Muti’s 1st performance of an American symphony?

Muti’s 1st performance of an American symphony?


norman lebrecht

February 23, 2019

His performance of William Schuman’s 9th this week was certainly his first US symphony since becoming music director in Chicago almost a decade ago.

Has he ever conducted another?

The Schuman symphony is a tribute to 355 Italians slaughtered by the Germans in the Ardeatine Caves in 1944.

Read Larry Johnson’s review here.

Photo: Todd Rosenberg 

UPDATE: The Chicao archivist confirms it’s his first US symphony in that city. Readers in Philadelphia recall him doing Copland’s third – by far the most exposed US symphony – and one by Persichetti, whose idiom was distinctly Italian.


  • msc says:

    How many have been performed by the CSO under other conductors, and how many were performed by Barenboim? What are comparable figures for, say, New York and L.A.?

    • Tod Verklärung says:

      Schuman was performed by Bernstein, Leinsdorf, Szell, Dorati, Slatkin, Giulini (Symphony #3), Previn, Ormandy, Martinon, and Ozawa; probably others, since I’ve done no exhaustive research.

      Muti only heard of the existence of Schuman’s 9th Symphony over dinner a few years ago during his time in Chicago, as reported in a recent Chicago Tribune article by Howard Reich.

      The conductor shouldn’t have been uninformed. Muti’s immediate predecessor in Philadelphia, Eugene Ormandy, recorded Schuman Symphonies 3, 6, and 9; as well as the Credenum and New England Triptych. A responsible Music Director, or one with some curiosity, would have known – at least – that he had inherited a podium where such devotion to American music was present.

      Schuman was still alive during Muti’s time in Philadelphia. The composer was a Pulitzer Prize winner who had been head of Juilliard, head of Lincoln Center, and a Kennedy Center honoree.

      • Novagerio says:

        Tod und Verklärung: Didn’t Toscanini also perform it?

        • Tod Verklärung says:

          Since it was written in 1968, it would have been quite a neat trick for the Maestro, who had been dead for 11 years. As you suggest, a real “Tod und Verklärung.” Thanks for making me smile!

      • Tom Varley says:

        Ormandy recorded the Schuman 9th in 1969 and it was coupled on the LP with a 1971 recording of the Persichetti 9th (which I’ve always preferred of the two). The LP would still have been readily available when Muti started coming to Philadelphia in the 1970s. Given Schuman’s prominence on the musical scene then and until his death, I’m not sure why the piece is now such a discovery to Muti. I recall someone who was on the Board of the Delaware Symphony borrowing some of my Schuman records in the early 1980s (while Muti was Music Director in Philadelphia) when the DSO were planning performing one of his works. He could have driven the 25 miles from Philly to Wilmington and heard a Schuman symphony.

  • Steven says:

    I seem to remember he recorded a symphony by Persichetti during his tenure in Philadelphia, also some pieces by Bernard Rands. He probably conducted others as well.

  • Euphonium Al says:

    At Chicago, he’s certsinly conducted concerti by living Americans, including Jennifer Higdon.

    Symphonies by Americans? Not as sure.

  • Sergio says:

    Muti will also be conducting Florence Price’s Symphony No. 3 next season

  • Eric Carlson says:

    He took Copland 3rd on tour with Philadelphia.

  • John Canarina says:

    Besides Persichetti’s Fifth (Symphony for Strings), Muti
    conducted Copland’s Third in Philadelphia. I remember
    a broadcast of it.

  • Monsoon says:

    I don’t know about symphonies specifically, but at Philadelphia, Muti did conduct a several of premieres by American composers, including Christopher Rouse.

  • Antonio says:

    He conducted Copland’s 3rd in 1988 (source: NY Times)

  • Greg in Chicago says:

    I recorded (off the radio) a performance of Muti leading the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Roy Harris Third. It was by far the best account of the piece I’ve ever encountered. I played it so often the tape wore out.

  • Ross Amico says:

    I heard Muti conduct the Copland 3rd and Persichetti 5th in Philadelphia back in the late ’80s (though not on the same program).

  • MacroV says:

    Muti can sometimes surprise in his choice of repertoire. I like the comment in the review about the pity the CSO aren’t playing it on their Florida tour. Years ago when I was looking to get into the orchestra business (which I never did), I read a good piece saying to the effect that with new/unfamiliar music, orchestras not only fail to repeat their failures; they usually fail to repeat their successes. Of course, I’m sure the Florida presenters would have balked had it been suggested.

