Conductor  Riccardo  Chailly

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Often we think of people being in the right place at the right time.  Conversely, we rarely give a thought to an organization which is lucky enough to find the best person for the position available when needed.  Conductor Riccardo Chailly fills both ends of this equation.  He has been in the right place for the position which needed him at that moment.

The son of a composer, he began very young and was immediately recognized for his ability and his zeal.  So it is not surprising that his world-wide career has blossomed and he has fulfilled the promise of youth that eludes so many others.

Details of his artistic positions, operatic and concert recordings and personal awards can be found in the biography at the end of this webpage.  As with many European musicians, his skill with the English language was quite good, and in this presentation I have only needed to help him out a few times with grammatical corrections or re-ordering of words to make his ideas flow easier.

He was back in Chicago in September of 1990, on tour with his Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, and since he
d begun his international career here, the first question was quite natural . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    Is Chicago the way you remember it?

Riccardo Chailly:    It’s a very special city.  Being my American debut city in 1974 at the very early age of twenty-one with the Chicago Lyric Opera, this is really very sentimental.  I’m very close to this city in many respects, in terms of music-making, in terms of enjoyment, in terms of human beings in the beautiful city.  I’m very pleased to be back, actually.

BD:    Is twenty-one too young to make an international debut?

RC:    Well, it
’s certainly very young.  If it’s too much, I don’t know because if you look with the uptake of somebody thinking of his first concert, which was at the age of fourteen, then actually twenty-one is not too bad in comparison with such an age to start a performing career.  [Laughs]  I started at fourteen in Padua, with I Solisti Veneti, even before I started the major part of my studies in Milan at the Conservatory of Music.  But since fourteen years old, I conducted every season in Italy.

BD:    How do you divide your career now between operas and concerts?

chaillyRC:    Basically, I devote three-quarters of the season to the symphonic activity, especially in Amsterdam with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and a quarter to the Bologna Teatro Communale activity, for an opera production each year.  But I would say it’s something which I like to do; I certainly do not regret to balance it that way.  After my American debut in ’74, I came back in ’76, ’78, and ’79 and in that time I was conducting basically opera during the season.  Although I am Italian and it’s something I love and I would never leave, still I felt it was time to balance it differently.  Now the activity with the Concertgebouw Orchestra causes me to reduce categorically opera, and in this respect I’m pretty pleased, so far.

BD:    How much time in the year does the Concertgebouw take?

RC:    Basically around four months a year.  It’s a really full time engagement mentally, musically and physically.

BD:    From the vast array of symphonic and concerto literature, how do you decide which pieces you will play this season, and which ones you’ll put off ‘til next season, and maybe which ones you’ll say, “No, I don’t want to do them at all”?

RC:    You know, this is a long process.  It’s like love affair, a first sight love affair relationship.  Basically when you’d like to do something, in terms of repertoire, to perform something or to repeat something you’ve been performing before, you feel it spontaneously.  There’s no element outside yourself to suggest or to ask you to conduct this piece or another piece.  Generally, I consider myself particularly devoted to the late Romantic music and the modern music, as well as the extreme avant-garde music.  But I like as well to think about settecento, you know, mila settecento music, old music, generally, but not as much as the late Romantic music.

BD:    So this put you in a good position to work with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, which is, essentially, a late Romantic orchestra?

RC:    In a way, yes, although I have to say I started it much earlier, when I took over the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra as Chief Conductor.  There I really did develop this repertoire for nearly ten years, so this is a continuation of what I started back then. 

BD:    No matter what, you have a huge amount of music to select from.  How do you decide, "This score, yes; this score, no?"

RC:    I have no specific answer, actually; I can only tell you an example.  So far I’ve been conducting a lot of Mozart, although within this season there’s very little.  But for over fifteen years I’ve been performing symphonic music of Mozart — very carefully, and not very often.  But only this year, I’ll conduct my first Mozart opera in Bologna, and it’s Don Giovanni.  And why did I decide to do that?  I have not exactly any sort of a cool, technical answer.  I can only tell you it is an opera which I’ve been thinking and dreaming about and also studying for over twenty years.  And somehow there is a clock inside myself which told me, “Now, Riccardo, it’s time to try.”  Good or bad it’s going to be.  It doesn’t matter; your clock inside tells you it’s time to go.

