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Riccardo Muti

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Conductor Riccardo Muti has been regarded as the Toscanini of the present day. Not just a Toscanini-style taskmaster who preaches fidelity to the score and presides over intense, hard-driven performances, Muti insists on beautiful tone as well as disciplined ensemble, capitalizing on a youthful Italian glamour. In 2021, Muti led the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Concert for the sixth time and was heard leading the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a performance of Verdi's Requiem. Muti was born in Naples on July 28, 1941. He initially learned piano and violin under his father, a physician. He attended the Verdi Conservatory in Milan, studying composition with Bruno Bettinelli and conducting with Antonino Votto. Muti won the Guido Cantelli Conducting Competition in 1967, leading to his professional debut with the RAI Orchestra in 1968. That year, he became the principal conductor of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino; he held this post until 1980. In 1973, he became the principal conductor of London's New Philharmonia, a post he retained until 1982. Longtime Philadelphia music director Eugene Ormandy effectively selected Muti as his successor in 1980. His tenure in Philadelphia was marked by cool relations with the orchestra and the press, as he tightened the orchestra's ensemble while retaining its tonal warmth. He made major changes in programming practices, offering concert operas and commissioning works by such tough modernists as Berio, Davidovsky, and Kirchner, as well as more iconoclastic Americans such as Bolcom and Rouse. Muti's heart remained with opera, and in 1986 he agreed to become the music director of Teatro alla Scala (and principal conductor of the La Scala Philharmonic the following year). Muti left Philadelphia in 1992, rarely to return. In opera, Muti has tended to focus on Italian repertory, using critical editions of scores and discouraging singers from indulging in traditional interpolations. Larger and more Italian-style controversy, indeed, awaited Muti in La Scala, where he clashed artistically with general manager Carlo Fontana, succeeded in having Fontana dismissed in favor of his own choice, but then faced a rebellion from the players. In 2004, Muti founded the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini and continues to serve as its music director. He resigned his post at La Scala in April of 2005 but has remained immensely influential in opera through his close association with the Salzburg Festival, where he has conducted a large number of operatic performances. Muti served as the artistic director of Salzburg's Whitsun Festival from 2007 until 2012, where he led the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini in concert, as well as productions of lesser-known 18th century Italian operas. Since 2010, Muti has been the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Controversy surrounded an appointment with the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, as he was improperly announced as the next music director beginning in 2010. Though he never held the official title, he did take on a similar, untitled role. During a 2011 performance of Verdi's Nabucco, Muti led not only the chorus but also the audience in a rendition of "Va pensiero," a chorus from the opera (and something of an Italian national hymn), in a protest against arts budget cuts by the government of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. In Chicago, Muti ingratiated himself with the city's sports-mad populace by donning a Chicago Blackhawks jersey during the team's 2013 championship run. Muti has remained a popular guest conductor internationally, and in 2021, he returned for his sixth turn with the baton at the Vienna Philharmonic New Year's Concert. That year, he was heard leading the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a performance of Verdi's Requiem, and the Chicago Symphony announced the conclusion of Muti's directorship in 2023. He is married to festival director Maria Cristina Mazzavillani, and the couple has three children.
© James Manheim & James Reel /TiVo
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