Riccardo Muti is one of the world’s preeminent conductors. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s distinguished tenth music director from 2010 until 2023, Muti was recently named Music Director Emeritus for Life beginning with the 2023–24 Season.
His leadership has been distinguished by the strength of his artistic partnership with the Orchestra; his dedication to performing great works of the past and present, including sixteen world premieres to date; the enthusiastic reception he and the CSO have received on national and international tours; and twelve recordings on the CSO Resound label, with three Grammy awards among them. In addition, Muti’s contributions to the cultural life of Chicago—with performances throughout its many neighborhoods and at Orchestra Hall—have made a lasting impact on the city.
Born in Naples, Riccardo Muti studied piano under Vincenzo Vitale at the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella, graduating with distinction. He subsequently received a diploma in composition and conducting from the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan under the guidance of Bruno Bettinelli and Antonino Votto.
He first came to the attention of critics and the public in 1967, when he won the Guido Cantelli Conducting Competition, by unanimous vote of the jury, in Milan. In 1968, he became principal conductor of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, a position he held until 1980. In 1971, Muti was invited by Herbert von Karajan to conduct at the Salzburg Festival, the first of many occasions, which led to a celebration of fifty years of artistic collaboration with the Austrian festival in 2020. During the 1970s, Muti was chief conductor of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra (1972–1982) succeeding Otto Klemperer. From 1980 to 1992, he inherited the position of music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra from Eugene Ormandy.
From 1986 to 2005, he was music director of Teatro alla Scala, and during this time, he directed major projects such as the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas and Wagner’s Ring cycle in addition to his exceptional contributions to the Verdi repertoire. Alongside the classics, he brought many rarely performed and neglected works to light, including pieces from the Neapolitan school, as well as operas by Gluck, Cherubini and Spontini. Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites earned Muti the prestigious Abbiati Prize. His tenure as music director of Teatro alla Scala, the longest in its history, culminated in the triumphant reopening of the restored opera house on Dec. 7, 2004, with Salieri’s Europa riconosciuta.
Over the course of his extraordinary career, Riccardo Muti has conducted the most important orchestras in the world: from the Berlin Philharmonic to the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and from the New York Philharmonic to the Orchestre National de France; as well as the Vienna Philharmonic, an orchestra to which he is linked by particularly close and important ties, and with which he has appeared at the Salzburg Festival since 1971.
When Muti was invited to lead the Vienna Philharmonic’s 150th-anniversary concert, the orchestra presented him with the Golden Ring, a special sign of esteem and affection, awarded only to a few select conductors. In 2021, he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in the New Year’s Concert for the sixth time, having previously led the concert in 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, and 2018. The 2018 recording went double platinum, and the 2021 concert received the prestigious audience award, the Romy Prize in the TV Moment of the Year category.
In April 2003, the French national radio channel, France Musique, broadcast a “Journée Riccardo Muti,” consisting of fourteen hours of his operatic and symphonic recordings made with all the orchestras he has conducted throughout his career. On Dec. 14 of the same year, he conducted the long-awaited opening concert of the newly renovated La Fenice opera house in Venice. Radio France broadcast another “Riccardo Muti Day” on May 17, 2018, when he led a concert at the Auditorium de la Maison de la Radio.
Muti’s recording activities, already notable by the 1970s and distinguished since by many awards, range from symphonic music and opera to contemporary compositions. The label RMMusic is responsible for Riccardo Muti’s recordings.
In September 2010, Riccardo Muti became music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and was named 2010 Musician of the Year by Musical America. At the 53rd annual Grammy Awards ceremony in 2011, his live performance of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus was awarded Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance. In 2011, Muti was selected as the recipient of the coveted Birgit Nilsson Prize, presented in a ceremony at the Royal Opera in Stockholm in the presence of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia. In 2011, he received the Opera News Award in New York City, and he was awarded Spain’s prestigious Prince of Asturias Prize for the Arts. That summer, he was named an honorary member of the Vienna Philharmonic and honorary director for life of the Rome Opera. In May 2012, he was awarded the highest papal honor: the Knight of the Grand Cross First Class of the Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope Benedict XVI. In 2016, he was honored by the Japanese government with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star.
Muti has received numerous international honors over the course of his career. He is Cavaliere di Gran Croce of the Italian Republic and a recipient of the German Verdienstkreuz. He received the decoration of Officer of the Legion of Honor from French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a private ceremony held at the Élysée Palace. He was made an honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in Britain. The Salzburg Mozarteum awarded him its silver medal for his contribution to Mozart’s music, and in Vienna, he was elected an honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Vienna Hofmusikkapelle and Vienna State Opera. The State of Israel has honored him with the Wolf Prize in the arts. In July 2018, President Petro Poroshenko presented Muti with the State Award of Ukraine during the Roads of Friendship concert at the Ravenna Festival in Italy following earlier performances in Kiev. In October 2018, Muti received the prestigious Praemium Imperiale for Music of the Japan Arts Association in Tokyo. Muti received the Great Golden Decoration of Honor for Services to the Republic of Austria, the highest possible civilian honor from the Austrian government, in August 2021. In addition, he has received more than twenty honorary degrees from the most important universities in the world.
Passionate about teaching young musicians, Muti founded the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra in 2004 and the Riccardo Muti Italian Opera Academy in 2015. Through Le vie dell’Amicizia (The Roads of Friendship), a project of the Ravenna Festival in Italy, he has conducted in many of the world’s most troubled areas in order to bring attention to civic and social issues.
Riccardo Muti’s vast catalog of recordings, numbering in the hundreds, ranges from the traditional symphonic and operatic repertoires to contemporary works. He also has written four books: Verdi, l’italiano and Riccardo Muti, An Autobiography: First the Music, Then the Words, both of which have been published in several languages; as well as Infinity Between the Notes: My Journey Into Music, published in May 2019, and The Seven Last Words of Christ: a Dialogue with Massimo Cacciari, published in 2020; both titles are available in Italian.