BD:    So it’s an experiment?

RC:    Yes.  It certainly is the first time I will conduct a Mozart opera, so it’s something absolutely new, although as I said, I’ve conducted between twenty and thirty symphonic works.  But it’s a different kind of experience, for sure.  Therefore it’s something new, and if I feel, spontaneously, this kind of sensation inside.  I think it’s the right moment.  But why and when those things happen, I think every individual musician has different timing in those things.

BD:    I see.  But being Music Director of the Concertgebouw, you obviously, occasionally, must be forced into doing some things you might not want to do.

RC:    Actually, not forced because it’s a very flexible orchestra in terms of repertoire, as well as repertoire choice.  What I consider sort of obligation, or let’s say a must for a Chief Conductor, is to continue and to try to prolong the long tradition in terms of late Romantic music.  I’m doing a lot of avant-garde music, but this is a new line that’s started with my tenure.  The late Romantic school, especially Strauss and Mahler and I would say Bruckner as well
but not as much as Mahler, actuallyis really a sort of obligation for a Chief Conductor of that orchestra.

BD:    And you are now branching out into Zemlinsky and Webern?

RC:    Yes, of course.  We are developing that, and also Schoenberg.  I think they recorded Verklarte Nacht long ago, or Pelleas und Melisande.  We would like to continue it, to put all of that on disc, yes.  But certainly the relationship between Mahler himself and this orchestra was so close, and therefore it continued through one hundred years.  It’s been non-stop, and it continued through the whole history with the four chief conductors before me.  Therefore I think this is certainly a must for the Chief Conductor in Amsterdam.

chaillyBD:    Do you feel that when you conduct a Mahler symphony, you are in competition with the memory of Haitink or the other previous conductors?  [See my Interview with Bernard Haitink.] 

RC:    I don’t believe in ghosts of the past.  I believe in great lessons of the past, but I think every lesson, new or old, is a different one.  Everyone has his own interpretation and everyone finds his own way.  When I did conduct and record the Mahler Sixth Symphony, of course I had to establish for the orchestra my own way of doing it, which certainly is different from Mr. Haitink, no doubts about that.  But I’ve had no difficulty in that respect, as well as doing a Brahms symphony or a Mozart symphony or a Haydn symphony.  Even a Bruckner!  I’ve been doing quite a lot of Bruckner there, and it’s an orchestra which is ready and willing to have new ways, new ideas, new interpretation lines, and it
’s absolutely willing to discover them through a conductor’s idea.  So in this respect it’s not only flexible, but able to think of the same piece in different ways, which is a very special gift, actually.

BD:    So you look at the score and make the discoveries, and then share those discoveries with the orchestra?

RC:    Yes, absolutely.  Actually, it’s a very long process.  To reach, for instance, the goal of Mahler Sixth, it took me two seasons to develop and develop and rehearse and re-rehearse, and go deeply and deeply into the piece, discovering more and more things together during rehearsal time.  That’s a very special relationship with the orchestra, and it helps, indeed, the system of rehearsals.  There you can rehearse more than normally you can with the other top class orchestras in the world.  You have the possibility of rehearsing and going back to the piece later in the season or in the next season, and re-rehearse the whole thing.

BD:    Do you ever get to the bottom of a piece like that?  Do you ever explore all of its possibilities?

RC:    I don’t think so, no.  I don’t believe in limited-capacity music.  For a genius score like a Mahler symphony or a Mozart symphony, I think there is never a limit for the interpreter to say, “Okay, now I’ve discovered everything.  I did all that was possible.”  Maybe one can say, “That’s all what I can discover,” for a piece, but that doesn’t mean it will be the total capacity or the total possibility of the piece itself.  Absolutely not.

