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For the CSO, the show goes on, even without Riccardo Muti

Pianist Radu Lupu (undated handout photo)

Pianist Radu Lupu (undated handout photo)

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CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

RECOMMENDED

◆ 8 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

◆ Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan

◆ Tickets, $70-$250

◆ (312) 294-3000;
cso.org

Updated: February 13, 2013 6:08AM



Call it “The Case of the Missing Maestro.”

On Monday, Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, arrived in Chicago for his two-week winter residency and to prepare the orchestra for a two-week, nine-concert, six-city Asia tour starting Jan. 25 in Taipei, Taiwan.

On Tuesday, the CSO announced Muti had been hit by the flu epidemic and would have to withdraw for this week’s concerts. Dutch conductor Edo de Waart, 71, and Muti’s exact contemporary, would take over the four all-Beethoven concerts featuring guest pianist Radu Lupu. (De Waart, music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, lives in Middleton, Wis., with his family.)

On Wednesday afternoon, the CSO announced that the music director would have to cancel a second week of concerts and confirmed to the newspaper that Muti had returned to Italy. “He feels more comfortable recuperating at home,” a CSO spokesperson said.

De Waart was again available, but this times with major changes to the announced program, which is also to be taken on the scheduled tour.

Shades of fall 2010, when Muti could not take the stage for the CSO’s opening night gala concert due to “gastric distress” and flew home to see his own doctors. The next year, a fall onstage during a rehearsal led to the discovery of a heart arrhythmia and the installation of a pacemaker at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. At the time, Muti praised the Northwestern doctors and American medical care and said that he knew where he would go if he had any medical problems in the future.

Eyebrows kept rising when musicians were never informed in person or at rehearsal about any of this week’s developments. (They received a group e-mail saying that de Waart was taking over the first week of concertos.) Muti’s leadership of a CSO Youth in Music Festival open rehearsal was canceled. (Peruvian conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra will step in.)

Then the 2013-2014 CSO and Symphony Center season announcement set for Jan. 18 with Muti presiding was canceled altogether, with an e-mail informing media that there would simply be an electronic announcement sometime in February, reducing much of the attention and importance of such a major annual event.

Neither Muti nor CSO management has yet made any statement on Muti’s setbacks or when he might have informed anyone of his sudden departure on a trans-Atlantic flight. While the conductor sacrifices performance fees, this absence means it’s the third time in three years that the CSO and its players have lacked on-site leadership and support from their deservedly admired music director.

As for the show, it went on, and in good order, too. De Waart led a “Leonore” Overture No. 3 that was as good, sprightly and engaging as most can get. Principal trumpet Christopher Martin performed his offstage solo as good as any can get.

At 67, Radu Lupu remains an absolute magician of the piano, 40 years after his debut here. Leaning back in his straight back hotel-meeting chair, he played the 1795 C Major Concerto (Beethoven’s second, but called No. 1) as if he were displaying a set of rare jewels, each appearing, unostentatiously, when he pressed individual keys. It’s often said that some great pianists have a chamber-like quality, even in concertos with orchestra. Lupu seems to conjure the other instruments — horns, winds, strings — with his focused touch. De Waart did not always stay in step with the soloist, but it hardly mattered: audience and musicians gave Lupu a hearty ovation.

Muti’s absence was felt most keenly in the hall during the Third Symphony, “Eroica,” with Muti’s take greatly anticipated. De Waart was solid, and the solos and group playing of the wind principals throughout and acting principal bassoon William Buchman were divine. Throughout the concert, the audience rightly showed its appreciation for the last-minute podium substitution.

But when and what will we hear from Muti?

Andrew Patner is critic at large for WFMT-FM (98.7).



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