Why Muti?

Yes, he’s glamorous. Yes, he’s polished. Yes, he’s a wizard of the podium, or some such hackneyed thing. And yes, he’s full of larger than life energy.

But does anybody really want to hear him? Or, more to the point, will they want to keep on hearing him?

What music do we identify him with? Itallian opera. This isn’t a criticism, merely a fact. That’s the repertoire he’s best known for. And otherwise, well, sure, he conducts other things, but do many of us have any sense of what he does with them? Are any of us looking forward to Muti’s Brahms, Muti’s Stravinsky, Muti’s Strauss, Muti’s Berg, Muti’s Wagner? Or Muti’s Mahler? Or Muti’s favorite living composers?

I’ve heard him conduct some of the names on the list above, and apart from remembering sumptuous, disciplined, and energetic performances, musical for sure, but in a somewhat generalized way, I can’t form any mental picture of what he does with anything but Verdi and Bellini. I’m not at all certain he puts any personal stamp on anything. I have some idea that he likes to conduct tonal Italian 20th century music (Petrassi at the Philharmonic last week, a CD of Nino Rota’s orchestral music). And then my understanding of him stops.

I’m sure I’m not being thorough or completely fair. I’m sure he did all kinds of good things at the Philadelphia Orchestra, including new pieces by Americans. I’m sure he did well with them. But has any of it stuck in many people’s memories?

I fear, that if he gets the Chicago job, or, down the line, the New York job, he’ll wow everybody for a little while, and then bore everybody. What would I look forward to hearing him conduct? Verdi, sure. And beyond that? Nothing. (Except, out of maybe morbid curiosity, something that seems utterly outside his world, like the Mahler 9th.)

If I’m wrong, please tell me. (And remember that I’m not saying he’s a bad conductor. Far from it. I just don’t see what, apart from generalized glamour and energy, he has to offer. He’s been a top conductor for decades now. But do any of us take our prized Muti recordings

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