In little more than a week, Riccardo Muti marked an impressive series of accomplishments: conducting at the inaugural celebration of the 700th anniversary of the death of Italian poet Dante Alighieri, the release of the conductor’s latest book and a concert tour with his Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra.

Those performances concluded with Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, receiving a distinguished honor from Il Gruppo dei 10 (The Group of 10) in Ferrara to honor his artistic achievements and commitment to Italy’s cultural heritage. Each occasion was the subject of local and national press attention, from concert reviews to insightful interviews.

Following are highlights from this coverage:

Oct. 3, Celebrating the “great prophet of Italy” with President Mattarella

At Rome’s Quirinale Palace, Muti conducted a Concert for Dante to celebrate “the Italian poet and civilian par excellence, said Sergio Mattarella, president of the Italian Republic. “Centuries later, Dante transmitted vital food and inspiration to the generation of poets, artists and politicians of the Risorgimento, who unified Italy, of which Dante is the father and an essential pillar.” This special ceremony marked the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante, who Mattarella described as “a universal figure and at the same time, an example [who] is still relevant today for his vision, his artistic and civil foresight.” (Coincidentally, these qualities are the very same ones for which the Italian maestro would be honored the following week.).

Riccardo Muti and his wife, Cristina Mazzavillani, speak with President Sergio Mattarella and daughter Laura Mattarella at the Quirinale Palace in Rome.

On this special occasion, Mattarella invited Muti to conduct the Cherubini Youth Orchestra and the Choir of the National Academy of Saint Cecilia in works with ties to Dante. Along with Mattarella, several of Italy’s top politicians were in attendance, including Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities Dario Franceschini, Foreign Affairs Minister Luigi di Maio and Minister of the Interior Luciana Lamorgese.

Ravenna’s Mayor Michele de Pascale thanked Mattarella for allowing Ravenna, where Dante died in 1321, to be part of the celebration in this symbolic way. Ravenna “is deeply honored and grateful for this further moment of celebration with the presence of Maestro Riccardo Muti,” the mayor said. “In our time, no conductor in the world can celebrate Dante and honor Italian culture better than the Maestro.”

Oct. 3, “Music has been and continues to be everything for me”

Muti’s fourth book, Le sette parole di CristoDialogo con Massimo Cacciari (The Seven Last Words of Christ — a Dialogue with Massimo Cacciari), is a conversation between two great minds as they analyze one of Haydn’s sacred choral works, The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross, along with a painting of the same scene by the Renaissance artist Masaccio.

In an extensive interview with La Repubblica, Muti discussed the works in question, as well as his thoughts on cultural life. Below are some highlights from that interview with Antonio Gnoli.

Can you explain the sound, the degree of expressiveness that it contains, with pictures?

Muti: “An image can help to understand a sound, but it cannot replicate its depth.”

Even when the image evokes absolute perfection, as in the case of Masaccio’s painting?

Muti: “Music is intangible: it is pure, unattainable sound. There painting can only partially express what music evokes in its entirety. Painting, however lofty it may be, nails us to a physical location, to a proximity with the painting. Music transports us to distances unthinkable.”

Oct. 9, Saving culture from the virus: concerts in Bologna and Ferrara

“Let us save culture from the virus,” said Muti in an interview with Marco Beghelli before concerts in Bologna and Ferrara. “Health is the first concern, but closed theaters are a moral damage for society as a whole,” he said. With this mission, Muti has continued to perform with the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra, the ensemble he founded in 2004, to festivals and venues that have reopened in Bologna, followed by Ferrara.

Five years after his last appearance there, Muti returned to the Bologna Festival for a performance steeped in symbolism,  as explained by Maddalena da Lisca, the festival’s superintendent. “With this singular unscheduled event, the Bologna Festival season re-emerges with strength and vivacity from the thousand obstacles of this very difficult year, renewing itself in the artistic spaces and artistic pursuits,” da Lisca said. “This concert is a tribute to the memory of Mario Messinis [the festival’s artistic director for more than 30 years]. I am happy that this memory is entrusted to one of today’s top conductors, Riccardo Muti.”

Muti leads the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra at the PalaDozza in Bologna, Italy. | Photo: Roberto Serra

The concerts in Bologna and Ferrara featured Giuseppe Martucci’s Nocturne, Op. 70; Marco Enrico Bossi’s Serenatina from Intermezzi Goldoniani, Op. 127, and Ferruccio Busoni’s Berceuse élégiaque, Op. 42. Each of these three composers were directors of Bologna’s Liceo Musicale; Gustav Mahler chose their works for the final concert that he organized during his life, in 1911 at Carnegie Hall, a tribute to legendary maestro Arturo Toscanini, who was in attendance, and as a testament to Mahler’s own great respect for the Italian National School of composers. Muti’s programs in Bologna and Ferrara concluded with Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (From the New World).

Oct. 10, a first in Ferrara

Along with marking his first performance in the city of Ferrara, Muti received the All Directions 2020, an honor given annually by the Group of 10 for unwavering commitment to the world of culture and civic life by “figures who have contributed, in full and total autonomy and intellectual independence, to the qualitative growth of Italy.”

The ceremony occurred in Ferrara’s beautiful 18th-century municipal theater, Teatro Comunale, and was followed with a special concert by Muti and the Cherubini Youth Orchestra. A sonnet by Quirino Principe, specially written for the occasion, was dedicated to Muti, and the award was presented by the tenor Daniele Barioni, a past winner.

Also attending were Mario Resca, president of the Ferrara Municipal Theater Foundation; Marco Gulinelli, Councilor for Culture; Massimo Cavalleretti, president of the Group of 10; artistic director Alessandro Mistri, and Vittorio Sgarbi, president of Ferrara Arte. “It is a privilege to host Riccardo Muti for the first time in Ferrara,” said Resca, “on the centenary of the final performance by Arturo Toscanini in the city. After the closure of all cultural spaces during the lockdown, we imagined this event as a celebration for the city, a symbol of rebirth of the Teatro Comunale and for Ferrara.”

At the concert that evening with the Cherubini Orchestra, Muti added, “As long as I am alive, I will fight to keep the culture of playing in the orchestra alive.” Indeed, the journal Amadeus called the concert itself a symbol, “the sealing a shared project, which through music intends to unite the cities of Ferrara, Ravenna and Bologna.”

Upon receiving the honor, Muti remarked, “In recent months, there has been a lot of talk about artists, singers, choir directors, but nobody talks about the orchestras, which were the glory of our country. Thousands of people are involved, but nobody cares about them. I make my appeal from Ferrara because it is an important city of culture in the world. We speak of Italy only as the country of bel canto, but we also have a great tradition for music. It is time to make it known.”

TOP: Riccardo Muti leads the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra at the Teatro Comunale in Ferrara, Italy. | Photo: Marco Caselli Nirmal