BD:    I assume that even if you get as much out of it as you can now, maybe ten or twenty years from now you’ll find still more?

RC:    I’m sure.  I believe also in different feelings, in terms of age.  I don’t agree with people who say, “You can’t perform Beethoven or Mozart until you are fifty.”  I hate this kind of systematic rule where you are obliged to belong.  I’m not saying that for selfish reasons, being only thirty-seven.  But I don’t believe that maturity is established only after fifty.  It depends, really, when you start.  Generally a conductor starts at the age of thirty or thirty-five.  I started at the age of fourteen, so I had a good fifteen years advance in the matter of time and age to develop certain experiences.  I feel maturity is an individual sensation, since the sensitivity is left to the musician itself.  It cannot be predicted
somehow now you’re mature or now you’re not.  In a different way, I believe that the sensation of a musician changes through years.  I will feel a Brahms symphony differently in ten or fifteen years than I do now.  I already do feel, today, a Brahms symphony differently than I did ten years ago.  I do not mean that that relates purely and only to maturity.  I think it’s a development that a musician brings himself, and through the years we change progressively; in which direction, I don’t know.  I think there is a danger that sometimes you might lose the focus of the piece, getting old instead of getting more on the focus.  There are other examples of the opposite, but it’s not predictable.

BD:    Do you wish to disown some of the recordings or performance tapes that were made many years ago?

RC:    Some I do.  Some I do.  I would be silly and even selfish to say, “No, I am proud of all of what I did.”  This is not true.  There are some recordings which I would like maybe to repeat and to do again, that’s for sure.  But there are also recordings which I did when I was much younger that I feel I could not do even as well today because the experience, in a certain way, would have taken away the freshness, the spontaneity.  Depending on the repertory, even the lack of knowledge in terms of deep musical reason sometimes adds a degree of emotion and a distinctive light inside the music-making itself.  This is between the conductor and the orchestra, which I find, sometimes, very special and maybe unrepeatable.

BD:    Do you try to get the same effect on recordings that you do in the concert hall on the night of a performance?

chaillyRC:    I try to reproduce the same intention in terms of emotion and deep conviction of an interpretation.  But I generally try to get more precision than in a live performance; more precision in terms of performance itself, and also more precision in terms of details.  I’m a little bit maniacal in that respect, and my recording company knows that very well, having been with them exclusively for over ten years.  And I think sometimes the beauty of digital sound is even a stronger temptation to go more and more into those things, to be able to reproduce something that even the concert is not able to.  For instance, we might be able to pick up small details in the orchestration which sometimes, due to acoustical reasons, you cannot pick up from the hall just by listening to a concert.  And the major difficulty, I think, is probably not only that, but the reproduction of emotions.  That sometimes is very difficult.  I am not, as everybody else is now, in favor of live recordings.  On the contrary, I am in favor of studio recordings, but in that respect, I know how difficult it is to reproduce the degree of emotion compared the concert the night before.  When it happens
and it does happen, indeed, thank Godit’s even more intimate.  Then the intimacy between conductor and orchestra is even stronger, and the degree of interpretation of emotion can be even higher if reproduced between the two of you.  It’s even more meaningful, somehow, and if the microphone is there in that moment, then that really is the magic moment.

BD:    And you have captured a few of those?

RC:    Yes, I think so.  It’s not easy, of course; you need an enormous trust between you and the orchestra, and vice versa.  And you also need to know each other extremely well.

BD:    When you record something and then play it on a concert the following year, do you feel you’re in competition with your own record?

RC:    Yes, I do, actually.  This is a rather difficult question you’re asking me, because sometimes I fight with myself in that respect.  As I said, I don’t believe maturity is something to be prescribed, like a doctor visit, but I believe in changing feelings and interpretation of ideas through the years.  I do not like musicians which make charcoal copies of their work through their whole life.  I believe a human being is a development through the ages, and the music as well has to develop through the ages.  So, by repeating a piece I recorded, I feel it will certainly not belong totally to what we are doing now.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let me ask you a great big philosophical question.  What is the purpose of music?

