As we all wish Riccardo Muti a very happy birthday, I was reminded that our tenth music director also celebrated his thirty-second birthday with us.

Maestro Muti made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival in the summer of 1973, conducting a series of three concerts that also included three up-and-coming pianists: thirty-three-year-old Christoph Eschenbach (in his Ravinia Festival debut), twenty-seven-year-old Misha Dichter, and twenty-eight-year-old Jean-Bernard Pommier (in his CSO and Ravinia Festival debuts).

Muti’s biography in the Ravinia program book that week was quite modest:

    Permanent conductor of the Florence Maggio Musicale Orchestra since 1969, Riccardo Muti was born in Naples in 1941. He graduated with honors from the Conservatorio San Pietro a Maiella, where he studied piano, and then completed his studies at Milan’s Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi, graduating with honors in composition and conducting. In 1967, Riccardo Muti became the first Italian candidate to win the Guido Cantelli International Conducting Competition. In June 1968, he conducted the Maggio Musicale Orchestra and the same night was asked to become permanent conductor.

    Since his first operatic engagement, at the 1970 Autunno Musicale Napoletano, Riccardo Muti has conducted opera in the major houses of Italy and at the Salzburg Festival. He has conducted the important European orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic. Mr. Muti made his American debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Cincinnati Symphony in 1972. He makes his Midwest debut at Ravinia this summer with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. During the next two seasons, he will conduct the orchestras of Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, and Philadelphia. He recently accepted appointment as principal conductor of the New Philharmonia Orchestra of London.

His three programs at the festival that summer were:

    July 25, 1973
    ROSSINI Overture to Semiramide
    SCHUMANN Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54
    Christoph Eschenbach, piano
    MUSSORGSKY/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition

    July 27, 1973
    MOZART Symphony No. 34 in C Major, K. 338
    MOZART Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, K. 482
    Misha Dichter, piano
    STRAUSS Aus Italien, Op. 16

    July 28, 1973
    LISZT Les préludes
    LISZT Totentanz
    Jean-Bernard Pommier, piano
    TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64

Thomas Willis’s review of the first concert in the July 26 Chicago Tribune certainly sets the stage: “It is easy to see why Riccardo Muti was the first Italian to win the Guido Cantelli Conducting Competition. The Neapolitan firebrand, still in his early thirties, can galvanize both audiences and an orchestra with the kinetic energy of his beat. In his Midwest debut at Ravinia last night, he asserted command at the first notes of Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide and sustained it until the last of the procession had marched through the Great Gate of Kiev in the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition. Whether one responds or not to the tense muscularity of his approach, there is no gainsaying its power and effectiveness . . . With the sensitivity to melody of an already seasoned opera conductor, he sets off each tune with a breath, combines short phrases into longer ones, and underlines each high point. Above all, his music is perfectly clear.”

Off to a great start, Maestro. Have a wonderful birthday.

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