Between May 2 and 5, Riccardo Muti conducted three concerts with the Australian World Orchestra at the famous Sydney Opera House and the Arts Centre Melbourne. “Muti and the AWO have set the bar at a Himalayan height,” professed The Daily Telegraph. Performing Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 followed by Verdi’s Overture to Nabucco as an encore, “the audience could not restrain its applause even before the last note finished,” read Bachtrack. “Muti gave us a thrilling performance.”

Founded in 2011, the AWO is a unique cultural institution that features Australian musicians returning home from their positions with leading orchestras around the world to play with colleagues from national orchestras to form an ensemble of over a hundred musicians, representing over fifty orchestras. This includes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s own Michael Mulcahy, trombone, who originally hails from Sydney.

Another touchstone of the AWO is its reputation for inviting distinguished conductors to lead its concerts, with past guest conductors including Simon Rattle and Zubin Mehta. “Securing the services of legendary Italian conductor Riccardo Muti was a triumphant coup for the AWO,” wrote Murray Black of The Australian. The chance to hear Muti—who had only conducted in Australia on one other occasion during the 2000 Olympic Arts Festival—lead the AWO was a sheer delight for audiences in Sydney and Melbourne. “There was a special moment of expectation last night when the imposing Muti raised his baton,” remarked Fraser Beath McEwing of J-Post. The sentiment was echoed by Mario Dobernig of Classic Melbourne: “When Muti stepped onto the podium, respect was instant and the musicians were prepared to give their all.” Muti’s “superb account of the Fourth Symphony cleverly balanced excitement, drama and technical refinement,” wrote Murray Black of The Australian, and Steve Moffat of The Daily Telegraph added, “I haven’t heard the Brahms played better. In fact it’s difficult to imagine that it could be done better.”

The logistics of the AWO are challenging—this year’s AWO included expat musicians from nearly 35 orchestras—but the end result is a source of tremendous national pride. Muti responded enthusiastically when Mulcahy originally explained the mission of the AWO in hopes that Muti might accept an invitation to conduct, but it took years of planning to make it a reality.  It was well worth the wait on all accounts, including Muti’s, who told the Sydney Morning Herald, “The spirit that moves them is extremely intense and full of enthusiasm because everyone wants to do the best. There is a sort of happiness among them . . . . Music can make miracles.” He made a similar statement at the close of the AWO concerts, sharing his “heartfelt eloquence about the universal civilizing power of music. . . . His exceptional performances were living proof of the truth of his words” (The Australian). 

For more on these performances, please see:

“AWO is a band with the world at its feet” The Daily Telegraph

“Italian maestro Riccardo Muti says music is not entertainment” The Sydney Morning Herald

“Riccardo Muti conducts the Australian World Orchestra” Australian Book Review

“Australian World Orchestra is among the best: a music review” J-Wire

From little things, big things grow: The AWO returns to Sydney” Bachtrack

TOP:  Maestro Muti leads the CSO and soloists in Jennifer Higdon’s Low Brass Concerto on tour in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Feb. 16. CSO trombone Michael Mulcahy (second from left in this image) performed with the Australian World Orchestra, which invited Muti to conduct its 2018 concerts in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.  | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography

The CSO’s music director position has been endowed in perpetuity by a gift from the Zell Family Foundation.