Focus Riccardo Muti: Great Moments
You would like to have been there in 1973 at the Vienna Philharmonic Ball. The opening was conducted by a not quite 32-year-old Italian, from whom miracles had already been heard: Riccardo Muti. The Musikverein was to become a home for him, a centre of his world career. Fifty years after his debut, the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna is dedicating a seasonal focus to its honorary member: Riccardo Muti in direction.
It is impossible to quantify how strongly Riccardo Muti has shaped concert life at the Musikverein for five decades. But they still say a lot: Muti has conducted the Großer Musikvereinssaal in no less than 195 concerts – with the focus concerts of the 2023/24 season, he will exceed the magic number of 200. A two-day guest performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra marks the beginning of the series. But, of course, one can interpret it symbolically when “From Italy” is on the programme for the first programme, Richard Strauss’s “Symphonic Fantasy”. From a young age, Muti says, he conducted the work in his hometown of Naples. In the third movement, “On the beach of Sorrento”, the orchestra grumbled. Where, the knowledgeable Italians asked, is there a beach in Sorrento? Well, the topography of art is different. According to her, Vienna also borders directly on Italy. No musician today represents this close relationship so intimately; no one lives it as intensively as Riccardo Muti.
The fact that Schubert’s Overture “in the Italian Style”, D 591, is on the programme in the last concert of his Focus series is an excellent sign of this. And then, of course, Mozart, who has so much Italian in his musical language! Is it still necessary to explain in Vienna the dedication with which Muti repeatedly devotes himself to Mozart’s oeuvre? The older he gets, the more challenging dealing with such a genius becomes. “It’s like climbing a mountain,” says Riccardo Muti. “The higher you get, the wider the horizon opens.” The Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini will be Muti’s partner with Schubert and Mozart, the fantastic Italian youth orchestra founded by Riccardo Muti twenty years ago. Sharing his experience and passing on his knowledge is a mission that Riccardo Muti pursues with passion and great charisma.
In general, these five concerts reflect much of the eminent artistic spectrum of the maestro, and with perhaps surprising aspects. Conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Muti presents not only classics of orchestral brilliance such as Stravinsky’s “Firebird” suite and Prokofiev’s “Fifth”, but also a new work by Philip Glass and – for the first time at the Musikverein – Symphony No. 3 by the highly remarkable Florence Price. Premiered in 1940, this work was the first symphony by an African-American woman to be played by a major orchestra in the United States. With Muti on the podium, you can now experience what a robust and unmistakable voice came into the music world.
If the focus is on Riccardo Muti, the orchestra he describes as the “orchestra of my life” belongs to a particular place: the Vienna Philharmonic. In 1971, Herbert von Karajan founded the liaison – a love story to this day. Acknowledgements of affection are also repeatedly found through concert events with historical significance, such as now when Riccardo Muti conducts the anniversary performance of Beethoven’s “Nine” in the Musikverein, precisely 200 years after its premiere. “I am deeply touched and honoured that the Vienna Philharmonic and the Musikverein invited me to do so,” says Muti. The “Ninth”: a masterpiece that Riccardo Muti stood in amazement at for many years before he plucked up the courage to conduct it. He says the beginning is “one of the most magical and unpredictable moments in music”. He wrote a poet’s word on the first page of his score. Translated, it means: “Silence. Night. The Void listens to God, and one star speaks to another.” It is this magical emptiness that opens space to the universe. In the Musikverein you can look forward to great moments, also in this sense.
Text by Joachim Reiber.
© Dieter Nagl
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