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Riccardo Muti, now ailing, has our support, says CSO chief Rutter

Chicago Symphony OrchestrMusic Director Riccardo Muti will mark 100th anniversary outbreak World War by leading youth orchestrperformance Verdi’s “Requiem.”

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Music Director Riccardo Muti will mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War by leading a youth orchestra in a performance of Verdi’s “Requiem.” | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 13, 2013 6:13AM



‘This is the downside of celebrity,” said Chicago Symphony Orchestra president Deborah F. Rutter about music director Riccardo Muti’s decision this week to cancel his winter residency.

“Last season Maestro Muti gave 16 full weeks of concerts, led two international tours and a California tour and had no cancellations. Zero,” she said in an interview Friday. “There was not one thing, even the smallest thing, that he did not do, no matter how he might have been feeling on any particular day or how full his schedule was. And in the spring, he even added a lot of extra things with young people [student musicians].

“Now, he gets the flu, when flu is everywhere. It gets attention all over the Internet and all over the world. Other less known conductors and performers cancel things, and sometimes you don’t hear about it for months.”

The timing of rehearsal and concert schedules, along with the CSO’s impending two-week Asia tour, put pressure on decision-making and communication when Muti had to withdraw.

“He arrived Monday in the midst of this thing [the flu], and we knew we would have to do something,” Rutter said. Muti decided to fly back home after consulting a doctor Tuesday.

In finding a replacement, the Internet helped immensely because CSO artistic vice president Martha Gilmer and her team “can tell where almost every conductor or soloist is and who is free at any given time before they even make a phone call.”

More from Rutter:

Q. Some CSO players were surprised to hear of Muti’s cancellation via email.

A. “No offense was intended by not making an in-person rehearsal announcement to them. That’s how I, that’s how we [the CSO administration], communicate with the players. It’s fast, it’s neutral, it’s equitable.

“Of course Muti is not just any conductor, and he is their music director. But we don’t like to communicate partially, and we don’t like to jump the gun. When we knew what was going on, and what we were going to do, we shared it with the players, the trustees and the staff. And then we waited a bit and shared it with the press and the public as well.”

Q. What’s the musicians’ reaction to his decision to call off his winter residency?

A. “I just came from a [musicians’] committee meeting. They have been very clear in their support for [Muti]. And they are pleased with and proud of what they’re doing in concerts in his absence, and they are looking forward to another successful tour.”

Q. What about Muti’s decision to return to Italy to recuperate at home?

A. “That was a judgment call on his part. I don’t think any of us are in a position to judge what someone else does to try to manage his health or an illness. I feel bad for him, and the chief thing is that I am very concerned that he get better. We each have different capacities for managing ill health. If this is the way he thinks he can do that, then that’s his choice.”

Q. Did it seem odd that someone with the flu would want to get on a trans-Atlantic flight?

A. “He takes trans-Atlantic flights more than most people. He stays in hotels more than most people. He doesn’t get to be at home as much as most people do. He knows how to navigate these things.”

Q. Have you spoken with Muti since his departure Tuesday night?

A. “No, but I am exchanging text messages with him regularly via cellphone. There will have to be some changes to one of the touring concert programs, and these will be announced soon, first to the presenters in Asia and then to the press. [Edo] De Waart [who stepped in to replace Muti] will rehearse some of the material with the orchestra this week and next, and two half-hours of rehearsal will be added to the two rehearsals currently scheduled with Muti in Taipei, Taiwan, the first stop on the nine-concert, six-city tour.”

Q. What about the delaying of the CSO’s 2012-2013 season announcement?

A. “It is not a big [deal]. Now we can put it out electronically in February. You [the press] all can read and digest it and then ask questions of him later. For us, this is actually much better than just taking advantage of his being in Chicago to hurry an announcement.”

Q. What about CSO patrons who have had Muti cancel Beethoven’s beloved “Eroica” Symphony not once but twice now? Will he ever lead the work with the CSO?

A. “I know that he will. On the [upcoming Asia] tour, and then we will make sure that he does so as well at some point at Orchestra Hall.”



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