Fritz Reiner was the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) from 1953-1962 and then the CSO’s musical advisor from 1962-1963. The legendary Hungarian conductor, who succeeded Rafael Kubelik as the CSO’s sixth music director, was remembered not only for his exacting and imperious control over the orchestra, but also (and more importantly) for raising the prominence of the CSO throughout the world. He crafted the CSO into the world-class orchestra it is today. This past Tuesday, Maestro Muti unveiled a new bronze bust of Reiner to be displayed in the lobby of Symphony Center. In celebration of the CSO’s 125h season, Maestro Muti wanted some sort of public honor for Reiner displayed in the building. He noticed that there was a tribute for just about every other former CSO music director, except for Reiner, which was mind-boggling! Although Maestro Muti never met Reiner himself, he did have an indirect link through his teacher, Antonino Votto (the first assistant to Toscanini), as Votto replaced Reiner for three CSO concerts when Reiner had to cancel his concerts due to a heart attack. Votto, luckily, was in town to make his debut at Lyric Opera, and mightily triumphed in his CSO concerts (as evidenced through the extremely rare positive review given by infamous critic Claudia Cassidy). Speaking of which…when will (if ever) Maestro Muti make his debut at Lyric?!
Anyways, there was a large sense of admiration and respect from Maestro Muti for Reiner, as he described Reiner’s performances as absolute “perfection” and executed with an extreme level of “refinement” and “sensitivity.” One of the first Reiner recordings he ever heard was actually a CSO recording: Van Cliburn was playing the Beethoven Piano Concerto (wasn’t sure if he was referring to the 4th or the 5th, or both). He thought that it was just so beautiful and perfect, that how could it be possible to continue to play music? Afterwards, he encouraged us young people to go back to listen to the CSO recordings under Reiner because even now, the sound of the recordings is so “immense” and “extraordinary.” I happily went to the Chicago Public Library just around the corner afterwards to check out a couple of Reiner recordings, including the one Maestro Muti referred to. Van Cliburn has never been my favorite pianist, but I definitely enjoyed his Beethoven 4 with Reiner, more so than the 5th surprisingly (I think I’m too used to Perahia/Haitink’s recording with the Concertgebouw). Regardless, the orchestra was absolutely in a prime state, in part because of Reiner’s direction and control. I’m glad I was able to attend this special event and hear Maestro Muti’s thoughts on a legendary conductor, especially in relation to the CSO. This is just the beginning of the summer, and I’m looking forward to all the upcoming events. Next week, I’ll be attending one of the last CSO concerts of the season (featuring Beethoven’s Violin Concerto played by Julia Fischer, conducted by Maestro Muti), but unfortunately I won’t be able to catch the Bruckner program at the very end of the season (my music prof is doing the pre-concert talks for that set of concerts – so sad that I’ll miss them!!). I’m also doing a bunch of planning for my upcoming Vienna/Salzburg trip – so excited!