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Muti glad to be back, despite the blizzard



◆ 8 tonight and Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Friday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

◆ Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan

◆ Tickets, $30-$249

◆ (312) 294-3000;

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Surveying the city from his hotel suite 40-plus floors up above Michigan Avenue, Riccardo Muti is surprised.

“I’m enjoying this wea­ther,” he said by phone Wed­nesday afternoon. “It’s really not so bad. It’s a kind of inspirational monotone of white. And my son Domenico and his girlfriend and I just took a walk outside, and it was very impressive, a kind of white stillness all around, something out of Dante.”

Though normally no great fan of winter — when he was considering his post as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Muti asked locals how quickly one could escape to “somewhere really warm” — the Italian conductor, 69, seems genuinely happy to be back in Chicago after the launch of his first season here was cut short last fall by illness. Diagnosed as suffering from stress and exhaustion upon his return to Italy, Muti said that after a month of “complete rest,” cancellation of some prior commitments and careful re-entry with others, “all of this is now in the past.”

“I am not just visiting here in Chicago. I am back here,” he said. “The orchestra and I had a wonderful rehearsal on Tuesday. After a very nice welcome back from the musicians, immediately we started to make music. That is a very good sign.”

The afternoon was spent working with guest piano soloist Mitsuko Uchida on the Schumann concerto, which she will play at four CSO concerts tonight through Tuesday. With an extra orchestra rehearsal today to make up for a rare snow day Wednesday, “we will be in excellent condition.”

In addition to three weeks of 11 subscription concerts, Muti is also heading up the first International CSO Sir Georg Solti Conducting Competition and Apprenticeship Friday to Sunday. The winner of a two-year apprenticeship with Muti and a $20,000 cash prize are set to be announced Tuesday.

When asked if all of the competitors will be able to show up, given the weather and travel conditions, Muti chuckled and said, “Conductors always arrive. What happens after that is less predictable. But they always arrive.”

Muti is looking forward this month to presenting works by an unusual trio of composers he has long championed. On tap are the first CSO performances of Cherubini’s 1815 Overture in G Major (“the only orchestral overture by this great composer”), the first Chicago concerts in almost 40 years of Hindemith’s 1940 Symphony in E-Flat (also a Solti favorite) and Varese’s mystical 1925-27 “Arcana,” which Muti first led in the 1980s as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra (which premiered the work under Leopold Stokow­ski).

Each of his three programs this month also has a popular concerto at its center — in addition to the Schumann, Russian violinist Vadim Repin plays the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and Norwegian Leif Ove Andsnes returns after several years as soloist for the Brahms Second Piano Concerto. Muti also will take up a longtime CSO calling card, Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, as well as the suite from Stravinsky’s Tchaikovsky tribute ballet “The Fairy’s Kiss” and the first work that the CSO will play by Anna Clyne, one of the two Mead composers-in-residence picked by Muti.

Clyne’s work “<<rewind<<” (2005) is “very well written,” Muti said. “I am very excited about this first cooperation with Anna Clyne, not only by the music itself, but from my experience of her and reports about her time thus far in Chicago as a very sympathetic person. It’s very important for me, particularly as I have grown older, the human as­pect of the people one collaborates with.”

And although he never met Shostakovich, who died in 1975, Muti also feels a strong connection with the long-suffering Soviet composer. “I made the first performance and recording in the Western world of his 13th Symphony, ‘Babi Yar,’ in 1970, in Rome with the RAI orchestra, male chorus and [Italian bass] Ruggero Raimondi as soloist. The work had been banned by the Russians since 1963, but a score was brought out for us and translated into Italian. I later received word from Shostakovich himself, to whom a tape had been delivered in Russia, that he was deeply touched by this.

“This is very important to me — the real connections one must strive for, with a composer, the audience and of course the musicians.”

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