How do Riccardo Muti and other “ageless” conductors defy the odds?

Riccardo Muti works with young conductor Chiya Amos in Tokyo | Credit: Satoshi Aoyagi / Tokyo Spring Festival

At 80, Riccardo Muti has just extended his contract to conduct the Chicago Symphony during the 2022-2023 season, still earning a estimated at $ 3.5 million there every year. We will talk about this later, but in what other profession do octogenarians keep such high-level jobs?

Conductors seem to live longer than people in any other profession. Famous conductors of the past, then at a time when life expectancy was around 50 years, lived well into their 80s and 90s – Leopold Stokowski 95, Pablo Casals 96, Nadia Boulanger 90 and Arturo Toscanini 89 , to name a few. The phenomenon has long been studied and amazed.

Leopold Stokowski went above and beyond his Fancy fame and continued to conduct large orchestras until his death at age 95.

Looking around, the musical directors of the San Francisco Symphony of recent years open the way, with a remarkable program:

– Seiji Ozawa, 86 years old (born September 1, 1935); 1970-1976 with SF Symphony
– Edo de Waart, 80 (June 1, 1941); 1977-1985
Herbert Blomstedt, 94 (July 11, 1927); 1985-1995
– Michael Tilson Thomas, 76 years old (December 21, 1944); 1995 – 2020


The oldest busy conductor in the world: Herbert Blomstedt, 94 | Credit: Barbara Frommann / BeethovenFest 2021

MTT has successfully tackled recent health problems, first a heart operation in 2019, then just two months ago, removal of a brain tumor. No news from him has been released since the operation was announced on August 6, but his website has a recent tweet on his performances with the London Symphony. He plans to return to San Francisco to direct in November.

Ed Simons held the title of oldest active conductor in the world until his death in 2018 at the age of 101. Leopold Stokowski (1882 – 1977) was still in charge at 95. Some of the current alumni:

Christoph von Dohnanyi, 92
Richard bonynge, 90
Roger norrington, 87
Zubin Mehta, 85
Charles Dutoit, 84
Neeme Järvi, 84
Yuri Temirkanov, 82
Marek Janowski, 81
Lothar Zagrosek, 79
Daniel Barenboim, 78
Dennis Russell Davies, 77
Andrew Davis, 77
Leonard Slatkin, 77
Joseph Resigno, 76 (next week)
Christoph Perick, 75

As for Muti, his contract as musical director of Zell of the Chicago Symphony is extended until 2023, instead of being concluded, as planned, at the end of the current season.

According to the announcement, “in light of the many months of canceled performances since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Muti has accepted the Association’s request to remain as Music Director throughout the 2022 season- 2023. During this period, he will maintain his current commitment to conduct the orchestra for 10 weeks of membership, special concerts and community events in Chicago, as well as four weeks of international and domestic touring activities.

Highlights of Muti’s programs with CSO during the 2022-2023 season will include the world premiere of a CSO-commissioned work by Mead composer-in-residence Jessie Montgomery, Beethoven’s June 2023 performances Missa solennis with the Chicago Symphony Chorus and a list of international soloists, and an Asian tour in January 2023 in Taiwan, China and Japan.

In addition to a formidable list of musical triumphs – with the Maggio Musicale in Florence, the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and the Salzburg Whitsun Festival – Muti is also a true mensch, side with the musicians in the Chicago Symphony strike (almost no music director does), to protest against The treatment of musicians by the Met, and speak to the power of the importance of the arts. He was uncompromising, outspoken, never reluctant to talk and act for what he believes.

CSO Music Director Riccardo Riccardo Muti joins striking musicians in front of the orchestra hall in 2019 | Credit: Antonio Perez / Associated Press

Muti made his Chicago Symphony debut in 1973 at the Ravinia Festival. In 2007, after an absence of over 34 years, he conducted the orchestra in a month-long subscription concert residency and critically acclaimed European tour, including the CSO’s first appearances in Italy in over 25 years old. Muti’s appointment as the CSO’s 10th Musical Director was announced in 2008. He appeared with the orchestra several times as appointed Music Director from January 2009 and officially took up his duties as Music Director on the 19th. September 2010, conducting the CSO in a concert. which drew 25,000 people to the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

Muti’s response to the contract extension:

“I can’t wait to be in Chicago again with the musicians to bring the music back to the city. I am very proud of the musicians of this great orchestra and happy to remain as Music Director to continue our great artistic collaboration, and to work with our Trustees, Volunteers and Administration to keep music an important part of our community and a shining light. ‘hope around the world. “

OSC Horn James Smelser, Chairman of the Membership Committee, welcomed the news: “Besides Maestro Muti’s wonderful return to Chicago, the first since February 2020, there can be no greater joy than to share this news. The musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra recognize this important step in the pursuit of an important musical collaboration that can be shared with audiences in Chicago and around the world. We are extremely proud to have Maestro Muti as our musical director.

About Selena J. Killeen

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