Bryan whose work will be written especially for the Quince Vocal Ensemble
    and CSO musicians.”

    There’s more. Two Shostakovich symphonies on separate programs. Two Lutoslawksi pieces on separate programs. And so on.

  • Bill says:

    Get a big pile of money and donate it to a major orchestra, specifically earmarked for a cycle of your favorite non-Beethoven symphonies, and/or show the management an example of another group selling out a comparably-sized hall repeatedly with programs of those works. Programming that won’t sell many tickets is deadly, even if the music is great and people just don’t know that yet.

    Music by all the composers suggested here is available to hear for free on YouTube, I expect. How much of it has accumulated even 1,000 viewings? If someone tells me “you have to listen to this piece by XYZ I just discovered” and gives me a link I can click where I want, when I want, and the only cost is my time, I’ll probably at least sample it. Repeat the same invitation, except now I have to fight my way into downtown Chicago at a date and time not of my choosing and spend probably a minimum of $40-50, and you probably don’t have to worry about being bowled over in the rush to take that opportunity! If the music isn’t getting any traction where it is cheap and easy to hear, how is it going to do better in the concert hall where it is not?

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    To celebrate Beethoven’s special anniversary how about a cycle of his concerti to include the piano, the triple and the violin along with his overtures and incidental music and the romances for violin, piano and orchestra. Much of this not often heard.

  • Andrew says:

    Many commenters here seem to believe without question that programming another Beethoven cycle is good for the financial health of an orchestra.
    I’d love to see this backed up with objective proof. How many first-time audience members at a performance of a well-known masterwork such as Beethoven 5 will actually become regular concertgoers or donors?
    My counter-thesis is that the orchestra is actually sustaining itself financially with “CSO at the Movies.”

    • MacroV says:

      Very few first-timers will sign on for more. But Beethoven will sell out, and old-timers’ money is just as good – and better than if they don’t show up for Langaard or Medatoja (sp?).

      I have no problem with the CSO and others accompany films, if the music is good and the production is presented with thought and care.

  • Stickles says:

    Hopefully Muti can give us his first Missa Solemnis in the beginning of 20-21 season for LvB’s actual birthday.