Riccardo Muti just can’t seem to catch a break.
And, this time around, it isn’t only the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago public who are being affected by his health issues. Thousands of listeners throughout the Far East will soon be noticing as well.
Word reached Chicago on Thursday that the CSO music director, who had canceled his January concert appearances here to fly home to Milan, Italy, to seek medical care for the flu, had soon after been diagnosed with a more serious malady – an inguinal hernia (a protrusion of abdominal-cavity contents) his doctors there said will require immediate surgery.
This latest health setback has forced the Italian maestro, 71, to withdraw from what would have been his and the CSO’s first joint tour of Asia, scheduled to begin Friday in Taipei, Taiwan. It also meant the CSO administration, with the clock ticking, has had to make frantic phone calls across multiple time zones to secure a replacement conductor for the 6-city, 10-day Far East tour, which has been in the works for several years.
Dutch conductor Edo de Waart agreed to take over both of Muti’s January weeks here and will lead a final performance of the revised subscription program Saturday night at Symphony Center.
De Waart then will hand the guest baton to another international podium figure, Lorin Maazel, who will preside over seven of the CSO’s nine scheduled tour concerts, in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin, China, as well as the final concerts Feb. 6 and 7 in Seoul, South Korea.
Maazel, music director of the Munich Philharmonic and a valued CSO guest conductor whose association with the orchestra dates back 40 years, has a long track record of touring Asia. His seasoned expertise should help to insulate the CSO musicians, staff and touring contingent from the shock of losing Muti’s services for the third time in less than three years.
The 83-year-old Maazel could not take over the opening concerts of the Asian tour next weekend because of podium obligations to his former orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, at Avery Fisher Hall. He will leave New York immediately following next Saturday’s philharmonic concert to meet the Chicago Symphony in Hong Kong, where the orchestra is to perform on Jan. 28 and 29.
“Maazel was very responsive to our needs,” said Deborah Rutter, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association.
As of press time, the orchestra was still working with the concert presenter in Taiwan to engage a conductor to lead the tour-opening programs in Taipei on Friday and Saturday .
Rutter, who broke the news of Muti’s having to bow out of the tour to orchestra members following the concert on Thursday night, said the music director is “very, very sad” about having to miss his winter concerts in Chicago and Asia but is looking forward to his return to the orchestra in April.
Still suffering from the flu, Muti “went to the hospital in Milan earlier this week to have further medical treatments because he wasn’t getting better, and in some ways he was feeling worse,” she said. That’s when the hernia was discovered and doctors urged immediate surgery on a condition that “could become life-threatening” if not treated immediately, she added.
Works by Stravinsky and Busoni that Muti had been scheduled to lead in Chicago and in Asia were dropped in favor of Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony (No. 41), which De Waart conducted on Thursday night and which Maazel will direct with the CSO in Hong Kong, Beijing and Seoul. Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, which Muti was to have directed here as well as on the tour, remains on the weekend program.
Perhaps Maazel, a more imaginative if more mannered Mozart interpreter than De Waart, will have better luck with the “Jupiter” than his Dutch colleague on Thursday. Mozart’s last symphony was cloaked in such loving gentility as to feel placid and enervated, an old-fashioned view of this masterpiece that at least had elegant woodwind teamwork in its favor.
For the Brahms, De Waart set steady, flowing tempos that felt neither too fast nor too slow and built tension and release without undue interference from the podium. The conductor paid the score, and the orchestra’s venerable Brahms tradition, the compliment of letting the music speak for itself. The musicians responded robustly.
The program will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.; $31-$239; 312-294-3000, firstname.lastname@example.org