Chicago's Muti pageant

June 10, 2008
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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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  • One of the most interesting aspects of Muti's appointment is his expressed willingness to get involved in community building and fundraising on behalf of the CSO. It's great to hear that commitment from any music director, particularly one of his stature, and it will be equally interesting to see how he excels in those fields.
  • We have an international caliber conductor on the faculty at IU, Leonard Slatkin. Although he recently was appointed Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, I hope he may spend some time on the podium of the ISO.
  • Lou, we have hosted visiting orchestras (though not as often as we'd like). A couple of highlights: Around 1986, the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig played at Clowes Memorial Hall to a packed house (the program included Tchaikovsky 4). Around 1995, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra played at the Hilbert Circle Theatre and performed a devastating Mahler 9.

    Oh, I guess I've just proven your point...
  • As a venue capable of hosting and/or presenting touring orchestras, the Pike Performing Arts Center prefers to let the ISO handle the heavy lifting when it comes to symphonic music. We've presented a few jazz/swing/pops orchestras and some chamber groups, but it's expensive to book (and house) a symphony orchestra, plus there are more affordable and better-selling options for us. Besides, we would prefer to work with the ISO rather than try to compete against them.

    Does anyone feel that there is a need to have additional symphony orchestras performing in Indianapolis?

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