Riccardo Muti brings 'rock solid' Chicago Symphony to Seoul
Posted : 2016-01-13 16:18
Updated : 2016-01-14 16:28
Riccardo Muti / Courtesy of Vincero
Maestro is still in ‘honeymoon' with orchestra
By Kwon Ji-youn
Maestro Riccardo Muti describes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) as a wonder in the musical world, one of the greatest classical symphonic ensembles in existence. Together, they are prepared to make a remarkable impression on Korean audiences when they visit Seoul later this month.
"I know that Korea is a country dedicated to music," Muti, music director of the CSO, said in an interview with The Korea Times. "There are so many artists who come from Korea, and there are many orchestras, not only in Seoul, but in other parts of the country. But the Chicago Symphony, I think, will make an impression that will not be forgotten too easily even by the Korean people."
This concert, at the Seoul Arts Center on Jan. 28-29, marks Muti's first in Korea in 12 years, and the CSO's second ever. The Italian conductor did not perform with the CSO in its first performance here due to health reasons. This performance falls in line with the CSO's Asia tour, which celebrates the orchestra's 125th anniversary.
Muti has performed in Korea three times before ― in 1983 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and in 1996 and 2004 with the La Scala Philharmonic. Though he was named music director of the CSO in May 2010, his first encounter with the CSO was in 1973.
"I remember the orchestra then, in 1973, to be a very strong and powerful orchestra," he said. "I did not return for more than 30 years and when I did, in 2007, I returned to an orchestra of high quality but also more supple, subtle, and more flexible."
During his five-year stretch with the CSO, both he and the orchestra have changed, but the roots have stayed the same, he said.
"The musician is a person, and so the musician is also affected by life experiences," Muti said. "Works by Verdi or Beethoven or Mozart that I conduct today are different, but they are not a contradiction of what I did before. I can recognize, and, fortunately, everybody recognizes that the departure is still the same as the starting point. The roots are the same, but the leaves and branches of the tree have developed. You can recognize that the Muti of today is more complex, more refined, more pensive, but when there is a moment of fire, of eruption, the recognizable qualities are still there."
Below is an excerpt from the interview:
Q. You will bring two different programs for this concert; Beethoven Symphony No. 5 and Mahler Symphony No. 1 for the first; Prokofiev Symphony No. 1, Hindemith Concert Music for Brass and Strings, and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 for the second. Why did you select this particular program?
A. There is not a specific reason why these programs were put together in this way. In this case, it's just two programs: firstly, two programs of very important works in the literature and, secondly, two programs that show the special qualities of this great orchestra.
In the first program, the two composers, Beethoven and Mahler, are not historically connected. The Fifth Symphony can be played in different ways by different orchestras, but with an orchestra like the Chicago Symphony, you have a great orchestra that plays in a modern way while stylistically thinking about the period in which this symphony was written. And played by the Chicago Symphony, I think it will be a great experience for the public.
Mahler is one of the composers very much connected with the history of the Chicago Symphony, through several of its musical directors, especially in the time of Solti, who gave a lot of attention to Mahler. So we can say that it's a Mahler orchestra for the tradition, for the quality of the players, for the knowledge and the experience they have had through different generations of music directors.
Q. It is said that the CSO has been at its best since you became its musical director. What do you think about this appraisal?
A. All the players are very proud to be a part of the Chicago Symphony, and they know that the Chicago Symphony means absolute quality. That doesn't mean that every performance is perfect, but all the musicians strive to reach a point near perfection. You have an instrument of people. They can go from Baroque music to contemporary music with the same enthusiasm and achieve incredible technical results, which is very, very, very important.
With the Chicago Symphony, the conductor can focus on artistic goals because the orchestra is there to give you everything. That's the reason why I think our combination is quite rare in a world that is so fast and complex.
Q. What significance do the CSO's visits to Asia have for classical music?
A. The fact that in Asia the public is so young and so dedicated to music is a great hope for the entire world, especially to me as an Italian, as somebody that comes from a very old country, culturally speaking.
