Music Director Riccardo Muti presided over the unveiling June 14 of a new bronze bust of Fritz Reiner, which now holds pride of place in the Michigan Avenue outer lobby of Symphony Center.
As part of the CSO’s 125th anniversary season celebration, Muti pushed for the tribute to the Hungarian-born Reiner, who served as the CSO’s sixth music director from 1953 to 1962 and musical advisor in 1962-63. The bust was designed by Hungarian sculptor Katalin Gerő, who attended the unveiling. In his opening comments, CSOA President Jeff Alexander thanked Muti for his crucial role in arranging the commission.
“Today is an important day, as we honor one of the greatest maestros in history,” said Muti in his remarks to an audience of CSO musicians, trustees, staffers and invited dignitaries. He recalled that when he began his CSO tenure, he wondered, “The orchestra has had many great maestros, but where is Fritz Reiner? There was no sign [in the hall] of the man who made this orchestra even greater. Reiner was the one who made the CSO a legend.”
Muti also spoke of his link to Reiner through his teacher and mentor, Antonino Votto, who was assistant conductor to the great Arturo Toscanini at La Scala in the ’50s. When Reiner suffered a heart attack before the start of the 1960-61 season, and the CSO needed a last-minute podium replacement, it turned to Votto, who happened to be conducting at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Muti recalled that Votto received raves from the often caustic critic Claudia Classidy. “She gave such a fantastic review that Reiner wrote to Votto from his hospital bed and told him: ‘You brought out all the best in the orchestra.’ “