On September 19, 2010, Riccardo Muti officially began his tenure as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s tenth music director, leading a free concert in Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion. Before a crowd of more than 25,000 people, he led the Orchestra in The Star-Spangled Banner, Verdi’s Overture to La forza del destino, Liszt’s Les préludes, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, and Respighi’s Pines of Rome. Mayor Richard M. Daley had declared that day as “Riccardo Muti Day in Chicago,” and a Chicago City Council resolution launched “Festa Muti,” a monthlong festival celebrating his first residency as music director.
“It was Muti’s desire to make his first appearance as the CSO’s tenth music director by offering what he has termed ‘a gift to the people of a great city.’ He delivered and then some,” wrote Andrew Patner in the Chicago Sun-Times. “And the Orchestra itself played its collective heart as well as its legendary technical command to its outer limits. While arguments over who might be the best living conductor are not even worthwhile for a parlor game, Muti might indeed be the best conductor active today in repertoire that no longer figures in the programs of a number of other leading conductors. And a man who takes every piece seriously, who reminds his musicians that they must take every piece and every measure seriously, has much to share with his audiences.”
“What looked on paper to be a fairly routine program of standard romantic repertory was anything but routine in the execution. Muti was in superb form, and the Orchestra played its collective heart out for him,” reported John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “When, for example, was the last time you heard Verdi’s La forza del destino Overture played with such tingling electricity, such full-blooded drama? Muti has long been celebrated as today’s preeminent Verdi conductor, and this reading told you why.”
“The new music director appeared moved, even humbled, by the turnout and the ovations,” according to Patner. And at the end of the concert, Muti briefly addressed the crowd: “ ‘We will try to reach many, many people in Chicago,’ he continued. ‘But please stay very close to your great orchestra.’ He’s serious about this. The players and Chicagoans seem to be, too.”
Muti and the Orchestra returned to Millennium Park on September 21, 2012, to perform Orff’s Carmina Burana with soloists Rosa Feola, Antonio Giovannini, and Audun Iversen, along with the Chicago Symphony Chorus and the Chicago Children’s Choir; and again on September 19, 2014, for an all-Tchaikovsky program featuring The Tempest, a suite from The Sleeping Beauty, and the Fourth Symphony.
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