Muti says he will leave Chicago in 2022

Muti says he will leave Chicago in 2022


norman lebrecht

November 12, 2019

From Riccardo Muti’s presentation address to veteran horn Daniel Gingrich:

So before I disappear — in a little bit more than two years I will disappear in the sense that I will end [my time] as music director of this orchestra (I don’t want to be sacked so I decided to go away!) — but I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for what you have given to your colleagues, to music, to me.

Full speech:

This evening the concert will start with a little ceremony that the musicians of the orchestra don’t know anything about. And the person to whom I will refer to doesn’t know either.

You know, you are in front of a great orchestra. To be a musician in a great orchestra is very hard work. Very, very hard.

The public around the world doesn’t understand how hard it is to stay on a stage every night, to prove every night to the public, to the critics, to the conductor, how good the standard of the orchestra is, and how it should remain in the future.

They have to practice, they have to study, they have to listen to the nonsense of conductors, which is a part where many times the morale goes down.

And among these very exceptional musicians, sometimes there is a person that has given a fantastic contribution to the orchestra: a devotion, a commitment, with a very humble attitude. No arrogance, like a servant of the Music, with a capital M.

We have a player that — all of them, I will remember until the last day of my life — but he is somebody special. He has never complained; even when I do something stupid, which is very often. He is always very serious to the music, to his work, to the Chicago Symphony, and to the public.

His position is assistant principal of his position. But in his field, he remains one of the greatest players in the world. And he could easily be principal player of any great orchestra, not only in Chicago; but he is happy to do his job in the position of assistant principal.

But, for many years, he covered the position of principal player around the world, on many, many tours, in Chicago, outside of Chicago, on recordings; always creating admiration in the public everywhere the orchestra played.

So before I disappear — in a little bit more than two years I will disappear in the sense that I will end [my time] as music director of this orchestra (I don’t want to be sacked so I decided to go away!) — but I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for what you have given to your colleagues, to music, to me.

And that is the reason I want to have near me, in front of his colleagues: Dan Gingrich.”

~Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti on making Daniel Gingrich Honorary Principal Horn for Life, 11-9-2019


photo: Eliot Mandel


  • Gustavo says:

    Preventing a Mutiny

  • Brian says:

    “The public around the world doesn’t understand how hard it is to stay on a stage every night, to prove every night to the public, to the critics, to the conductor, how good the standard of the orchestra is, and how it should remain in the future.”

    I beg to differ. That’s a rather sweeping, even condescending, statement.

    • Novagerio says:

      There’s absolutely nothing condescending in that statement. Are you even an orchestral player in a top orchestra?

    • Gerry McDonaldI says:

      No it isn’t, it’s the brutal reality of an unbelievably demanding profession in which mere perfection is taken for granted, and good for Muti for saying this!

    • John Kelly says:

      Mr. Muti is 100% right and every conductor in the world would agree with him. And most knowledgeable listeners.

      Mr Muti seems to have grown older with grace, which is nice to see. It will be even nicer to see and hear him and the marvellous CSO this weekend in NYC.

      • Tamino says:

        Grown older with grace? Ha, he fooled you, the clever man. Don’t ever assume, his to PR self-depreciating humor means, anyone could actually question his Demi-God ego ever for real. You will be annihilated. 🙂

    • Nicholas says:

      Sorry, but I beg to differ with you. The amount of time and effort required to stay at the top of your game day in and day out, night after night, as professional musician is astounding. There is rarely a day when you can just “call it in” and do half-ass perform, and it doesn’t matter if you are playing the principal part or playing the fourth part, it all matters. Kudos to all musicians who dedicate their lives to such standards.

      • Guest 123 says:

        Clearly you haven’t heard orchestras on Pops, Family, Community Engagement, Non-Standard or non-music Director Classical… the lack of quality is astounding. I would say more than half the season is phoning it in.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    “hey have to listen to the nonsense of conductors, ”

    Haha, don’t you just love this guy ?

  • Mock Mahler says:

    Daniel Gingrich very richly deserves tribute.

  • Shimi says:

    “Little more than 2 years” means to finish this season plus two more years so 2022, not 2021. That’s also the end of his contract and believe me, he will neither quit nor be sacked before that.

  • Patrick Gillot says:

    why could they not promote him to principal during all this time?

  • G. Zimmerman says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Brian. Is Maestro Muti trying to imply that the thousands of people who subscribe to and attend performances and support the musicians through donations (like me), and attend concerts, have no idea of what the musicians have to do to achieve their amazing performing skills? This is indeed condescending, and I don’t know why anyone sitting in the audience would feel good about hearing such a statement.

    • Brian says:

      Thank you, G. Zimmerman. This is precisely what I meant. I have the utmost respect for professional classical musicians, be they soloists or orchestral players, who go out there to give us pleasure by performing the music we all love, or better still, love to discover.

      I have worked and am friendly with a number of professional musicians and am also close to people who help them in many different ways to overcome ugly things like stage fright and a host of other medical and psychological issues that can befall musicians. Severe manifestations of performance anxiety can lead to serious problems, such as alcoholism. The pressure can indeed be brutal.

