World-renowned conductor rehearses with local symphony in Austin

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The audience sat in silence as maestro Riccardo Muti controlled over 60 orchestra members with his hands. When he wanted the sound louder he would raise his hands; to get softer he lowered them; and in one motion he could stop the entire orchestra all at once.

In between his frequent pauses of the piece – Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6, 2nd movement – Muti would crack a few jokes and vocalize the sound he wanted to hear as he led the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest in an open rehearsal at the Kehrein Center For The Arts in Austin.

About 50 people watched Sept. 24 as the world-renowned conductor, who recently stepped down from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, worked with the group as they prepare for a performance this weekend.

Roosevelt University students Santiago Uribe, Aviana Holst and Keith Iau were among the musicians who performed under Muti’s direction last Sunday.

After their rehearsal with Muti, Uribe said, “He’s definitely one of the best musical minds of our time. And the way he interprets what’s written on the paper, it’s out of this world. I don’t know how to describe it, but he makes art where you think it’s not.”

The orchestra – made up of both college students and older musicians – was rehearsing for their upcoming performance that will take place at the 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct.1 at Concordia University in River Forest.

Uribe described the rehearsal this way: “If you want to imagine an image of it, (it’s) like grabbing a piece of clay and making a sculpture out of it, sort of like molding each, where you have to balance the treble, the bass and the middle.”

One of the audience members, Shemeka Nash, artistic manager of Sistema Ravinia Austin and Lawndale, sat in the front row during the rehearsal to see Muti for her second time.

“It’s just so enlightening to see someone work through the music and get so much detail out of it. And the way that he was able to do it was so helpful. It was a huge learning experience for me just watching the rehearsal,” Nash said, “ To have a world class conductor be here on the West Side, just working through repertoire is just invaluable.”

It was Muti’s second time conducting at the Kehrein Center since it opened in 2019.

“He really loved it, and he said the acoustics were something really beautiful,” said Sharon Morgan, Kehrein’s co-manager.

Center co-managing director Edmund Siderewicz said the Oak Park River Forest orchestra wanted to use a bigger space (they’ve been practicing  at Dominican University), and Kehrein’s 850-seat auditorium fit the bill to rehearse with Muti. 

Siderewicz said that the center hosts a “ton” of events, including last Sunday’s rehearsal, and many of them are free. Rather than spend up to several hundred dollars to see Muti, last weekend’s audience got to see him at no cost.

“I think it brings peace to people from different communities to come together to hear music.” Siderwicz said. “The power of music brings people together.”

Morgan agreed, saying, “ It’s not only bridging the gap with music, it’s also bridging the gap of people coming to the West Side … this is one of the great things that we really do love about the theater, is that we’ve been able to draw people from all parts of Chicago …(and) to bring people from all over who love fine arts.”

The Keheirn Center will be hosting several more free events in coming months. Information about the facility can be found on its website.

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