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CSO’s Riccardo Muti wins Asturias Prize for the arts

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Riccardo Muti’s good karma payback continues.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director woke up Wednesday in Chicago to learn that he has won the 2011 Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts, one of Spain’s equivalents to the Nobel Prizes.

After multiple health problems and cancellations in the fall and winter, Muti, 69, has returned stronger than ever. So far this year, he’s picked up two Grammy Awards (his first), won the $1 million Birgit Nilsson Prize, received a prestigious Opera News Award in New York last month and led a triumphant three-concert CSO tour to Carnegie Hall.

For the Asturias Award, Muti beat out 34 other international candidates from all of the arts, except literature, which has its own award. The legendary Spanish mezzo Teresa Berganza, with whom Muti made an historic recording of Vivaldi sacred works in the mid-1970s, nominated him for the prize. For many years, the honorees were primarily artists from the Spanish-speaking world, but recent winners have included Bob Dylan, Woody Allen, Polish composer-conductor Krzysztof Penderecki, British architect Norman Foster and last year’s winner, American sculptor Richard Serra.

The 13-member Spanish jury cited Muti’s international career, “his vocation as a researcher and his humanistic background,” and his part in “the classical tradition of the conductor capable of extracting the spirit of each work through the best qualities of orchestras.”

Spanish conductor Jesus Lopez-Cobos, who won the first arts award in 1981 and has known Muti since 1965 when both studied conducting with Franco Ferrara in Venice, said Muti “represents the European tradition of the Italian conductor who masters all kinds of repertoires, lyrical as well as symphonic, Italian as well as central European. Maestro Muti has had a magnificent career in both Europe and the United States. For me, he is one of the great conductors of the 20th century.”

In a statement thanking Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe and the jury, Muti said that he felt “particularly honored” that the award recognizes “the world of the arts” as a whole, and “even happier because Spain, its public and its culture have been very important in my artistic life.”

Since the Middle Ages, the heir apparent to the Spanish throne has had the title Prince of Asturias, hence the prize’s name. The prize comes with a cash award of 50,000 euros ($74,415) and a sculpture by Joan Miro. It will be presented, along with seven awards still to be announced for social sciences, communication and humanities, technical and scientific research, literature, international cooperation, sports and peace, by Prince Felipe in Oviedo, capital of Spain’s Asturias region, this fall. Former CSO music director Daniel Barenboim shared the peace prize in 2002. Muti is already slated to pick up his Nilsson Prize in Stockholm on Oct. 13 from the King and Queen of Sweden.

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

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