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On May 5, 2008, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association president Deborah Rutter Card announced that Riccardo Muti would become the Orchestra’s tenth music director, beginning with the 2010–11 season.

Barbara Frittoli sings the final "Libera me" with Riccardo Muti leading the Orchestra and Chorus on January 16, 2009 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Barbara Frittoli sings the final “Libera me” with Riccardo Muti leading the Orchestra and Chorus on January 16, 2009 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Muti’s first appearances as music director designate were on January 15, 16, and 17, 2009, in Verdi’s Requiem. Soloists were Barbara Frittoli, Olga Borodina, Mario Zeffiri, and Ildar Abdrazakov, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by chorus director Duain Wolfe.

“From the moment he walked out onto the stage of Orchestra Hall until the last notes of the Verdi sounded just over ninety minutes later, Muti showed us the summary of nearly every possible positive quality a great conductor can possess,” wrote Andrew Patner in the Chicago Sun-Times. “The CSO played on the edge of its collective seat throughout. . . . When has the CSO Chorus sounded like this? Not since founder Margaret Hillis at her peak. Some 170 voices singing as one, powered from the bottom ranges, standing and delivering on cue with equal parts passion and precision, and investing the softest passages with the greatest musicality.”

CSOR Verdi Requiem

Regarding the subsequent release of the Requiem on CSO Resound, Robert Levine for classicstoday.com wrote, “Muti still brings Toscanini to mind more than any other conductor, but he is more pliable in this performance than that other great Italian maestro or his earlier self. The Chorus, like the Orchestra, moves from fortissimo to pianissimo on a dime; their singing is effortless, precise, and filled with attention to the text. The quieter, spiritual sections are remarkable for their aura of stillness and meditation and their outbursts thrill and terrify. It’s breathtaking.”

On February 13, 2011, the recording received Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

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September 19, 2010 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

September 19, 2010 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

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.”

September 21, 2012 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

September 21, 2012 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

“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.

This article also appears here.

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4/7/11 7:04:15 PM -- Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti takes a bow with the CSO, Chicago Symphony Chorus, and vocal soloists (L-R) soprano Krassimira Stoyanova (Desdemona), tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello), baritone Carlo Guelfi (Iago), and tenor Juan Francisco Gatell (Cassio).  © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2011

Riccardo Muti takes a bow with the Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists Krassimira Stoyanova, Aleksandrs Antonenko, Carlo Guelfi, and Juan Francisco Gatell at Orchestra Hall on April 7, 2011 (Todd Rosenberg photo)

On April 7, 9, and 12, 2011, Riccardo Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and the Chicago Children’s Choir in Verdi’s Otello at Orchestra Hall. Principal soloists were tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko in the title role, soprano Krassimira Stoyanova as Desdemona, and baritone Carlo Guelfi as Iago.

In the Chicago Tribune, John von Rhein wrote, “Seldom has Verdi’s penultimate masterpiece sounded so orchestral; Muti made Otello sound like the dramatic symphony Verdi never wrote. Muti brought out instrumental details almost every other conductor glosses over or ignores. Everything that makes this Verdi’s supreme lyric tragedy was there for the ear to marvel at, writ larger than life. The intensity never let up, nor did the steady current of lyricism that informs the drama.” Andrew Patner in the Chicago Sun-Times added that the Chorus “offered oceans of sound” and the “Orchestra—and Verdi and Muti’s enormous attention to its multiple roles in this masterwork—told the story.”

Otello CD

Regarding the performance in Carnegie Hall on April 15, “The Orchestra played with crackling precision; the impressive and sizeable Chicago Symphony Chorus sang with unforced yet robust sound and clear enunciation of the text,” said Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times. “It was a privilege . . . to hear this work performed in concert by this superb orchestra.” Recorded live during the concert performances in Chicago, the opera was released in September 2013 on CSO Resound. George Hall in BBC Music Magazine wrote, “Verdi’s Otello as conducted by Riccardo Muti benefits from tip-top precision from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra players. They reach a level of pristine excellence that any opera house orchestra—no matter how eminent— would struggle to equal.” In Gramophone, David Patrick Stearns said, “Here is one of the great Verdi conductors of our time, who is now doing some of the best work of his life, recording the composer’s greatest opera. . . . [The Orchestra is] 100 per cent devoted to him (its famous brass section particularly) and a world-class lineup of singers to which the conductor gives a surprisingly free rein.”

The recording received the International Opera Award for Best Complete Opera in April 2014 in London.

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