Maestro Muti returns to talk up CSO's next season

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Riccardo Muti
In a more perfect world, every elementary school child would learn to play a musical instrument, every family would be able to afford tickets to Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts, and public support for the orchestra would be so broad that there'd be no need to cultivate big corporate and private gifts.

We don't live in that world.

So when the CSO held a next-season press conference at Symphony Center Wednesday, the event began with effusive thanks and a few smooches for donors, notably Bank of America (recently in the news for getting some public support of its own from the New York Fed). BOA is continuing its sponsorship of the orchestra for another year. The CSO also announced $13 million in gifts from individuals and foundations, including money to endow "in perpetuity" two principal chairs: flute and viola.

Music director and charmer in chief Riccardo Muti, back in Chicago for three weeks of concerts, opened his remarks with a question that acknowledged the elephant in the room—his multiple illness-related absences, like the stunner in January that saw him report for work one day and fly home to Italy the next.

"Are you surprised to see me?" the maestro deadpanned, noting that even on the street in Chicago, "people are asking me, 'How are you?'"

Then he milked it to a punch line: "I'm fine," he said. "I still walk, move my arms [illustrated with a flap]. The rest I will not say."

He waited for the laugh that didn't come, then wondered aloud if his sense of humor is too "strange," or if it's something about Americans—"at least in public."

Adorable, even when we know the shtick.

So what’s in store next season? Highlights include a Schubert cycle and a good dose of Verdi, including Macbeth, a CD release of Otello (from 2011), and a live-streamed 200th birthday performance of his Requiem. Also, a "Truth to Power" series of works by Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Britten, conducted by Jaap van Zweden, and two weeks of concerts led by the man Muti considers the "most important musician in the world," CSO conductor emeritus Pierre Boulez.

The popular young composers in residence, Mason Bates and Anna Clyne, will be around for another two years, Muti added, and the orchestra's winter tour will include a stop at the Canary Islands. The season will open on September 18 with a free concert of work by Verdi and Brahms at Morton East High School's Chodl Auditorium, in Cicero. All this information and much more is here.

Muti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor at Orchestra Hall tonight, Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday (4/12-4/13 and 4/16); tickets are $40 to $275.

Another chance to see the maestro in action is coming up at 7:00 PM Monday (4/15), when he'll conduct an open rehearsal of the Civic Orchestra. It's free, but tickets are required; call 312-294-3000 or check the website.

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