Now in his third season as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Riccardo Muti is one of the preeminent conductors of our day. In 2010, when he became the CSO’s tenth music director, Muti already had over forty years’ experience at the helm of Maggio Musicale, Philharmonia, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Teatro alla Scala, and as guest conductor of the world’s great orchestras and opera houses, including the Berlin Philharmonic; Vienna Philharmonic; Royal Opera, Covent Garden; and the Metropolitan Opera. In addition to his music directorship of the CSO, Muti is honorary director for life of the Rome Opera.
Born in Naples, Riccardo Muti studied piano under Vincenzo Vitale at the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella in his native city, graduating with distinction; he subsequently received a diploma in composition and conducting from the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan, where his principal teachers were Bruno Bettinelli and Antonino Votto. After winning the Guido Cantelli Conducting Competition—by unanimous vote of the jury—in Milan in 1967, his career developed quickly. In 1968, he became principal conductor of Florence’s Maggio Musicale, a position that he held until 1980. Herbert von Karajan invited him to conduct at the Salzburg Festival in 1971, and Muti has maintained a close relationship with the festival and with its great orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, for more than forty consecutive years. When he conducted the Philharmonic’s 150th anniversary concert in 1992, he was presented with the Golden Ring, a special sign of esteem and affection, and in 2001, his outstanding artistic contributions to the orchestra were further recognized with the Otto Nicolai Gold Medal. He is an honorary lifetime member of Vienna’s Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of the Friends of Music), the Vienna Hofmusikkapelle, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Vienna State Opera.
Muti succeeded Otto Klemperer as chief conductor and music director of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra in 1973, and he continued in that position until 1982. From 1980 to 1992, he was music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and in 1986, he became music director of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. During his nineteen-year tenure, in addition to directing major projects such as the Mozart–Da Ponte trilogy and Wagner Ring cycle, Muti conducted operatic and symphonic repertoire ranging from the Baroque to the Contemporary, also leading hundreds of concerts with the Filarmonica della Scala and touring the world with both the opera company and the orchestra. His tenure as music director, the longest of any in La Scala’s history, culminated in the triumphant reopening of the restored opera house with Antonio Salieri’s Europa riconosciuta, originally commissioned for La Scala’s inaugural performance in 1778.
Over the years, Muti has dedicated much time and effort to young musicians. In 2004, he founded the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini (Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra) in order to foster new talent and raise the standard of orchestral playing in his native country. He recently completed a five-year project with this group to present works of the eighteenth-century Neapolitan School at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival.
Muti has demonstrated his concern for other social and civic issues by performing in many of the world’s most troubled areas. As part of the Ravenna Festival’s project, Le vie dell’Amicizia (The paths of friendship), he has conducted concerts bringing people together and providing comfort in Sarajevo, Beirut, Jerusalem, Moscow, Yerevan, Istanbul, New York, Cairo, Damascus, El Djem, Meknès, Mazaro del Vallo, L’Aquila, Trieste, and Nairobi. He also has been helping to revive the wind band tradition in troubled parts of southern Italy by arming young people, not with weapons of violence, but with instruments of peace. The city of Catania, Sicily, has twice awarded him a special prize as a living legend of orchestral conducting, a proud Italian, and a humanitarian. He has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Riccardo Muti’s vast catalog of recordings, numbering in the hundreds, ranges from the traditional symphonic and operatic repertoires to contemporary works. His debut recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, released in 2010 by CSO Resound, won two Grammy awards. During the last two years, he has also produced two books: Riccardo Muti: An Autobiography: First the Music, Then the Words and Verdi, l’italiano.
Muti has received innumerable international honors over the course of his career. He is a Cavaliere di Gran Croce of the Italian Republic, Officer of the French Legion of Honor, and a recipient of the German Verdienstkreuz. Queen Elizabeth II bestowed on him the title of honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded him the Order of Friendship, and Pope Benedict XVI made him a Knight of the Grand Cross First Class of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great—the highest papal honor. Muti also has received Israel’s Wolf Prize for the arts, Sweden’s prestigious Birgit Nilsson Prize, Spain’s Prince of Asturias Prize for the Arts, and the gold medal from Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for his promotion of Italian culture abroad. He has received numerous honorary degrees from universities in Italy and abroad, most recently from the University of Naples “L’Orientale” in March 2013.
During his first three seasons with the CSO, Muti has won over audiences through the extraordinarily high quality of his music making in Chicago and around the world, and he has demonstrated his commitment to the local community, even surprising Chicago Cubs fans by throwing the ceremonial first pitch at a game during the 2012 season. His first annual free concert for Chicago audiences attracted more than 25,000 people to hear the CSO at Millennium Park, and students and community members are regularly invited to attend Muti’s CSO rehearsals at Orchestra Hall. He has gone to local juvenile prisons, accompanying singers and other musicians at the piano and speaking about the power of great music to transform people’s lives. Riccardo Muti’s leadership continues to bring Chicago’s great orchestra to ever higher levels of achievement and renown.