RC:    Well, I think there is more than one, for sure.  And if there is a universal art, music might be that universal art simply because it’s an abstract art.  It’s not painting, it’s not writing, it’s not sculpture.  It’s something ethereal which is in the air, but you cannot see, you cannot touch, you cannot visualize, somehow.  Therefore, if there is a meaning in music, I think first of all it’s to deal with people through sound.  It will talk to the people, say to the people something spiritual and something very deep.  In terms of communication, it
’s one of the arts, if not the art of communication in terms of sentiment.  I think that’s probably the first point to aim to.  In whatever country you are performing, through the music, through the form, the expression of the music, especially classical music, I think you can deal directly with people, and to the soul of people, which is even more important.

chaillyBD:    So then you’re always trying to touch the soul of the audience?

RC:    Yes.  It is something which is automatic in connection with the music-making process.

BD:    On the night of a performance, do you have any expectations of the audience that is behind you as you conduct?

RC:    You always have expectations from the audience.  You can never predict what the audience is going to bring to you or to give to you.  Take a piece like Das Lied von der Erde, which we are doing on this U.S. tour.  We are doing it only six times, which is fine on a tour of fourteen dates, but that is quite a lot because it takes so much and demands so much from the performers!  Really, you end every night completely empty with nothing more to add.  Not one note.  You are really squeezed inside.  It’s very penetrating and even very painful, especially the sixth Lied, the Abschied, which is really, sometimes, irresistible if you let too much emotion to run into your heart.

BD:    That final song is essentially half the piece.

RC:    Yes, it is.  Therefore, in that case, we expect from the public commotion and emotion, but not glamour.  It’s different.  If you do a virtuoso symphony, of course you expect something else from the audience, but every piece of music needs a special and a different kind of reaction.  I think it’s very important, this relation between the meaning of a success in different works.  After Mahler, after especially Das Lied von der Erde, which is the farewell to life for Mahler and probably the farewell of life to everybody’s feeling, just by listening to the incredible darkness and tragic feeling of the last song you do not expect a glamorous “Bravo!”  We also have a different program with the Semiramide Overture of Rossini.  After such a sparkling piece that is brilliant and joyful, then you want exactly the opposite reaction.

BD:    How are the audiences different from Italy, to the Netherlands, perhaps to London, to America — all over the world?

RC:    I think every country has its own way of expressing itself, you know.  And in Italy, there is an enormous background and culture for opera.  In Germany and in the Netherlands, they are especially devoted to symphonic music.  I think America is an example where you have both because of your music activity, because of your amount of theaters, amount of concert halls, and symphony orchestras.  You really have in your hands the possibility of both, which is a wonderful challenge, actually, for the States.  And I think it’s very special, in that respect, to have a country with so much music-making, in both opera and symphonic ways.

BD:    Are we up to it?

RC:    I won’t name them, but there are seven major symphony orchestras in the world, four of which are in the States.  So this is for me the answer.

BD:    [Laughs] Hooray for us!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let’s shift over to opera just a little bit.  When you conduct a symphonic concert, you are essentially in control.  When you conduct opera, do you relinquish any of that control to the stage director?

with zeffirelliRC:    Unfortunately, yes, especially more and more in these days.  And I think this is a fashion which has to stop, because it could be the death of opera, I believe, if the producer has more and more to say, even more than the conductor, about opera, about staging, about how to take over an interpretation.  The major secret, I think, is really to have a meeting and discussion between the conductor and producer
much before the production itself starts to existand just try to talk about the piece and exchange opinions about it.  That very often happens and very seldom he maintains the promise.  [Laughter]  The meeting is fantastic.  You have a wonderful understanding!  One and a half years before it opens I make my ideas clear.  I make sure I won’t interfere with this; I make sure I won’t interfere with that.  Then at the end, a big conflict starts.  This is really happening so damn often these days, and I think that’s a great pity.  My background is Italian and I am an opera animal, so one of the secrets why I am so happy to be Chief Conductor in Bologna is that we have a way of doing opera there which is absolutely against this horrible trend of self-destructive feelings in terms of productions and producers against conductors, and vice versa.  It is not a dictatorship on my part; it is really a team working together and going ahead in the same direction.  We are really trying to not only talk about each other’s idea, but to visualize the production.  After that first meeting a year and a half before the scheduled opening date, we meet again six months later, going back together with designs, with the designer himself, and the costumes and so on, and try to really conceive the whole thing together.  This is a privilege which I have in Bologna.

