On Open Rehearsals with Riccardo Muti

One of the wonderful things about being a member of the Civic Orchestra is playing under the baton of the preeminent Chicago Symphony Orchestra Music Director Riccardo Muti. This season we met with him in September and April and worked on the first two movements of Brahms’ Fourth and Third symphonies respectively.

We spent a few rehearsals preparing the music with Erina Yashima, the Sir Georg Solti Conducting Apprentice. Her close relationship with Maestro Muti as his student and assistant helped us prepare for the open rehearsals. She encouraged us to stay active and focused at all times.

The open rehearsals were held in Orchestra Hall. Each time, Muti introduced the music to the audience and then got right to work. From the first beat, every sound was influenced by his gestures and command of the music. His knowledge of the composer, score, style, and orchestra were outstanding. He achieved the most out of each piece, presenting it in a new light while still remaining faithful to the composer.

He was open, direct, and communicated exactly what was needed to bring the music to the next level. We heard quite a bit of Maestro’s native Italian during these rehearsals, but since it is such a musical language, we were able to follow along. He made sure we knew the meaning of the Italian markings in the music and encouraged us to exaggerate what was written on the page – dynamics, tempos, articulations, and more — so they could be heard in the hall.

In these rehearsals, Maestro transmitted a huge amount of information, and we tried to absorb as much as possible. He emphasized the importance of sound quality, reminding us to pay attention to the last note of each phrase before starting the next one, that even in piano passages the sound should reach the back rows of the hall, and that the shortest notes always must be alive.

Muti disregarded the commonly held view of Brahms as “heavy and loud,” and reminded us that the composer was once young and handsome. Maestro asked us to be more active in our playing and keep things exciting when the music asked for it. He also mentioned that Brahms came from the Viennese tradition and his music should be interpreted as such.

In reference to the opening of the Fourth Symphony, he said some conductors should relax and keep things simple and clear to get the best results. When conductors get instead too complex and flashy, the results will not be as good. It might impress audience members but that is not what’s important – he focuses on the music itself.

Muti reminded the orchestra that he is from southern Italy, where people are characterized for their passion rather than patience. When advising us about a long gradual crescendo, he said that even though he might look calm and patient while conducting a passage, he actually is telling himself “do not move!”

I am most impressed by his ability to bring out the most of each score, his command of the orchestra, and his strength: he had more energy than all of us youngsters on stage!

By Maria Arrua Sheppard

Photo by Todd Rosenberg