Muti’s Chicago Symphony debut draws 30,000 to Millennium Park
Okay, so it wasn’t exactly Mutipalooza.
Nobody seemed to be going shirtless in the throng of 30,000 that jammed the seating area and lawn at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion for a concert Sunday night by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its new music director, Riccardo Muti.
Corporate logos were not plastered all over the graceful metal curlicues of architect Frank Gehry’s structure, temporarily turning the Pritzker Pavilion into the Budweiser or Citi Bank or Adidas Main Stage. (Though Bank of America, the CSO’s “global partner,’’ was thanked profusely by CSO officials in remarks before the concert.)
Unlike the high-priced Lollapalooza festival that brings throngs of rock ‘n’ roll fans and musicians to Chicago’s Grant Park every summer, admission was free.
But there were miniature Muti flags that the audience and CSO musicians waved in a frenzy of welcome as Muti, who began his tenure as the CSO’s 10th music director Sunday night, strode briskly onstage. There were gigantic Muti buttons pinned to jackets that warded off the cloudy night’s autumnal chill. And after the concert there were fireworks, brief, brilliant and exuberant. As with Lollapalooza at its best, it was an event that reminded both audience and musicians how thrilling music-making can be.
The evening, the 69-year-old Muti’s debut concert as CSO music director, was billed as a “Free Concert for Chicago.” And the conductor and his new colleagues wisely chose a program of audience favorites that would project well throughout a seating area and lawn that stretches east of Michigan Avenue along two full downtown city blocks between Randolph and Madison.
The overture to Verdi’s La forza del destino and Respighi’s The Pines of Rome acknowledged Muti’s distinguished career as an opera conductor and his Italian heritage. Liszt’s Les preludes and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture were full of the kind of fire and emotional thrust entirely appropriate on such an over-the-top occasion.
But Muti is nothing if not a serious musician. He seemed touched by the gigantic crowd that turned out for his inaugural concert as CSO music director. The maestro’s brief remarks thanking the audience after the concert were witty and gracious.
But Muti was highly concentrated on the podium, utterly absorbed in the music at hand. Muti is not a flamboyant, look-at-me conductor; his baton technique is crisp and clear. However, the concert offered a hint of the combination of expressive eloquence and attention to detail that Muti most likely will bring to the CSO’s performances indoors at Symphony Center.
The Overture to La forza del destino bristled with dark-hued, demonic energy, but its lyrical passages were spacious and tender. Liszt’s Les Preludes sounded a bit raw, blaring in the big climaxes and insufficiently mysterious in quieter moments, though the trouble may have been due to amplification rather than the orchestra’s performance. Romeo and Juliet was lovingly shaded, and CSO soloists, among them John Bruce Yeh, acting principal clarinet, provided dramatic color in The Pines of Rome.
The concert kicked off the CSO’s “Festa Muti,’’ the maestro’s fall residency that runs through Oct. 17. The CSO has been waiting for a new music director since 2004, when Daniel Barenboim announced his intention to leave the post in June 2006. Six years is a long time, but Muti is giving every sign of being well worth the wait.