In this photo (at left) released by Teatro alla Scala, Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly, left, and Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli acknowledge the applause at the end of Giuseppe Verdi's "Aida" for the opening season at La Scala theater, in Milan, Italy, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2006. Zeffirelli's return to La Scala after more than a dozen years created an unprecedented buzz: tickets reserved for sale online for all eleven showings of "Aida'' sold out in a record two hours. The glitz and attention surrounding the Milan season opener underlines La Scala's return to the center of the cultural scene, not only in Italy, after several years marked by tensions over the landmark opera house's management. (AP Photo/Marco Brescia/Teatro alla Scala)

BD:    Let me ask the Capriccio question, then.  In opera, where should be the balance between the music and the drama?

RC:    I think that at the very moment a conductor accepts to conduct opera, there is already a musical compromise.  He has to compromise his ideas in terms of sound, in terms of balance, in terms of tempi, because you do deal with human voices.  So the privilege goes to them.  The conductor has to serve the voice, the human voice.  No doubt about that.  But I don’t know how far the conductor must go to serve the producer, and not vice versa.  I think in a good encounter, fifty-fifty won’t be bad, basically, but I do believe that these days, producers, generally speaking, do not know enough about opera, in terms of music.  They know too much opera in terms of drama, and too much, maybe, in terms of the libretto.  But the musical content sometimes brings you somewhere else and there’s where sometimes the distance is enormous between conductor and producer.  There is a lack of communication in musical terms, in terms of what the music is asking at that moment, more than the stage situation and even the producer’s ideas.

BD:    Is there any hope?

RC:    I believe so.  The reason why I do little opera is because I believe that doing just one production a year with a special commitment in your own opera house, where you can really deal with the planning, with a great deal of time in advance, is one of the ways of doing opera properly.  So far I did from Verdi to Wagner in Bologna, and I never got a delusion, and I never got a surprise of this kind.  Therefore I am really proud of what is happening there, and I believe in this way of doing opera.

BD:    Which Wagner works have you done?

RC:    Walküre, and I will do Götterdämmerung in ’92.  This is a Ring which we do in five years, shared by two conductors:  Peter Schneider, and myself.  So we divided it two and two.

BD:    Will you ever do a full cycle yourself?

RC:    That I don’t know.  This is for me my first Wagner.  It was a very special experience for me in terms of music-making, but also related to the producer, whom I think is an extraordinary talent, Mr. Pier’Alli.  But doing Wagner is one of my dreams since I was a young musician.

BD:    Maybe twenty years from now we’ll talk just about Wagner!

RC:    Maybe, maybe.  But certainly now I want to proceed slowly in that territory.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You mentioned that you like to do avant-garde music, so the big question:  Where is music going these days?

chaillyRC:    Someone once said that music-making will certainly bring us to silence.  I don’t remember who stated that; it was a very important musician, though.  So important, that at that time, maybe ten or fifteen years ago when I heard such a statement, I thought, “My God, he’s right!  What a scary sentence.”  The music, avant-garde music especially, there is only way to go if you do not change — to go to silence.  I really deeply don’t believe it, and my activity in Amsterdam with the Concertgebouw Orchestra proves it, because we bring from three to four world premieres a year.  I think this is a very important point to continue.  You have to try to bring to performances new languages, new identities of compositions and composers.  Music is, as I said, an indefinite art, and many, many ways have to be discovered to compose.  At the moment there is a new wave in Italy and also in Holland, of a Neo-Romantic.  I think it is also in the States.  This could be one of the ways of discovering new lines, new ideas, for avant-garde music.  But I also like the middle avant-garde, like Rudolph Escher, who is a very well-known Dutch composer who died a few years ago from cancer.  I think he was a very, very important composer.  I really like to devote my time, as far as my schedule allows me, to discover new composers as well as look into the so-called middle-aged composers, like Petrassi or Dallapiccola.

