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Thread: Riccardo Muti Interview

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    Senior Member Lunasong's Avatar
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    Default Riccardo Muti Interview

    An interview with Muti dated Feb 11, 2012 by Richard Scheinin. The good news is that he's feeling healthy and strong!

    Next week, when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performs in San Francisco for the first time since 1987, Riccardo Muti will be on the podium. This eminent conductor is practically a brand name, synonymous with La Scala (where he was music director from 1986 to 2005), the Philadelphia Orchestra (1980-92) and other great orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, with which he enjoys an association of 40 years.
    But when I spoke by phone with Muti -- now in his second season as Chicago's music director -- he became most engaged when discussing prisons. Yes, prisons.
    Muti makes a point of performing in them, because he believes, he says, in the life-enhancing powers of music for people from all walks of life.
    We talked, as well, about his decision to come to Chicago, about the orchestra's San Francisco programs (which range from Schubert to young Mason Bates) and other topics touching on his long career. But Maestro Muti kept coming back to music's potential as a bridge builder. Read on.

    Q Maestro, I've heard about your visits to the Illinois Youth Center, a women's detention center near Chicago.
    A I've done this also in Italy, where I went to a prison near Milan (and) played the piano for about two hours for 150 incarcerated men and women. And I explained the music and the life of the conductor, and the attention of the people was so deep that, when I came to Chicago I thought I had to do the same.
    Q Why is it important to you?
    A We have to bring music to parts of the city that are far away, culturally speaking, from the possibility of coming to our concert hall. Last year we performed a concert in the Apostolic Church near Chicago University -- a huge church -- and we had so many people, thousands of people who had never been in a concert hall. And they were very appreciative, and they followed the concert with absolute silence, but not silence without interest. Full participation.
    And last year and this year, too, I went to this prison of juveniles, in Warrenville, outside Chicago, and I brought some singers, who have helped these girls to learn music. I accompanied these singers, who sang arias by Verdi, Puccini, Bellini. And the girls of this prison were so impressed that some of them came to my rehearsal with the orchestra here in Chicago. They were accompanied by two ladies, and they followed the rehearsal of "Carmina Burana" and the rest of the program -- a Schubert symphony and something by a contemporary Russian composer named Smirnov, though it has nothing to do with vodka!
    Q How did they like it?
    A They were very impressed, and they made very nice and intelligent comments about what they heard. They said that they didn't expect that they would like this music so much, because this music was so new for them.
    And again, they were so wonderful and full of discipline and very attentive. So I think today we have to use this great weapon that we have -- that is music -- to put people more and more together. In fact, that is my experience, through all the concerts that I do for friendship, going around the world, in cities like Sarajevo or Cairo.
    And last year we were in Nairobi, Kenya, where I conducted my Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra, young Italian musicians, but with a chorus of young men and women of Nairobi, including 400 children. And they sang with me from Verdi's "Nabucco," the famous "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves." And I've received many letters from the children of Nairobi, and some are very touching: "I didn't expect that this music was so wonderful. This experience of singing with you has changed my life."
    This is the point of my life, not to just do concerts, to get the applause. I think there is much more that we can do with music to help people around the world.
    For example, two summers ago I did a concert in Trieste, Italy, which is on the border of Slovenia and Croatia. And I invited musicians and young singers from both those nations to join our young Italian musicians. And for the first time since the war, the Italian, Croatian and Slovenian presidents sat together and listened to the young musicians of all three nations. And this is the power of music.
    Q How does this make you feel?
    A I feel lucky to be in this profession that has this tremendous power in helping people. It's a privilege.

    Q What brought you to Chicago? You hadn't been music director of an American orchestra in nearly 20 years, since Philadelphia.
    A Between me and the Chicago Symphony something happened when we took a European tour (in 2007) -- very special, a mutual musical feeling and understanding. And I loved the orchestra immediately; the orchestra loved me immediately.
    So when I came back to Chicago to conduct other concerts, I then was invited to accept the music directorship. I must say that after the Italian tour I received many letters from the musicians of the orchestra, personal letters -- not just "thank you," but letters where the musicians expressed their enthusiasms. And this was one of the elements that pushed me to accept the invitation.
    Q Does this happen often, that individual orchestra members will write to a conductor?
    A No, no, this is very rare. It was really an expression of love.
    Unfortunately, not long after, at a certain point in the first season I had a problem with arrhythmia of my heart. I fell at the podium, and I had to miss a few weeks. But I'm well now; this was an arrhythmia problem -- not a problem of musical rhythm!

    Q From the reports I've seen, you're now feeling strong.
    A Yes, absolutely.

    Q What in your opinion makes the Chicago Symphony so unique?
    A I think the orchestra is altogether one of the most beautiful in the world.
    One time when I was in Europe, I heard people talk about the famous brass of the Chicago symphony. But now I can hear that all the sections are equally wonderful -- fantastic beautiful strings and beautiful woodwinds and beautiful percussion. So the orchestra has the possibility to play all kinds of repertoire, from the baroque music and intimate Schubert to the very powerful music. It's not an orchestra that has a tendency to play one thing well and one thing not. Thanks to the musicians and the previous music directors, the orchestra has become a very flexible instrument.

