Breaking: Muti gets new contract at Chicago

Breaking: Muti gets new contract at Chicago


norman lebrecht

September 23, 2021

The conductor Riccardo Muti, who turned 80 this summer, has been awarded a one-year contract extension as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, ending mid-2023.

He was due to go at the end of the present season, but the long Covid layoff and the inability to test prospective successors has led to a contract extension, one which buys the orchestra some time and the maestro a longer fadeout.

Here’s what they are saying:

“On behalf of the Association’s Board of Trustees, it gives me great pleasure to share this exciting news today,” said Helen Zell, CSOA Board Chair. “The unique artistry of Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is recognized as something truly exceptional not only in Chicago, but also around the world. After such a challenging time without the opportunity to connect to the joy of live music, we are grateful that Maestro Muti has accepted our invitation to stay with us to make music that lifts our spirits and inspires us.”

“I look forward to being in Chicago again with the musicians to bring music back into the city,” said Riccardo Muti. “I am very proud of the musicians of this great orchestra and happy to stay as music director to continue our great artistic collaboration, and to work with our Trustees, volunteers and Administration to keep music an important part of our community and a beacon of hope around the world.”



  • sam says:

    So sad that the CSO is hanging on with so much fear and trepidation of their future.

    Let go, move on, have confidence in yourselves, be bold, go for the game changer.

    I doubt they can, it does not bode well for the search for a new director, it looks like they’ll go for another old, white, European man, most probably Honeck.

    Safe, comfortable, conventional, predictable. That’s Chicago.

    • Burnham says:

      This is truly fantastic.

      We can all look forward to a dozen more Verdi’s Requiem, a handful of Cherubini, and a deluge of botched Beethoven.

    • SlippedChat says:

      Aside from the question of whether Chicago is interested in Honeck, is there specific evidence that Honeck is interested in Chicago?

      I could be mistaken (if so, I welcome correction), but my understanding is that Honeck has been happy in Pittsburgh.

    • Karl says:

      I think Honeck is great. Muti has turned into a slow motion conductor unfortunately.

    • GTFOH says:

      “Not an old white man who isn’t even American?!
      The new director surely MUST BE a millennial POC BIPOC?! On no!”

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    If they were smart, they would hire Riccardo Muti for life to avoid some predictable diverse issues that are to the fore right now.

    • henry williams says:

      lucky he is in good health.

      • Frank says:

        Notice that he was one of the few people not wearing a mask in the photos of their return to stage yesterday. Illinois currently has a mask mandate for all indoor settings.

        At least Jaap van Zweden would show a little respect to his players in NY and wear one last weekend.

        • Midwestern Violin says:

          Respect for his players? To everyone else in Illinois who wears masks and is bound by mandates?

          Muti informed Alexander that he will not wear a mask during his residency. Period.

          It’s that simple.

        • Matt says:

          Nice one Frank. From what I hear he gets tested every morning before he goes to the Symphony hall and still wears his mask unless he is on the stage. Don’t understand how that’s different from you going to a restaurant and taking your mask off to fill your belly….
          But, how is your comment relevant to the announcement of the contract extension?

          • Frank says:

            Are you Muti’s assistant? You seem to know a lot about his health protocols.

            To answer your question: I don’t eat indoors right now because it isn’t safe amid the Delta variant. I’m also not hovering over 100 other people when I eat. More to the point, Muti should play by the rules or otherwise, the state should fine him for his behavior.

          • mike says:

            Wow. You watch a ton of t.v. I’ve been living a completely normal life this entire year. I have to leave the asylum known as Chicago to do it however. Good luck. Get the boosters!! They are super safe.

        • mike says:

          Not really. Only Chicago is insane. I was at a concert and no one had on a mask. This is bat shite crazy. I will not go. So dumb.

        • The Thinker says:

          This photo is from 3 years ago, well before the pandemic.Also, no one else is wearing a mask.

      • Paracelsus says:

        If undergoing cardiac surgery constitutes good health to you…

        Muti underwent one in mid July. It was reported in Italy ( In Ravenna, everybody knows and many speculated his gig in Chicago was over.

        Under this light, the move seems even more foolish on the CSO’s part, considering the liability that Muti already represents.

        • Steven J de Mena says:

          That article you linked to mentions nothin about heart surgery, just a checkup.

