"There are music directors now with three orchestras," Riccardo Muti observed yesterday evening at the Italian Cultural Institute, with an audience that included Alessandro Motta, the new Consul General of Italy in Chicago. "There are also fathers who have three families," he continued. "At some point, it becomes problematic." He spoke for an hour and a half with Philip Gossett, the Verdi scholar and distinguished University of Chicago professor, covering such issues as the crisis of classical music and the responsibilities of music directors, and frequently made light of his reputation for vanity and arrogance.
Muti spoke passionately about the need for a music director to be a senior figure to the musicians. "Often, my musicians would come to me with problems, 'I have a sick boy at home, maestro,' this sort of thing," and implied that it is somewhat difficult for a less mature conductor. "Of course, it is now fashionable to hire a young music director," he said, then shrugged, in a not-so-subtle gibe at the ascensions of Gustavo Dudamel and Alan Gilbert in Los Angeles and New York.
"People always used to say to me, 'Oh, what is it you do to your hair, to keep it so black?" he said with his wide smile. (This man can work a captive audience like few I have seen.) Now that he has a bit of gray, "They say, 'Oh, you must get up and do this," mimicking painting in the gray, punctuated with a staccato laugh.
But for all the joking, there's a seriousness to what he says, especially when discussing the urgent necessity of cultural education. He took up the metaphor early on, to Gossett's question, of how an orchestral score is 30 or 40 parts working together, and that the orchestra is a metaphor for a democracy. It's a rather hoary cliche that's been reiterated numerous times by Daniel Barenboim, but it's only a cliche among a small group of insiders. The more Mutis and Barenboims running around introducing it, the better.
Gossett asked Muti at one point if a music director should introduce new works, and before he had finished the question, Muti said, "Must. Not should. Must." That was that.
Muti also talked about a music director taking musicians along with him into the schools, and "I don't mean just the, the aristocratic schools, where you have to pay a lot of money to go, but the others." (Nobody's going to argue that, I don't think, so then the question becomes, Why not you, Mr. Muti? Why leave it to these youngsters?)
"Music directors today are expected to be charismatic, and handsome, and good at finding money, and good at conducting the orchestra," he said. "But what if you are good at finding money, but ugly?" It's a good laugh line, but it also shows just how much he prefers to focus on the things he's good at. The music, I mean, not the being handsome and charismatic, which he may play down all he likes, but which I'm also not buying for a second.
Someone really should get Muti's impression of the cymbal-player in Bruckner's Seventh Symphony preparing for his one cymbal crash after putting on his tuxedo "frock," kissing his wife and children, going to the hall, sleeping through the first three movements, picking up one cymbal, picking up the other one, making eyes at the front row, looking to the conductor for his cue and finally playing the crash taped and posted to YouTube. This is mime approaching an Eddie Izzardian level.
Paul Lewis Beethoven Sonatas #3, including Op. 57 ("Appassionata") and Op. 27, No. 2 ("Moonlight") (harmonia mundi)
Artemis Quartet with Leif Ove Andsnes Brahms and Schumann Piano Quintets (Virgin Classics) (best recordings of these works in a long time, and that's a word I tend to avoid)
Richard Egarr Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Vol. 1 (harmonia mundi)
Les Voix Baroques Buxtehude: Cantatas (Atma)
Sergio and Odair Assad Jardim Abandonado: Jobim, Debussy, more (Nonesuch)
Jean-Guihen Queyras Bach: Complete Cello Suites (harmonia mundi)
Giulio Cesare Andreas Scholl, Inger Dam Jensen (Cleopatra), Lars-Ulrik Mortensen, conductor, Concerto Copenhagen (harmonia mundi DVD)