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Chicago's Muti pageant

June 10, 2008
I’m sure there are arts patrons in Central Indiana who travel across the border to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I just don’t know any of them.

For most of us, the musical difference between a true world-class orchestra like the CSO and the excellence of our own Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra isn’t enough of a gap to justify the drive up I-65. And even if I am in Chicago, I’m more likely to spend my time with material that I can’t see here, whether that’s an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, a play at Steppenwolf, or a revue at Second City.

Yet even if I never see the CSO play, I’m interested in the hiring of Riccardo Muti as its new maestro. Officially taking over in 2010, Muti comes to the gig with an international reputation as one of the top conductors in the world (okay, so some musicians—and ushers—at La Scala famously didn’t care for him).

I was in Philadelphia during some of Muti’s tenure there in the ‘80s and recall a gutsy willingness to take a few steps away from the familiar “Philadelphia” sound of his illustrious predecessors. He also brought a hunk factor (he was in his 40s at the time), bringing many to swoon when a stray jet black lock of hair would fall across his forehead.

Like watching what happens when an established sports team hires a new coach, it’s fascinating to watch what happens when an arts organization acquires a new leader. And without win/loss columns to determine success, the arts offer more subjective assessments. Will Muti live up to the reps of his predecessors? Will his stamp on the CSO be subtle or overt? Will Chicago audiences embrace him?

And, some day, will Indy have a concert hall that will host visiting orchestras?

Your thoughts?
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