Ten years ago Riccardo Muti decided it was time to give something back.
At the time, the Italian musician had been conducting for more than 30 years and had worked with the cream of international orchestras, including the Berlin and Vienna philharmonics, in addition to a tenure at Milan’s La Scala opera house as musical director and principal conductor.
“It felt like the right time,” he says. “I wanted to devote some time to teaching the youngsters what I have learnt from my teachers.”
In 2004, he founded the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra in Italy, a collective of musicians under the age of 30 chosen from countrywide auditions judged by Muti and a committee of leading international musicians.
The orchestra have performed in opera houses in Paris, Moscow, Salzburg and St Petersburg, and will make their Middle East debut on Wednesday, March 25, as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival.
“They are excellent musicians,” says Muti. “They have been performing regularly and not long from now they will take part in Salzburg Festival, which as people know, is one of the most important events in the classical-music calendar.”
For those familiar with Muti, this is indeed high praise.
The 73-year-old is a notorious firebrand who pulls no punches when offering opinions on the classical-music industry.
Muti says he launched the youth orchestra to help preserve the things that are increasingly becoming lost – such as the slow demise of the traditional conductor.
“With some exceptions, young conductors don’t study as seriously as we did in the past,” he says. “They want to reach for success immediately without making the effort to study the craft and, as a result, conducting today has become more of a show for the audience instead of becoming a serious matter.”
Muti says the Abu Dhabi Festival performance is a big step for the orchestra.
“While it’s important to play in places like Salzburg and New York, I think its even more important to also go to places that may not be so familiar with classical music,” he says.
“We have to bring music everywhere in the world and, in turn, accept music and culture from other countries.
“That way we can help create a universal musical language we all can enjoy.”