          • Paracelsus says:

            The “checkup” word was lifted from the Ravenna Festival press release which was trying to spin it.

            In reality, he had to cancel his Ravenna concert last minute to be taken into a hospital in Northern Italy and undergo cardiac surgery.

            Ravenna is a very small town, everyone knows everything about everybody. I know a person close to the family who heard it from the family.

          • The Thinker says:

            I know a person who knows a person who knows a person’s uncle who knows the dog of a person who said…

        • If he *were* to suddenly pass or become incapacitated they won’t need to do much differently than if he had left without the extension… look for replacements and hire guest conductors until they choose one.

          He’s not posing a big risk.

        • Pianofortissimo says:


    • Chicagorat says:

      Agree. Go all the way. Hire Muti for life to avoid #metoo issues.


  • Justin says:

    One would think Chicago would be going head to head with New York (and the Concertgebouw, for that matter) for a new music director, but really, they do not intersect.

    I bet NY wants a woman.

    I bet Amsterdam wants a young man.

    I bet Chicago wants neither.

    • Frank Flambeau says:

      I doubt that NYC wants a woman: I think Minnesota does. Amsterdam? Who cares.
      Chicago should have taken Honeck, he might have other options.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Oh joy.

  • Chicagorat says:

    Oh Boy. Alexander runs a leaky ship.

  • MacroV says:

    So basically COVID put everything on pause, including pursuit of a new music director. So they extend Muti by a year to buy themselves some time, which makes sense.

    But the task for the CSO is both easy and difficult: going back to the replacement of Solti, I read about how the CSO doesn’t make a great conductor, it demands one. Solti supposedly gave them three names: Abbado, Barenboim, and Haitink.

    I imagine they feel there is a very short list of acceptable people for the job, people on the Super-A list, most of whom probably don’t appear to be available (Riccardo Chailly comes foremost to mind, or my longtime leading candidate Christian Thielemann). So in a word: They probably know which 3-4 people they would be willing to have, but need to figure out how to get him (and it’s probably a him).

    • mary says:

      Muti was Chicago’s second choice after Chailly, who had pulled out of the “test” concert for health reasons, it was then that the CSO turned its focus on Muti.

      In any case, Chailly is not interested in following Muti, first to La Scala then to Chicago, and Muti does not have Chailly on his shortlist. The hate is mutual.

    • Bone says:

      I’ll eat my hat if CT gets a sniff of any gig in the US. Happy to be wrong, but in the United States of Wokeness his appointment would incur Floydian levels of malcontent.

    • Frederick says:

      Oh no! Not a ‘him’?! Yawn. Look, if there is a woman as good at this as Chailly (since you mentioned him) is, she should be hired. I’m not saying she doesn’t exist, I just don’t know of one. Top 5 female conductors today are fine conductors but they simply aren’t on the level of the top 5 male conductors today (whichever ones you might consider top 5).
      Btw, Thielemann is probably the most boring in-the-box conductor alive today. I wouldn’t wish his directorship on any Orchestra and certainly not a US one. He should hold a position in some small German provincial town where the history books might still refer to WWII as ‘trouble ahead!’

  • Lothario Hunter says:

    Muti’s first couple of days of rehearsals in Chicago must have been exhausting for him.

    He’s ripe to board the “Queen of the Caribbean” cruise.

    Heading South, into the Panama Canal.

  • GCMP says:

    Let’s not forget how long it took to get Muti as permanent music director (4+ yrs, I think), after Haitink refused on the grounds he was too old but Haitink did agree to be principal conductor.

  • GCMP says:

    Also Marin Alsop is Chief Conductor and Curator of the Ravinia Festival, which hires the CSO for the Summer. But given the expense of a music director, maybe there would be some effort to consolidate. Though historically they have been entirely separate postitions.

  • MB says:

    In my humble opinion, and going by this press release and every single one of his interviews, the Maestro is really full of shit.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    They’re not going to get Chailly. They’re going to try desperately for Dudamel, he probably won’t take it but who knows… If he doesn’t, my guess is they’ll try for Mirga next, but they’ll compete with New York for her. Whatever her protests to the contrary, I think she’s going to find Deborah Borda very hard to turn down.

    If Mirga says no, then they, honestly, may try Gergiev next, and they may get him. Whatever’s going on politically, Gergiev needs to rebuild trust in the music world – where better than in the US where he’s least trusted right now? If Muti can rebuild the music world’s trust in Chicago, why not Gergiev?

