Riccardo Muti made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on July 25, 1973, leading Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide, Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor (with thirty-three-year-old Christoph Eschenbach, the festival’s future music director, in his Ravinia debut), and Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
The following day Thomas Willis wrote in the Chicago Tribune: “It is easy to see why Riccardo Muti was the first Italian to win the Guido Cantelli Conducting Competition. The Neapolitan firebrand, still in his early thirties, can galvanize both audiences and an orchestra with the kinetic energy of his beat. In his Midwest debut at Ravinia last night, he asserted command at the first notes of Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide and sustained it until the last of the procession had marched through the Great Gate of Kiev in the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition. . . . With the sensitivity to melody of an already seasoned opera conductor, he sets off each tune with a breath, combines short phrases into longer ones, and underlines each high point. Above all, his music is perfectly clear.”
Muti’s first Ravinia residency also included Mozart’s Symphony no. 34 and Piano Concerto no. 22 (with Misha Dichter) and Strauss’s Aus Italien on July 27; and Liszt’s Les préludes and Totentanz (with Jean-Bernard Pommier) and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5 on July 28.
Less than two years later, Muti returned to conduct the Chicago Symphony on subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall on March 20, 21, and 22, 1975, leading Vivaldi’s Concerto in A major for Strings and Continuo, Stravinsky’s Scherzo fantastique, Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, and the Orchestra’s first subscription concert performances of Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony.
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