  • Chris says:

    The Schuman is an extraordinary work. Glad to see them perform it.

    Muti’s adding another American symphony to his repertoire next season when he conducts Florence Price’s 3rd Symphony.

  • anon says:

    It’s interesting that the Fosse Ardeatine mausoleum website does not include this symphony as part of the history of the Fosse Ardeatine in the arts. Perhaps the museum wants to reference only Italian made works of arts.

    No doubt, Chicago will release Muti’s performance as a recording. Perhaps the museum will take note of the Schuman symphony given Muti’s performance.

    (I’d think the CSO’s other notable performances this season will be reissued in recordings, including Shostokovich’s Barbi Yar, and Mozart’s Requiem that accompanied the Schuman 9th. It’d make a noteworthy CD set of CSO and Muti on WW II.)

    • Tod Verklärung says:

      The Schuman performance was astonishingly fine. Like you, I hope it will be issued, but you are doubtless aware that Muti has permitted release of very few of his CSO performances on the Orchestra’s house label.

  • Ross Amico says:

    I heard the Schuman 3rd in Philadelphia during Muti’s tenure, though it was conducted by Leonard Slatkin. I attended the concert with one of my college housemates, who was Japanese. It was only afterward that I learned of his disappointment. He thought we were going to hear SchumaNN’s 3rd!

  • anon says:

    This piece has its moments, but honestly, it’s not a piece for the ages, there’s nothing you haven’t heard in dozens of film scores that announces “This is a very serious film”, and the explicit subtitle referring to the Nazi massacre only makes the symphony even less adequate, unequal to the historical weight of the event it wants to convey.

      • Tod Verklärung says:

        Part of the dilemma with the review link is that the Schwarz interpretation doesn’t do justice to the piece. Ormandy is to be preferred and Muti, if a recording is issued, will surpass them both in producing the most favorable opinion possible of the Schuman.

        • Chris says:

          I completely agree. While the Schwarz American Series on Naxos recorded some important repertoire from the middle part of the 20th century, the performances are often merely serviceable. Compared to some of the Bernstein or Ormandy recordings of the same repertoire, the Schwarz recordings come off as bland with music that is so often NOT that. That’s why I’m particularly looking forward to hearing this Muti/CSO performance of the powerful Schuman 9th.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    I am impressed that Muti is giving some attention to American symphonic works beyond the standard Bernstein Copland library.

    He should be commended for putting on something new that deserves to be heard and giving these works the respect they deserve by programming them on subscription concerts that he himself directs.

    It shows that he is still growing as a musician and willing to take risks outside of his core competency of the Italian repertoire. Bravo!

    • BrianB says:

      Might I suggest David Diamond 2 and 4? One of the immense pleasures of Gerard Schwarz’s otherwise spotty tenure in Seattle was his championing of and series of performances devoted to neglected American composers, what one might call the Koussevitzky rep.

    • aj says:

      Well I am unimpressed took him almost 10 years
      in Chicago to discover this work !!! He is a clever
      operator pumping out the same old same old year in and year out at a most handsome salary that should have him exploring the repertoire to greater depth to earn his keep. You might notice that the work is not listed for a road outing ,he is careful about that.
      It seems he has has long ago stopped growing as a musician, as for risk taking do spare us that years and only one American composer !!!!!

      • Old Man in the Midwest says:

        Mind you, I find his interpretations quite boring most of the time. Yes, he has a sense of balance and proportion but god I miss the days of Solti and even Barenboim. But one has to give some credit to his exploration of the new.

  • hanging my head says:

    Schuman’s Ardeatine symphony was composed the same year as the My Lai massacre which actually killed even more people, all innocent civilians including infants. Hence the irony of the musical memes in Schuman’s work which had come to be symbolic of American power and moral authority in the world.

    The history of Ardeatine is drenched in hypocrisy, such as how the Vatican helped the top officer in charge of the mass murder get to Argentina via its “ratline.” Or how West Germany refused to return to Italy another officer in charge after he escaped and comfortably settled in Germany. Or how the CIA freed another of the officers so he could work with them in anti-Soviet intelligence.