    Poor Manfred. A contact in Pittsburgh told me he was offered New York and turned it down to wait for Chicago, but thanks to his time in NY Zweden has name recognition Honeck doesn’t. At this point they’d probably go for Zweden before they’d go for Honeck.

    I would honestly not count out Teodor Currentzis either… he’d last two minutes in America, but they want someone they can market.

    My choice for them would be Paavo Jarvi. He’s worthy of a great appointment, he lives in Cincinnati, and he is just the sort of high-electricity interpreter that always succeeds in Chicago.

    • sam says:

      Chicago does have a special rapport with van Zweden that no other orchestra has had, and vice versa. They’re really made for each other.

      JvZ reminds me a lot of Solti, his driven interpretations and style that Chicago is so used to under Reiner and Solti.

      But that would also make it a bad partnership. Towards the end of his tenure, everybody, critic and audience and orchestra alike, just got tired of Solti’s unrelenting driven conducting, and the sound that was coming out was like Solti parodying Solti: hard, brassy, and graceless.

      Sometimes the best couple don’t make the best marriage.

      So no for JvZ as music director. But he’d make an excellent regular guest conductor.

  • Longtime subscriber says:

    I just came back from Symphony Center. First concert since the COVID shutdown. No capacity restrictions. If the management counted on Muti’s name to sell tickets, they got that wrong. It was ghost town, less than half of the seats filled.

    The evening gave us Saint-Georges, Price (yes – who?)
    Beethoven 3 was as dull as it gets. Muti had the same intensity of a camping generator.

    I have bene a subscriber for ages. I did not renew this year because of COVID. I am not coming back as long as they keep a dejected mummy on the stage.

    • mike says:

      I’m not going because of their passports and masks. So ridiculous. A friend just performed in Poland and no one had on a mask. I leave Chicago for normalcy. My kids went to see Joe Rogan and Chapelle at a sold out stadium, indoors, no problems. This is getting hypochondriac ridiculous. Remove the masks and BS and I will come. They lost all of my money. I bought tickets constantly.

      • The Thinker says:

        Well if you’re not going to their concerts they might as well pack it in. Your money made the difference. If you hate the organization and all the restrictions I suggest you move one of those southern states where you can be with “your kind” and try to figure out why all your “friend” is dying and can’t breathe.

    • mike says:

      P.S. I went to a jazz festival at a Chicago Hotel and it sold out, why? People didn’t care about the masks and we didn’t ask for proof of anything. We didn’t enforce masks. Guess what! Everyone is still alive!! 1,000 tickets sold immediately. It’s the dumb protocols.

  • Byron says:

    If Muti thinks the United States are a shit hole full of ignorant jerks, what is he doing still here? Why did he renew his contract?

    I tell you why: $$$$$

    He likes petrodollars too, and is taking the Cherubini to the Dubai Expo for Nabucco.

    It’s just money.

    • Tamino says:

      Yes, but we are over that juvenile thinking, that everyone is in the professional world for the money, and only the artists are in it for the common good and their “higher calling”, right?
      As long as the professional world is so full of parasites, particularly in the US, we have no right to demand from artists to be better.

  • Chuck says:

    I’m through waiting for Godot. I’m now waiting for Toscanini, mid-2023.

  • Lothario Hunter says:

    Betting odds were overwhelmingly in favor of Muti dropping his hesitance and finally embarking on the “Queen of the Caribbean” this week-end … and so he did!

    As transpired on previous trips, he endeavored to pilot the ship but had great difficult straightening the rudder 😀

    But still, it was a good time – all sanctioned by the CSO, on Alexander’s watch!

    • steve says:

      wtf kind of comment is this? please do us all a favor and stfu. you obviously have no idea what’s really going on and are clearly deranged. if you don’t like him or have some weird personal issue with him, so be it, but there’s really no point in making these types of ludicrous statements.

  • mike says:

    That’s nice. I refuse to go to the CSO because the masks are ridiculous. Pretty sure they have passports straight out of 1938 Germany too. So they can go fcuk themselves. I spent 5 grand a year buying tickets so I bough an amazing AMP instead. Ciaoooooooo CSO. EAD.

  • Thomas A. Rudd, MS, MD says:

    Anyone but a woman