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Breaking: Riccardo Muti slams New York Times for anti-Chicago bias

A recent hostile book review about Chicago has prompted an unexpected riposte from its music director. Muti’s letter has just gone up on the Times website.  Given that he turned down an approach from the New York Philharmonic a decade ago, his polite response packs an added punch. Bravo, Riccardo!

muti jail



The New York Times (Sunday Book Review, May 12, 2013): online May 9, 2013


‘Chicago Manuals’

Letters to the Editor


Rachel Shteir’s review of “The Third Coast,” “Golden” and “You Were Never in Chicago” (April 21) elicited the ire of many in the Windy City, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Book Review received more than 100 letters about Shteir’s essay. A selection of them follows:

To the Editor:

As someone who has chosen Chicago as an adopted city, I read Rachel Shteir’s review of a number of books about Chicago with great interest. I strongly disagree with the negative portrayal of a city I have come to love. As a European, I can confirm the deep respect that Chicago has throughout Europe as one of the great symbols of the United States.

Chicago is a beautiful city with many resources, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, one of the best orchestras anywhere in the world.

Chicago’s greatest resource is its wonderful people, who do not see music merely as an entertainment but also as cultural enrichment. This is a city rich in neighborhoods with great diversity that have been nothing but incredibly responsive to our attempts to bring music to those who may not or cannot come to us in the concert hall, whether because of cost or other barriers.

In each case, these efforts to share our music widely have been received with tremendous openness and affection, an outpouring of feelings from the heart that is as profound as any I have experienced conducting the great orchestras of the world across many cities and countries. Chicagoans are proud of their city, as we all should be.

The writer is the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.


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  1. Bravo Maestro!

    • Oleg Sherstiucoff says:

      Indeed, stick to your “guns”, will you !
      Fearless Napolitano spirit !

  2. ira licht says:

    the symphony, the opera, the art institute, museum of contemporary art, the history of the skyscraper from its origins, the continuing excellence of its architecture, the drive all along lake michigan, the adler planetarium, the field museum, the very welcolming people.. i spent happy years in chicago. it is incomparable.

  3. Google my letters in the NYTimes praising maestro Muti. In response to my letter of April 6, 2005 Muti sent me a handwritten letter of thanks for my support when La Scala forced him to resign. He is one of a kind, and arguably the greatest living conductor in the world.

    Les Dreyer
    (Retired violinist of the Met Opera Orchestra)

    • BRAVO Maestro Muti and LesDreyer! Under Mayor Rahm Emanuel the arts have been upgraded in the public schools of Chicago. If you are a student in a Chicago public school, it is obligatory to study the arts. It is no longer a matter of choice. Unfortunately, one cannot say this about the New York City public schools. It’s nice to know that someone realizes how important the arts are to the human condition….yes, the economy!, and the survival of our species. Two years ago Maestro Riccardo Muti guest conducted a memorable run of Verdi’s Attila at the Metropolitan Opera. What a privilege it was for me to be there in the orchestra!

  4. Let’s say that they do the same since Dudamel got the LA podium (And Believe, I’m not Duhamel’s supporter at all). So, Pertanto, le mie congratulazioni Maestro!

  5. Oh, I read all this stuff and as a Chicago ex-pat, I can tell you that there’s more truth in Rachel Shteir’s review than fiction.

    I’d be very happy to add to the list of truly awful things that make up the dark underbelly of Chicago and can give a darn good tour to back up my contention that despite the blind boosterism spewed out by modern day Babbitts, Chicago’s a better place to visit than live.

    One of these days the EL tracks are going to collapse — why spend money on steel when there’s a big old stainless steel ‘bean’ to fund — and the same can be said of bridges which, despite a ton of paint applied when something big is comin’ to town (an Olympic committee, for instance).

    Parking, skyways, everything — way too high priced except for those who look down upon those once broad shoulders from their mansions in the sky.

    The city is rotting from the inside out — it’s just a matter of time.

    All of the “neat” things the booster club is taking to promoting are, indeed, neat, but as someone not so far back said of a certain vice presidential candidate: Ya can’t put lipstick on a pig.

    Even IF the stockyards are closed.

  6. Michael Schaffer says:

    Chicago is one of the most interesting among the major American cities, with more cultural attractions and nightlife going on than in many (which, however, isn’t saying that much) and its own unmistakeable look and feel. There are, however, also very obvious massive problems, like the huge almost exclusively black ghettos.

    And let’s face it – how much time has Muti actually spent in the city? He hadn’t been there for many years before they hired him, and how much of the city does he really see on his way from the airport to whatever luxury hotel he is staying in to Symphony Center to whatever luxury restaurants they ferry him to and then back to the hotel?

    All big cities face some big problems of one kind of another, so saying that Chicago has its own share of them isn’t really “putting down” the city as a whole. But the offended reactions to that article seem to reflect a fairly feeble local patriotism and a tendency to turn a blind eye to those problems.

  7. Rosalind says:

    Bravo Maestro Muti!

    Don’t forget Chicago’s wonderful Grant Park Music Festival each summer – wonderful free concerts often with challenging and unusual programmes, each evening bringing together thousands of people from a vast variety of backgrounds to the Millennium Park lawns for excellent music-making.

    Such a great city – every time I go there I have the most fantastic time imaginable. The native Chicagoans are also much friendlier than in New York, in my opinion!

  8. Stephen says:

    As an Easterner, I used to be snide about Chicago. Having never visited, it was easy to do.
    But then, I visited and spent almost a week. Within the first few hours I began to regret all that imbecilic snideness that comes from being uninformed.
    I have a friend or two who have moved to Chicago and recently visited briefly on my way through. It is a rich and glorious city and the people are outgoing, friendly and helpful. Warm and welcoming. Everywhere the urban culture oozes. The sense that all the cultural assets (music, art, dance, literature is somehow not encased is an idea worth cultivating in other places.
    You get the sense that something is working in Chicago and there is a sense of community and commonwealth.

    And from where I am, it’s not that far to travel.

  9. Marcus Overton says:

    Ira Licht’s word is the right one: incomparable. Chicago stands in the front rank of the planet’s great cities, a position earned a long time ago when its great museums led the world in art, anthropopligy and archaeology – as they still do. Only Boston is its peer in the United States as a center of higher learning and, even through these hard times, as its peer in music-making. The Ravinia Festival continues to set the standard for multi-disciplinary arts festivals around the world. The city’s open spaces are breath-taking, and the transformation in the physical beauty of its neighborhoods, wrought by former Mayor Daley, have created a sense of calm and repose everywhere. The list goes on and on…… It is true that there are those who can’t quite get it, an unfortunate consequence of living too long in environments that blunt sensibility and dull the ability to see the differences between one thing and another, especially when they may be superficically alike.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      “when its great museums led the world in art, anthropopligy and archaeology – as they still do”

      Yes – the Chicago Museum of Anthropopligy is indeed unique.

  10. paul lewis says:

    Interesting, as a European, to read these comments about Chicago. I have only visited the city once and my feelings were very mixed. It has some incredible architecture and of course the orchestra is undeniably one of the greats throughout the world. However there was something a bit provincial about the people I met. I know this is not necessarily a bad thing but it did surprise me in a large city. As much as I enjoyed Chicago in many ways I confess a preference for New York and even L.A. which is of course a totally different animal yet has its own special character, not the stereotyped image you see from Hollywood movies.

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