BD:    Are there some composers, then, that you are championing?

RC:    I would say particularly Luciano Berio, whose music we’ve been performing a lot with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, as well as Alfred Schnittke, the Russian composer.  [See my Interview with Luciano Berio.]

BD:    You just recorded some Berio, so tell me a little bit about his music specifically.

RC:    That was interesting because we performed the world premiere of Formazioni, which was born to be performed in Amsterdam for the ninetieth anniversary of the orchestra.  However, Luciano’s speed of writing obliged us to wait until the one hundred years centenary!  He took it really slow, this composition, but it is one of the major symphonic works of Berio.  It is a reflection of his lack of trust in the symphonic orchestras, in terms of their position on stage; you know, classical position on stage, or you could say formal, typical symphonic position on stage.  "Formazioni" means different formations, you know, blocks of players placed in a certain way as he wanted, which makes, if I remember, six to eight different formations of players on stage.  This makes an incredible effect, of course.  It was very difficult to rehearse this piece, very difficult to perform, just because of the position on stage.  But I think the result is overwhelming and is a tryout to solve the formula of the classical orchestra on stage.  He believes music will never go to silence, but he thinks the orchestra itself, as an instrument of the past, on stage in the classical position, is a mausoleum object.  So, it’s time to change it, and that’s why he’s now composing symphonic music always in different formations, but never in the classical position of the orchestra.  The Schubert-Berio piece we are bringing on tour in the States at the moment, called Rendering, is a different kind of music.  This is the "Tenth Symphony" of Schubert, his last sketches before he died.  They were written for the piano and Berio arranged them for orchestra.  So there we have, really, the typical symphony orchestra of the Unfinished symphony and there’s no craziness in terms of stage position.  He feels particularly committed and responsible for Schubert in this respect.  So he orchestrated all the sketches of Schubert and he has strung them together with Berio passages in between.  It is like an old mosaic with certain parts in color, then the gray color plaster comes through and then again the colorful original mosaic comes back.  That’s the idea of this piece, and in that case, Berio really used all his art, his knowledge of instrumentation to try to reproduce Schubert’s style.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Is conducting fun?

Luciano ChaillyRC:    Sometimes.  It used to be fun for me probably because I started so young.  In a way it’s becoming less and less fun and more and more serious business.  Sometimes it is still a very moving art.  I would say that the fun part probably is related more to my past years than the present.  But if you asked me in terms of satisfaction, in terms of sometimes feeling that I reach the goal of an interpretation, that happens more often now, particularly since I became Chief Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.  There is really a very special relationship and a very special understanding in music terms.

BD:    I want to be sure and ask you about your father, Luciano Chailly [photo at right].  He was a famous composer, so do you perform some of his works?

RC:    I used to at an early age.  Now we’re sort of separate from each other in terms of understanding, in terms of thinking about life and thinking about music-making.  We had a sort of mental split which sometimes happens between father and son.  So at the moment, I am not.  But he was, of course, my first teacher of composition, therefore he’s the man who gave me the basic knowledge of music in a very severe way, actually — the typical old-fashioned style of teaching, you know.  Very severe.  And that was a great help for me in terms of a very severe base of knowledge! [Laughs]

BD:    I hope that you come back to his music eventually.

RC:    I am following his music, of course, and he is a very good composer, particularly for opera.  I think he’s written over fifteen operas which are performed very much in Italy, and some of which are also performed around the world.

