In 2010, Riccardo Muti conducted his first concert as music director of the Chicago Symphony in front of over 25,000 people in Millennium Park. I was one of those 25,000. As I stood in Millennium Park that night, with tears running down my face as I listened to the finale of Pines of Rome in the company of thousands, I became a part of what Riccardo Muti has offered the world a chance – to hear, feel and understand the unsolicited power of music. But what I felt that night was about more than the music, but also a feeling of community, comfort and coming together for the sake of something beautiful. This is the gift I believe Muti has the capability to impart on the class of 2014.
Northwestern recently announced Riccardo Muti as the commencement speaker for the class of 2014. The reaction was polarizing. Bienen rejoiced, Sherman Ave mocked and pretty much everyone else Googled him to find out who he was.
So in case you're still wondering, Riccardo Muti has conducted major symphony orchestras around the world, won numerous awards for his musical brilliance and now sits at the helm of our own Chicago Symphony Orchestra, one of the greatest orchestras in the world.
But you probably don’t care, and I can understand why. He’s not a household name or a pop-culture sensation and you probably didn’t know who he was until about a week ago. Maybe you think he only serves a niche segment of graduating students, but his social efforts and dedication to his craft apply to more than just the classical music interest groups. It reflects the goals of our entire student body. I have high hopes for Riccardo Muti because I see him as more than a musician – I value him as a highly successful human being.
Muti has been conducting major symphony orchestras in Europe and America for over 40 years. And while classical music attendance is shrinking on a national scale, here in Chicago fundraising and ticket sales have increased over the past three years. Muti has experienced his fair share of success.
He is also dedicated to the social and civic power of music. According to his biography, he has brought “music as a gesture of unity and hope to such places as hospitals, prisons and war-torn and poverty-stricken areas around the world.” Graduation addresses around the country will challenge students everywhere to go out and make a difference. Muti is a qualified commencement speaker as he has lived out the essence of the quintessential college address.
So maybe you don’t have commencement speaker bragging rights over your friends, and maybe that’s all commencement speakers are good for. And you almost definitely don’t have memories of crying in Millennium Park during his inaugural concert. But if you value your commencement address as more than just bragging on social media, I think you will appreciate what this man will have to say. Put aside your reservations, look beyond the music and celebrate the opportunity to be addressed by a true master, leader and role model.