      So yes: We, the audience, do know. At least those of us who are respectful towards professional musicians and attend concerts to hear fabulous music-making. (Not all, mind you. Some people merely cough, chew and chat their way through a subscription concert, while those on stage are, in the best of cases, producing magic.) And it is precisely in light of this awareness that I find such a comment as Mr Muti’s condescending. Any generalisation is fraught with problems.

      Add to that that I am a huge admirer of the CSO and Riccardo Muti and look forward to their upcoming European tour!

      • M2N2K says:

        You are right about generalizations as a rule, but Maestro Muti‘s statement is correct when applied to overwhelming majority of the audience.

      • MacroV says:

        Sorry. You may be more enlightened than the average concertgoer, but a lot of them have no idea what it takes to get into a major orchestra, or to perform every night at that level. There are a lot of people who don’t even realize that professional orchestra musicians actually do this for a living. So Muti is spot-on to make this point.

    • Anson says:

      Oh please. Muti was saying something nice, that’s all. If you were attending a valedictory retirement party for, say, a surgeon, and a colleague remarked in a toast to the honoree that “very few people understand your devotion to the practice of surgery,” surely you wouldn’t jump up and yell, “that’s offensive and condescending! *I* understand! How dare you imply that I don’t!”

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    While I’ve not been crazy about Muti since his Philadelphia days, I must admit he’s produced a warmer and better balanced sound from the Chicago Symphony – one in which the brass don’t sound as though they’re all sitting in the front row. It’s closer to the sound Giulini used to get.

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      Still prefer Daniel Barenboim who made music.

      Muti’s performances are too calculated and have no real energy to my ear.

      But the orchestra loves him and he has a patron paying his salary.

      So don’t pay attention to me.

      • SEATAC says:

        Thank you!

        Barenboim got colors and pianissimos out of that orchestra that nobody has come close to since.

      • Barry says:

        I agree with both Barry and the Old Man in the Midwest. Muti achieves a better section balance with the CSO than either Solti or Barenboim by a long shot. But he also led unbelievably dull or under-powered performances at times.

        He is as good as anyone at getting what he wants, but I sometimes don’t understand why he wants it.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Barry has a point. I once heard the CSO with Solti conducting, and it sounded like ALL brass. The balance was horrible all the way through, even in the Concerto for Orchestra, a piece Solti presumably knew very well.
      (BTW, I have always questioned Solti’s high reputation as a concert conductor: that concert confirmed my opinion. He should have stuck to the pit – opera was his strength.)

      • Peter Borich says:

        Solti was da bomb. . . .I attended more than fifty concert Solti-CSO concerts during his time in Chicago and many of them were the most memorable concert-going experiences of my life. High energy, crackling performances that
        are much-missed.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Hopefully when he leaves Chicago Symphony, we may get to see him more often throughout Europe.

  • Gustavo says:

    “I don’t want to be sacked so I decided to go away!”

    Can someone please explain the logic behind this statement?

    What is causing him to go away if he doesn’t want to be sacked?

    • Tamino says:

      Age? Wanting to spend more time in his homes in Europe, both South and North of the Alps?
      Who wants to live in Chicago as an old man, if you can live in a suburb of Salzburg or in Ravenna?

    • Barry says:

      I recall reading a few years back that he didn’t intend to conduct – or at least be a music director – until he is a very old man. He said he’d want to have time to enjoy other aspects of life.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Err…it is just humour. He doesn’t really believe he will be sacked. He just doesn’t want to continue. He is getting old, and is leaving gracefully.

  • Alphonse says:

    Muti misspoke- Gingrich is not assistant principal, but rather associate principal. Most of you no doubt already know this, but the associate principal is “second in command” after the principal, and will usually play the first horn part in the first half of the concert while the principal rests backstage, and then swaps with the principal and sits out for the second half. They’ll also often pick up where the section ends for eight-horn works and play fifth horn on those pieces. The assistant (or utility) principal sits to the left of whoever is sitting in the first chair (whether associate or “full” principal) and generally plays loud tutti passages so the first horn player can rest up a bit. Some principals (notably Phil Myers) will also sometimes have them strategically weave in and out of long held notes during delicate solos so they can take a breath (Myers used to do this during the Dvorak Cello Concerto first movement solo). The assistant principal will also play in the section as needed, in the event of an unexpected absence, etc. A difficult job- one must be a “jack of all trades” as assistant principal. Anyway- I’m rather surprised Muti got that wrong.

    • David says:

      You are confusing “assistant principal” as a titled position in the orchestra roster and “assistant horn” as the position you refer to during a performance in which said assistant provides relief to whoever is playing principal during a piece. It’s true that Gingrich’s title is “associate principal” in the roster, and Muti made that mistake, but that’s because most positions like that are “assistant principal.” The fact that Gingrich is associate is a reflection of the rank bestowed upon him. Take it from someone in the CSO.

  • Aurelia says:

    I don’t think Muti was being condescending and also believe that he was praising and flattering Daniel Gingrich, who was being honoured. I honestly believe that many, if not most concert goers rarely give a thought to the work etc involved in being a musician in a top orchestra.