Looking sober, sever and slightly reluctant, on October 5th Riccardo Muti appears on the stage of the Royal Festival Hall, reopened after two years of refurbishment, to conduct the legendary Chicago Symphony Orchestra which opened the Shell Classical International season 2007/2008.
The Chicago SO’s 117-year history makes it a juggernaut of the international classical music tradition. Due above all to the long direction of three distinguished chief conductors (Frederick Stock, Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim), the Orchestra boasts currently one of the leader positions in the world promotion of contemporary classical music. The collaboration between this prodigy of symphonic music and one of the biggest contemporary conductors is precious and unique. Riccardo Muti has been on the podium of the Chicago SO to perform a European tour, starting from Italy and reaching Germany, Paris and finally London, here with two acclaimed concerts (October 5th and 6th).
The cryptic and dramatic notes of the Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique) by Tchaikovsky reigned on the first evening concert. The Russian composer’s latest masterpiece is like an introspective, tormented and anxious travel inside the most hidden sides of human soul. The audience holds its breath until the very last drummer beat, the Orchestra shouts off and an impassioned and liberating handclap spreads throughout the hall. It was a liberating and cathartic clap because of the tension created by the whirl of notes transmitting darkness and human suffering. The tension was indeed emphasized by the Orchestra’s solemnity and by such a charismatic conductor’s performing. An encounter between two examples of severity and discipline, that yet some English critics have read as not a positive aspect.
One of them is for instance Erica Jeal, musical critic of the Guardian, who admits the great emotional impact created by Muti’s exclusive performance but in the meantime underlines that overall “the price of the orchestra’s discipline was a sense that Muti may have the music on slightly too taut a leash.”(Guardian, October 10th 2007, Chicago SO/Muti).
The second part of the concert was dedicated to two 20th century pieces: Nobilissima visione – Suite, a mystic and peaceful symphony by Hindemith, and Le poème de l’exatase Op. 54, the colourful single movement of music by Scriabin.
This latter piece spreads an atmosphere of ecstasy throughout the hall and too his London audience, which gives him an intense and warm acclamation, Riccardo Muti answers by offering an encore. The orchestra starts again with a solemnly beautiful piece of the Rosamunde by Schubert. The extase that has ravished the audience is slowly sublimating into melancholy and serenity.
By Maria Teresa Sette
From START- Italian Art and Culture in London