NEW YORK — Riccardo Muti is the epitome of the glamour maestro.
This means the 47-year-old Italian conductor heads both a great orchestra and a great opera company, dividing his time equally between the Philadelphia Orchestra (which he will lead in concerts in Pasadena and Orange County this week) and La Scala.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 28, 1989 Home Edition Calendar Page 95 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
In the May 14 article, "Riccardo Muti: In Music's Fast Lane," the designer of the new Philadelphia Orchestra concert hall was misidentified. The design is by the architectural firm of Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown.
It means he can limit his guest conducting to the world's two most prestigious orchestras, the Vienna and Berlin philharmonics.
It means that Muti is very, very popular. He even has two fan clubs in Japan, and he cannot make records fast enough to satisfy his two record companies, EMI and Philips.
It means he is paid a salary (about $650,000 for 15 weeks at the Philadelphia Orchestra) that puts him into the stratosphere of highly paid conductors.
And it means that Muti is a celebrity. He has a matinee idol's good looks; he wears Armani suits and can go nowhere, especially in Italy, without being recognized.
Finally, it means that Muti lives in a very fast lane, and not just when he is speeding down the \o7 autostrada\f7 as fast as his blue Mercedes will take him between his home in Ravenna and his office at La Scala or jetting between Milan and Philadelphia.
In fact, so busy is Muti that squeezing in an hour for an interview entails substantial scheduling difficulties. In the two weeks between arriving in Philadelphia from Italy and beginning a major United States and Japan tour with his Philadelphians, Muti has not only the tour programs to prepare but regular subscriptions concerts to be given in Philadelphia and New York, along with recording sessions, filming for a television documentary and endless other tasks.
This particular morning Muti is in a Manhattan hotel after being driven up from Philadelphia in the white limousine the orchestra provides for him. Following the interview, he has a lunch appointment and then a rehearsal for the Philadelphia Orchestra's evening program of Persichetti and Brahms in Carnegie Hall. Directly after the concert, he makes the two-hour drive back to Philadelphia (the hotel room is only a place for a change of clothes and maybe a quick nap).
The next day Muti has an early-morning piano rehearsal, followed by two orchestra rehearsals and a recording session. He is currently recording cycles of Brahms and Scriabin symphonies and Rachmaninoff piano concertos in Philadelphia, Schubert and Mozart symphony cycles in Vienna, Strauss and Bruckner cycles in Berlin. At La Scala, he has just made the first complete recording of Rossini's "Guillaume Tell" (all six hours of it); a video disc of the controversial La Scala production will also be released.
And so it goes, day after day, with rarely an hour to spare. And all this following a grueling month at La Scala, where he conducted three Mozart operas.
How does he do it all?
"First, you have to try to do what is possible, not the impossible," Muti replies. "The second thing is you have to be organized. That doesn't mean that organization makes the thing easier, but at least you know what you can do and what you cannot do."
All of this said in the comfortable and relaxed way of someone who really is organized and has everything under control, no matter the maelstrom that surrounds him.
It has not been the calmest of mornings. Aggravating an already relentless schedule, Muti has spent the morning stuck in traffic on the drive to New York. And it also happens to be the day Herbert von Karajan has announced his resignation from the Berlin Philharmonic, and Muti's name is in all the papers as being on the short list of likely successors for the conducting world's most coveted position.
"That doesn't make any difference," he says of Karajan's resignation. Muti already has extensive recording plans with Berlin. His current Philadelphia contract with the orchestra runs through the 1992-93 season, and he treats his commitments as sacred.
Moreover, after nine years, he has managed to build up a considerable amount of good will with the musicians and the orchestra, something becoming increasingly rare in the orchestra life. Philadelphia audiences, finally convinced that there can be life after Eugene Ormandy, have come to adore him.
Still, Muti says, he will not likely become another Ormandy, whose association with the Philadelphia lasted nearly half a century, or another Karajan, who spent 34 years as music director with the Berlin Philharmonic.
"Actually, I don't believe that a music director should stay decades and decades in one place," Muti confesses. "There is a moment when the orchestra or when the music director himself needs different experiences."
But now Muti is happy cherishing his hard-won victories in his attempts to offer Philadelphians some new experiences. When appointed music director of the orchestra, Muti was still considered a young, up-and-coming conductor, full of beans, while Philadelphia was a city encrusted in musty tradition.