We in Europe are very impressed by the fact that in Asia, in Korea specifically, music is becoming really a very important element of the culture and the spiritual and cultural education of young people. We know that orchestras are founded, conservatories are opened, theaters are created ― fantastic theaters from an architectural point of view ― and we have a great respect for the dedication of the Asian people to Western musical culture.
So, music will be one of the elements that will put people together around the world, and the fact that in Asia young people are coming to the world of music brings us to hope for a better future for the entire world.
Q. Tell us about your conducting philosophy.
A. An orchestra of 100 people is like a society, and a society is made by people of different characters, different personalities; it's a democracy. And in a democracy not everybody says "I agree, I agree, I agree." The orchestra is made up of a group of people where the integration of different cultures produces fantastic musical fruits.
Q. Do you have an ultimate goal you hope to achieve through the remainder of your term?
A. If the world continues to collapse and to decline in its interest in culture, then classical music will become more and more distant. Classical music depends very much on the importance that we give to culture. We know for certain that to boys and girls, if they listen to come to know classical music, classical music becomes important to them. The challenge for the future is not how much classical music is needed by the people but how much we do, how much we give, how much energy we exert to make classical music familiar to people. Culture has to be supported and sustained.
Music is a tool with which to build bridges and to bring music to people who either for economic or cultural reasons are not familiar with classical music. I didn't come to Chicago to make a "career," because the career has already been made. And the CSO also has a long and distinguished "career," if you will. So we have nothing to prove. Instead, together, we can really serve the city and do something good for Chicago, and perhaps for the world, through music. We can offer programs and play music that reaches the hearts and souls of people.
Q. The CSO's brass section is known to be one of the most outstanding parts of the orchestra.
A. When I was in Europe, or even when I was music director in Philadelphia, we always heard about the brass of the Chicago Symphony. It was a compliment to the brass section, but it was not a compliment for the rest of the orchestra ― that everybody was talking about the brass. Today we can say that we can speak very highly of the brass, of the woodwinds, of the strings: the entire orchestra. The orchestra has a wonderful woodwind section and a wonderful strings section as well.
Q. What else, other than the brass, is unique to the CSO? Can you tell us about the differences between La Scala and the CSO?
A. It is very difficult to compare a symphonic orchestra to an orchestra of an opera house. The Philadelphia Orchestra, which I know very well from my many years there and the Chicago Symphony have two distinct sounds. I would say that the Philadelphia Orchestra has had a unique string sound since the time of Stokowski, a sort of "perfume" to the sound that can be full of a thousand colors. Chicago has less "perfume," in this way, and is more solid and supple. I love both orchestras. Chicago is a stronger orchestra in solidity, like a rock, but a rock that can also be very gentle. Philadelphia is a very strong orchestra, but more inclined to perfumes. I think that Georg Solti (former CSO music director) molded the sound of Chicago because it was his orchestra.
Q. How do you communicate with your musicians?
A. Every conductor should know compositional technique well. Unfortunately, it is rare now. I studied composition for 10 years. Young conductors of today are generally more interested in the exterior, the show that people make on the podium, than they are in spending time deeply studying harmony, counterpoint, orchestration, and other elements of music. It is too easy to go from playing an instrument to starting to wave the arms. As (Arturo) Toscanini said, "to beat time, every donkey can do. But to make music, beating time is very difficult."
When you have a great orchestra of musicians, they are the first to expect a music director to work hard, not just to take it easy. To take it easy is sometimes an attitude that is common in some parts of the world. And certainly it is not the reason I am in Chicago.
I believe that a conductor, a music director, should be a leader, a father, an older brother, but not a dictator.
Q. Your father was known to be a music lover. Have you been influenced by your father?
A. Although my father was a medical doctor, he believed that music was absolutely essential in the general education of a young boy or girl. Even if destined for another profession, my father believed that music was important to study anyway. He wanted for me and my four brothers to have five serious vocations, as doctors, lawyers, engineers or architects.
At that time, to become a professional musician in the south of Italy was like going to the moon, something unusual. I became a conductor through unexpected circumstances.