    Works like Schuman’s seem problematic in the world today, or at least to those who study history– all those 1950s musical memes of national greatness that ceased to be accepted after Vietnam. Given our own sins, it takes unspeakable abominations like Nazi Germany for us to be able to feel righteous and memorialize the evil of others. In the end, nothing celebrates our tubular moral vision with more mind-numbing irony than classical music.

    • hanging my head says:

      Small error in Norman’s post. 335 Italians were murdered, not 355. At the 10 to 1 ratio for retribution that the Germans set, it should have been 330, but they mistakenly rounded up 5 too many. The Germans decided to kill them too in order to keep the site of the atrocity secret.

      • If retribution is the point, keeping it secret would be pointless.

        Reprisal killings don’t work as a deterrent if no one knows about them.

        • hanging my head says:

          The Nazis developed a terror tactic and strategy they called Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog.) They found that people feel even more terror if victims simply disappear than if they are openly murdered. There is a closure in open murder denied by Nacht und Nebel actions. Terror unresolved is terror that eats deeper into the soul.

          And finally, at this point in the war, the Nazis had become aware that they would likely face consequences for their war crimes. So there were likely additional reasons they wanted the location of the murder to remain unknown.

  • Stephen CuUnjieng says:

    When he was music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1986 I heard him conduct Copland’s 3rd Symphony.

    As this is my first time to comment, thank you this website, my favorite and best source of classical music news and commentary.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    I have a distant but distinct memory that there was a television film of the Philadelphia and Ormandy in their first sight reading run-through of the Schuman 9 (or what was billed as such) prior to their premiere and recording, about which there was a great deal of publicity.

  • Bill S. says:

    you mean slaughtered by the Nazis ..

  • fflambeau says:

    I have the Philadelphia Orchestra’s program notes for its Asian tour in May 1999.

    Muti was the director of the Philadelphia Orchestra starting in 1980. The program states “Muti built upon the orchestra’s tradition of versatility by introducing to its audiences new and unfamiliar music from all periods. …Muti commissioned works by a wide range of composers including Mario Davidovsky (an Argentine-American composer), William Bolcum (an American composer and pianist from Michigan), …Leon Kirchner (an American composer of contemporary classical music born in New York City) , Christopher Rouse (an American composer born in Baltimore) , Richard Wernick ( born in Boston, Massachusetts is an American composer), and Steven Stucky (a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer born in Kansas). In 1989 Muti announced the appointment of Pulitizer prize winning American composer Bernard Rands as the Orchestra’s first Composer in Residence… .”

    Sounds like he did a lot for American music.

  • fflambeau says:

    You make it sound like Muti is Anti-American. He’s not.

    From a good article on this: “Under Riccardo Muti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has put a strong emphasis on emerging American composers. Figures such as Samuel Adams, Mason Bates and Elizabeth Ogonek have served as Mead composers-in-residence, with each receiving musical commissions and performances in conjunction with the post. During the 2018-19 season, the CSO is going even further, presenting a series of works by important American composers, including some rarely heard selections.” See

    Part of the problem with your stats is that the CSO has many guest conductors, including the Amerian Marin Alsop who frequently conducts American composers. Probably that’s the way the CSO has designed things and does not reflect any refusal by Muti to program or conduct American works. Quite the contrary.

  • fflambeau says:

    Your story is wrong factually.

    Here’s an April 2018 review showing Muti conducted music of Aaron Copland, George Walker’s “Lyric for Strings” and Dvorak’s New World Symphony (written when he lived in Iowa).

  • Kevin Scott says:

    There are still a number of fine American symphonies that the CSO has yet to perform, including those by Bernard Herrmann, Jerome Moross, Elie Siegmeister, Irwin Bazelon, Gloria Coates, Howard Swanson and many more composers who have never or rarely been performed by that august institution.

    Moreover, it would be nice to see Muti, or another enterprising conductor, resurrect the music of Hugo Kaun, a German composer who settled in this country in 1887 and whose first successes in his field were made by Theodore Thomas and what was then known as The Chicago Orchestra before returning to his homeland in the early 1900s. His three symphonies and the symphonic poems Maria Magdalena and Sir John Falstaff (written for Thomas and the CSO) are worthy of revival.

    And finally, Muti and the CSO should look into the symphonies of three living African-American composers, namely William Banfield, Kerwin Young and Quinn Mason.