Dear friends:

I write this wrap up from the Radisson Blu hotel in Baden Baden, Germany, where Martha Gilmer and I are on our way to visit Pierre Boulez. Sunday morning (Jan. 19) the full orchestra group headed off by plane to Heathrow to make a connection back to Chicago.  It was a bittersweet moment for me to realize it was my last breakfast room scene with the Orchestra and staff all coming together, chatting about the concert the night before, thinking about the travel ahead. Touring is incredibly hard work and requires fast thinking, stamina and good spirits for all the moments that go right and … not so right. I have many great memories of traveling with our team, and I will treasure them always.

But let’s go back to Essen and Luxembourg first! I know that many wondered why we included Essen and Luxembourg after visiting the Canary Islands, an archipelago and an autonomous community of Spain, off the coast of Africa.  (I wrote about our fantastic experience at the 30th anniversary of the Canary Islands Music Festival here.)

All one needs to do is go in to those halls and experience those audiences and the generosity of those places, and then one remembers immediately. Essen is a very nice city though not a tourist destination. The joy of Essen is a good and easy hotel connected to the concert hall. And the concert hall is a very fine space with amazing patrons who are so engaged and connected to the music that you can literally feel them listening. It is a great experience for the Orchestra to perform for such listeners and for me to be one of those as well.

The concert was great; the audience reaction as you might expect. At the very end of the performance, a man rushed down to the front of the hall and crossed in front of the audience and stage just as Maestro Muti was coming out for a bow. In his inimitable fashion, Maestro looked at the man with a look of “are you really leaving now?” on his face. Then the man jumped on the stage, was handed flowers from an usher and proceeded to take them to Maestro. Realizing the man was not leaving the concert but rather coming to thank him, Muti smiled and made a nice gesture to say thank you … to the sponsor of the concert from Essen! It was a fun moment.

Luxembourg is a city and country many travelers don’t know well. Three languages are spoken there: FrenchGerman and Luxembourgish. It has the charm of France and even some of its food, and the organization of Germany. It really is a great tour city. Maestro Muti has been there eight times now and opened the new hall in 2005. It is a really, really fine venue, and the house was packed to the rafters. Again, the audience was very sophisticated, rapt and enthusiastic.

You all know what the concerts of the CSO with Riccardo Muti are like. Let me explain though that on tour that level of performance and positive tension is heightened to a level I have never experienced. This partnership is truly unique in the world. The audiences respond to it as well, and that feeds the musicians. It’s a fantastic, virtuous cycle of engagement.

The Italian ambassador and his wife were at the concert and invited Maestro Muti and several of us to dinner at the embassy post-concert. The ambassador had been consul general in Chicago in the 1990s, so he knows the CSO well. It was a fitting end of tour for Maestro Muti to celebrate among his fellow Italian citizens and fans.

I can’t say how much it has meant to me to travel the world with this extraordinary Orchestra, and even more, to collaborate with some of the very, very, very, very, very, very best colleagues who exist on the planet. I wish everyone could have this professional and personal experience.

Gracias. Merci. Danke. Grazie.

Adios. Au revoir. Auf wedersehen. Arrivederci!


ABOVE: Maestro Muti and CSO President Deborah Rutter head back after dinner during the tour. | Todd Rosenberg Photography