Riccardo Muti, born in Naples, Italy, is one of the pre-eminent conductors of our day. In 2010, when he became the 10th music director of the world-renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he had more than 40 years of experience at the helm of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence, the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. He continues to be in demand as a guest conductor for other great orchestras and opera houses: the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich, the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Opera House in London, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and many others. He also is honorary director for life of the Rome Opera.
Muti studied piano under Vincenzo Vitale at the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella in his hometown of Naples, graduating with distinction. He subsequently received a diploma in composition and conducting from the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan, where his principal teachers were Bruno Bettinelli and Antonino Votto. After he won the Guido Cantelli Conducting Competition — by unanimous vote of the jury — in Milan in 1967, his career developed quickly. In 1968, he became principal conductor of Florence’s Maggio Musicale, a position that he held until 1980.
Herbert von Karajan invited him to conduct at the Salzburg Festival in Austria in 1971, and Muti has maintained a close relationship with the summer festival and with its great orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, for more than 40 years. When he conducted the Philharmonic’s 150th anniversary concert in 1992, he was presented with the Golden Ring, a special sign of esteem and affection, and in 2001, his outstanding artistic contributions to the orchestra were further recognized with the Otto Nicolai Gold Medal. He is an honorary member of Vienna’s Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of the Friends of Music), the Vienna Hofmusikkapelle, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera.
Muti succeeded Otto Klemperer as chief conductor and music director of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra in 1973, holding that position until 1982. From 1980 to 1992, he was music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and in 1986, he became music director of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. During his 19-year tenure, in addition to directing major projects such as the Mozart/da Ponte trilogy and Wagner “Ring” cycle, Muti conducted operatic and symphonic repertoire ranging from the Baroque to the contemporary, also leading hundreds of concerts with the Filarmonica della Scala and touring the world with both the opera company and the orchestra. His tenure as music director, the longest of any in La Scala’s history, culminated in the triumphant reopening of the restored opera house with Antonio Salieri’s Europa riconosciuta, originally commissioned for La Scala’s inaugural performance in 1778.
Throughout his career, Muti has dedicated much time and effort to young musicians. In 2004, he founded the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini (Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra) and completed a five-year project with this group to present works of the 18th-century Neapolitan School at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival in 2011.
Muti has demonstrated his concern for social and civic issues by bringing music as a gesture of unity and hope to such places as hospitals, prisons and war-torn and poverty-stricken areas around the world. As part of Le vie dell’Amicizia (“The Paths of Friendship”), a project of the Ravenna Festival in Italy, he has conducted friendship concerts in Sarajevo, Beirut, Jerusalem, Moscow, Yerevan, Istanbul, New York, Cairo, Damascus, El Djem, Meknès, Mazara del Vallo, L’Aquila, Trieste and Nairobi. He has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Muti has received innumerable international honors. He is a Cavaliere di Gran Croce of the Italian Republic, Officer of the French Legion of Honor and a recipient of the German Verdienstkreuz. Queen Elizabeth II bestowed on him the title of honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded him the Order of Friendship and Pope Benedict XVI made him a Knight of the Grand Cross First Class of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great — the highest papal honor. Muti also has received Israel’s Wolf Prize for the arts, Sweden’s prestigious Birgit Nilsson Prize, Spain’s Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts and the gold medal from Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for his promotion of Italian culture abroad. He has received more than 20 honorary degrees from universities around the world.
His vast catalog of recordings, numbering in the hundreds, ranges from the traditional symphonic and operatic repertoires to contemporary works. His debut recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, released in 2010 by CSO Resound, won two Grammy Awards.
Considered one of the greatest interpreters of Verdi in our time, Muti wrote a book on the composer, Verdi, l’italiano, published in Italian and German. His first book, Riccardo Muti: An Autobiography: First the Music, Then the Words, has been published in several languages.
During his time with the CSO, Muti has won over audiences in greater Chicago and across the globe through his extraordinary music making as well as his demonstrated commitment to sharing classical music broadly. His first annual free concert as CSO music director attracted more than 25,000 people to Millennium Park. He regularly invites subscribers, students, seniors and people of low incomes to attend, at no charge, his CSO rehearsals. His commitment to achieving artistic excellence and to creating a strong bond between an orchestra and its communities continues to bring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to ever higher levels of achievement and renown.