    Q Your upcoming concerts in San Francisco include two new works by young composers, who are in residence with your orchestra in Chicago: Mason Bates and Anna Clyne. Some people might not recognize that you are such an advocate for contemporary music.
    A The people who don't recognize it are people who are not informed. Because when I was in La Scala and Philadelphia I performed so much contemporary music, and I commissioned so much contemporary music. So I don't understand this response. If you look at the programs from Philadelphia and La Scala -- many, many works of contemporary composers.
    But my job is not only to promote the contemporary music, but also to work in the repertoire. With every orchestra, you have to do Bruckner, Schubert, Mahler; the big repertory remains for the conductor and for the public.
    And then there are the conductors that are considered specialists in contemporary music. But I can assure you that, if you can conduct Mozart, you can conduct contemporary music -- but not necessarily that, if you can conduct contemporary music, you can conduct Mozart. I can assure you that.
    Q Why did you select Bates and Clyne as composers in residence?
    A Even being so different one from the other, they both use the orchestra with personal language -- but not forgetting that they have to express feelings. Even using a modern language and trying to invent new possibilities of timbre and harmonies and counterpoint in the orchestra -- even doing that, they don't forget that the purpose of music is to touch people, not just to make noise.

    Q Many people don't really "get" what a conductor does. Can you describe the essence of conducting?
    A I come from a school where we don't learn the art of conducting without learning deeply the music. I started the violin first, and I had a degree in piano, and then I studied composition for ten years. And then when by accident I discovered that I had some qualities to be a conductor. I went to Milan, where I studied with Antonino Votto, who had been an assistant to Toscanini in the '20s.
    He always taught us in the same way Toscanini taught his assistants. And the basic idea is that the arms are an extension of your mind. If you have a musical idea, you must explain it to the orchestra, and then the arms should reflect this idea. It should not be a reason to make a show in front of the public. And my teacher had a great sense of humor. When some of the pupils had a problem starting a symphony, he said, "Don't worry, just make the sign of a strong downbeat." He said, "You do this, something will happen in the orchestra."
    The arms are not an instrument. We should use the arms to keep the orchestra together and to underline the expression. But as my friend Carlos Kleiber used to say, "Caro Riccardo, dear Riccardo, it would be so wonderful to conduct without conducting."
    Q Does this ever happen for you, that you feel you're barely even conducting, physically speaking?
    A Yes, in fact my way of conducting today is less demonstrative than when I was young.

    Q I want to ask you about the many demands of being a music director in the United States. How do you feel about attending all the fundraising receptions, all the schmoozing you have to do?
    A Schmoozing? What is this?
    Q I mean having to constantly make social conversation in order to meet people and maybe win them over as patrons.
    A I don't spend so much time with this. I do what is necessary, not more than what is necessary. And people in Chicago, they respect this.
    To spend time together and speak about music is certainly very rewarding. And they understand that, even if music and museums and hospitals and schools in this country are supported 100 percent by the private patrons, and not by the state, still that doesn't mean that we musicians have to be on our knees in front of the people that help the organization.
    Even the poor Mozart had to beg the archbishop or the important people to have a job. But in Chicago and when I was in Philadelphia, I have never had the impression that the private rich people wanted to treat the musicians like people who have to say "thank you" all the time. Because in the end, we give culture to the society, and this is a very important thing. A society with good music and culture is always a better society.

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    Senior Member poconoron's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lunasong View Post
    But I can assure you that, if you can conduct Mozart, you can conduct contemporary music -- but not necessarily that, if you can conduct contemporary music, you can conduct Mozart. I can assure you that.
    I would like to ask some of our very learned forum members - what exactly does Mr. Muti mean by the above comment. Thanks!
    Last edited by poconoron; Feb-17-2012 at 18:31.

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    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
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    ^^I think he means you have to know the older repertoire well to play or conduct the new/newer repertoire. Eg. the late Alicia de Larrocha said she spent many years when young playing nothing much but music of Beethoven and the guys of Classical Era and Baroque (esp. J.S. Bach) before she could even touch her native Spanish repertoire. A lot of the stuff in music of 20th century and today is built on things every musician has to know like the back of his hand - eg. counterpoint, harmony, thematic development, dynamics, phrasing, the lot. So I'd guess that's what Maestro Muti was getting at.

    As for the interview, thanks for posting it Lunasong. I enjoyed reading it. What Maestro Muti said about performing in prisons and for less priveleged people, I think that shows that you don't need hundreds or thousands of cd's to enjoy and engage with classical music. Music is communication, and the best musicians are able to communicate with whoever is in the audience, be they novices or advanced listeners, rich or poor, laymen or fellow musicians, from any walk of life. So his philosophy is basically the same as my philosophy. I really dislike highbrow attitudes when it comes to classical. The aim for me is to be inclusive and open with people who want to know and enjoy this great music!...
    Genuine ersatz classical listener since 1981.

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    Quote Originally Posted by poconoron View Post
    I would like to ask some of our very learned forum members - what exactly does Mr. Muti mean by the above comment. Thanks!
    I guess a tiny bit of Mozart counts for Pierre Boulez.

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