Yesterday (Monday 5 May) the Chicago Symphony confirmed what the rumor-mongers have been speculating about for weeks. A voyage begun over 3 years ago has reached port with Riccardo Muti named as the orchestra’s next music director.
Muti was music director at La Scala for 19 years. In 2005 he resigned from that post in a swirl of controversy and announced that he was he was considering an offer from the Chicago Symphony.
Nothing developed that year, however. As of last autumn Chicago’s short list was reported to include Muti and Riccardo Chailly as the top contenders, along with Antonio Pappano, David Robertson, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Leonard Slatkin and Michael Tilson Thomas. Some writers were betting on Chailly, in part because Muti’s relationship with La Scala was not his only contentious one. Chailly also had a good long-term relationship with the orchestra.
But a widely acclaimed 2007-08 season opener and a a very well-received European tour boosted Muti’s musical capital with the Chicago Symphony board, and yesterday they gave him the nod. He will be the orchestra’s 10th music director.
In the US, many music lovers remember Muti for his years as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra (1980-1992). There he was credited with (or blamed for, depending on your perspective) considerably toning down the lush "Philadelphia Sound" originated by Leopold Stokowski and amplified under Eugene Ormandy.
Muti has also been a frequent guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic. His name came up as a possible successor to both Kurt Masur and Lorin Maazel, but Muti indicated that he wasn’t interested.
Chicago, former home of such legendary conductors as Fritz Reiner and Georg Solti, has been without a full-time music director since Daniel Barenboim retired in 2006, relying on principal conductor Bernard Haitink and conductor emeritus Pierre Boulez to tide them over. They’ll go a while longer, too; Muti won’t take over until the fall of 2010. However, he’ll give the city a preview of his style next January, when he conducts the Verdi Requiem.