Flu sidelines Muti from CSO concerts

Riccardo Muti

Chicago Symphony Orchestra director Riccardo Muti. (November 14, 2012)

In a development reminiscent of previous health problems that have curtailed Riccardo Muti's conducting engagements in the city, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director has come down with a case of the flu that has forced him to withdraw from this week's CSO subscription concerts at Symphony Center.

Muti, 71, arrived in town Monday afternoon on a flight from Rome, less than a day ahead of the orchestra's first rehearsal of the new year Tuesday morning. But upon arrival he told CSO Association President Deborah Rutter he felt unwell and wouldn't be able to direct the scheduled concerts Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday nights, Friday afternoon, and the night of Jan. 15. This was to have been the first week of the maestro's two-week winter engagement here.

Directing the all-Beethoven program in his stead will be Dutch conductor Edo de Waart, music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and an artistic partner with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. The subscription program will remain unchanged, with Romanian pianist Radu Lupu playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in all but Wednesday's Afterwork Masterworks concert.

A CSO spokeswoman, Rachelle Roe, said it's too early to tell whether Muti will be able to conduct his scheduled concerts Jan. 17-19, or a scheduled open rehearsal with area high school musicians and members of the Civic Orchestra next Monday. But she sounded optimistic. "As far as next week goes, we're not expecting a change," she said. "We're not going to make a change for next week unless we need to."

Muti is scheduled to lead the orchestra on its first joint tour of the Far East Jan. 25-Feb. 7, and the January subscription weeks are given over, in part, to preparing repertory for that tour. Roe said time had been allotted in the tour schedule to rehearse the music, whether or not Muti is able to prepare and conduct tour repertory this month in Chicago.

"Those are some questions we still need to work out with the schedule," she said. "They may adjust the rehearsal schedule on tour to accommodate (Muti's requirements)."

Muti’s contracting the flu bug is a relatively minor health setback compared to what he has suffered over the last few years. He missed the bulk of his fall CSO residency at the start of his first season as music director, 2010-11, because of what his doctors later diagnosed as extreme exhaustion brought on by prolonged physical stress.

Early in February 2011, he fell from the podium at a CSO rehearsal, suffering facial and jaw fractures. He was able to resume his duties here later that month after doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital repaired the fractures and installed a pacemaker. Muti had been hale and vigorous throughout his fall CSO residency here as well as on a subsequent tour to New York City and Mexico that brought him and the orchestra new successes together.

jvonrhein@tribune.com

Twitter @jvonrhein

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