GUANAJUATO, Mexico — I joked with Riccardo Muti after the concert here Monday night that if he had won one more award before the Chicago Symphony Orchestraconcludes its tour on Wednesday, the CSO will have to add another trunk to its 15 tons of cargo.
The second official honor the maestro received Monday was bestowed on him at the end of the concert: a black statuette to go with the certificate he had received earlier in the day awarding him “honorary resident” status. “Gracias, maestro,” said the presenter, Miguel Marquez Marquez, governor of the state of Guanajuato, “Guanajuato is your home.”
Addressing the audience in Italian, Muti praised “the great triangle” of cultural sister cities — Guanajuato, Chicago and Spoleto, Italy — before leading his orchestra in an encore, the first the encore-averse music director has given during the tour so far, Martucci's “Notturno.” Quite different in interpretation from Muti's reading at Carnegie Hall a week before, the night-piece received a loving orchestral caress before another frenzy of applause from the crowd, which included Eduardo Arnal, Mexico's consul general in Chicago.
The maestro — who prides himself in his ability to control audiences as exactingly as he controls his 102 musicians — twiddled his fingers in the crowd's direction to wish them a grateful buenos noches.
A cozy, colonial-era town that historically has cultivated a cultural scene far out of proportion to its size, Guanajuato treated Muti and his band like royalty their entire two days here.
Their appearance at the top of the month-long Festival Internacional Cervantino was highly anticipated, and the demand for tickets ran so high that a closed-circuit TV hookup had to be arranged to broadcast Monday's concert to several hundred more music-lovers gathered on this warm night on steps outside the University of Guanajuato, not far from the Teatro Juarez, where the event took place.
Following the concert, Muti, looking rather helpless, stood outside the theater where he was awaiting a chauffeur who was to drive him to a late supper at his hotel. His van was late, locked in the snarl of cars trying to wend their way through an ancient maze of small, cobbled lanes never designed to hold this much traffic.
And so the maestro was left to the mercy of fans who had attended the concert marking the CSO's debut in Mexico, many brandishing autograph books and cellphone cameras. A middle-aged man pleaded for an autograph, telling Muti he had driven 18 hours from the south of Mexico to hear him and the famous visitors from Chicago.
After finally sitting down to dinner, a voluble maestro held court well past midnight with a stream of anecdotes about, among others, conductors Arturo Toscanini and Victor De Sabata, diva Maria Callas and the byzantine politics of Milan's La Scala opera.
So, you are wondering, what was the concert like?
I wish I could say the sound the audience got back from the hall was as pleasing to the ear as the ornate, Moorish-Spanish neoclassical interior was to the eye.
In the program's odd-couple pairing of the Cesar Franck Symphony and Brahms' Second, the hall gave back a bone-dry, albeit clear, “opera house” kind of sonority. You heard everything going on onstage, which aided Muti's elucidation of the winding chromatic lines of the Franck and the more saturated sonorities of the Brahms symphony.
Still, you knew something was amass when a single cellphone going off in the otherwise extremely mannerly audience carried greater impact than the entire brass choir situated at the rear of the small stage — even with a stage enclosure to help project the sound.
So, the Teatro Juarez is a major sonic disappointment –— as practically any concert hall in the world would have been following Carnegie Hall, the CSO's favorite acoustical home away from home. What a pity that a world-class arts festival lacks a world-class hall for symphonic music.
Muti's pacing and phrasing in the Franck symphony remained true the essence of his interpretation at Carnegie. Shaping the cyclical structure in broad paragraphs, emphasizing the organ-like sonorities (at least as far as the dead stage sound would allow him), he gave added attention to inner voices, such as the violas' countermelody to Scott Hostetler's melting English horn solo in the slow movement.
You could almost hear the sigh of relief among his colleagues when french horn Dale Clevenger made it through the performance unscathed.
As for the Brahms, the audience came away with the sensation that here was the composer's North German seriousness and rigor, warmed, so to speak, by the sun of southern Italy. Too bad that the final chord of the D major symphony, like that of the D minor Franck, evaporated in an instant.
Naturally a great roar went up from the theater, with a sea of cellphone cameras recording the action as Muti allowed principal players Daniel Gingrich (horn), Eugene Izotov (oboe), Mathieu Dufour (flute) and David McGill (bassoon) to receive well-deserved solo bows. Then he had individual choirs rise to join in the ovation before motioning the entire orchestra to stand.
Tuesday was a travel day for the maestro and his conquering troops. Wednesday will find some CSO players leading master classes with conservatory students, also a possible chamber concert or two. Following that, the Chicago road show will bid adios to Mexico with a concert that night in Mexico City's famed Palacio de Bellas Artes.Copyright © 2015, RedEye