BD:    Thank you for sharing some of your time with us.  I appreciate it very, very much.  I wish you lots of continued success!

RC:    Thank you.  Thank you very much.

BD:    Will you be back in Chicago?

RC:    I hope so.  There are not yet plans.  I hope also to one day be able to guest conduct in the States again.  At the moment I’ve deliberately reduced, just to be full time to the commitment in Amsterdam.  I have to really make the time available for the Concertgebouw Orchestra and for my family.  One needs to find more time for living, together with the music-making.  I used to guest regularly in the States and it would be nice to come back one day to Chicago. 

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Milan-born Riccardo Chailly studied at the Conservatorio in Perugia, Rome and Milan, specializing at the Siena summer courses with Franco Ferrara. From 1982 to 1989, he was principal conductor of the Berlin Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, and from 1982 to 1985 principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. From 1986 until 1993, he led the Teatro Comunale of Bologna, where he conducted many greatly successful opera productions. In 1986 he has been appointed chief conductor and in 2002 conductor emeritus of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. From September 1999 to 2005 Riccardo Chailly was the Musical Director of the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi. In September 2005 Riccardo Chailly became chief conductor of the Gewandhausorchester and music director of the Oper Leipzig.

chaillyRiccardo Chailly is a conductor whose activities range from the symphonic to the operatic repertoire. He conducted the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the London Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre de Paris. He also performed at the world's most famous opera houses, including La Scala in Milan (where he made his debut in 1978), the Vienna State Opera, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Royal Opera and Covent Garden in London (1979 debut), the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and the Zürich Opera. In 1984, Riccardo Chailly opened the Salzburg Festival, where he also conducted the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1988, 1996 and 1998. Has also conducted at the city's Easter Festival.

Riccardo Chailly led the Concertgebouw in numerous tours to the main European festivals (Salzburg, Lucerne, Vienna Festwochen, and London Proms) as well as to Japan, Korea, China, and North and South America. In 2001 he returned to conduct the Berliner Philharmoniker. In 2002 he led the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi in his first European tour, in France, Spain, Portugal and Switzerland, and in 2003 in Japan and Bruxelles, both with great success of critics and audience. In January 2004 he toured with the Orchestra to the Festival de Musica de Canarias. In May 2005 he led the Orchestra on a European tour to Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, Germany, Austria and Hungary.

In 1994 Riccardo Chailly was entitled Grand'Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana, and was made an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1996. During the 10th anniversary as chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in November 1998, he was knighted by Queen Beatrix, receiving the title of 'Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion.' In Italy he was entitled, also in 1998, ‘Cavaliere di gran Croce della Repubblica Italiana’. In 2003 he received the “Antonio Feltrinelli” award by the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei of Rome, for his work as conductor in Italy. In November 2005 he was awarded his second Toblacher Komponierhauschen and the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik by Germany.

Riccardo Chailly has an exclusive contract with Decca. He has recorded a broad repertoire on CD which won many prizes, including Gramophone Awards, Diapasons d'Or, Edisons, the Academy Charles Cross Award, the Japanese Unga Knonotomo Award, the Toblacher Komponierhäuschen and several Grammy Nominations. Recently he was declared 'Artist of the year' by two important magazines, the French magazine Diapason and the British magazine Gramophone. With the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi he has recorded several CDs, including a new recording of orchestra transcriptions by Luciano Berio. September 2005 saw his first release as Kapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus with a live recording of his inaugural concert from the Gewandhaus itself featuring works by Mendelssohn. Future projects include Brahms Piano Concertos nos 1 & 2 with Nelson Freire in Spring 2006 and the Mendelssohn and Bruch Violin Concertos with Janine Jansen in Autumn 2006 – both are with the Leipzig GewandhausOrchester.

Decca Records, November 2005 -- 

© 1990 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded at the Drake Hotel in Chicago on September 28, 1990.  Portions were used on WNIB (along with musical examples) in 1993, 1998 and 1999.  The transcription was made in 2008 and posted on this website in October of that year. 

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.