When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra announced a year ago that the renowned Italian conductor would take over as music director in the fall, Muti talked about leading a dazzling season that would include world premieres of commissioned works by Osvaldo Golijov, Bernard Rands, Mark-Anthony Tunage and Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Muti would engage the community through a series of outreach programs, including open rehearsal of works by Mexican composers in Chicago's heavily Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood and eventually recruiting at-risk youth for musical programs.
But so far, little has gone as planned.
First, Muti bowed out of the CSO's fall season after suffering "extreme exhaustion." He flew back to Milan to consult with doctors and took time off to recover. And it seemed he had: He led a new production in Rome in December, followed by two concerts in his hometown of Naples and a week in Germany last month, CSO Association President Deborah F. Rutter said Tuesday at a news conference.
But last week, after Muti had returned to Chicago to prepare for the winter concert series, he fainted during a rehearsal, falling hard and fracturing his jaw and right cheekbone.
Now, as he recovers from surgery that included putting plates in his cheek and lower jaw and wiring his jaw shut, doctors are trying to figure out why he fainted in the first place while a guest conductor takes his place at the podium.
"We at the symphony and particularly the musicians and its leadership feel very strongly committed to Maestro Muti and his long-term health," Rutter said.
As for Muti, she said he is still hopeful that he can return, perhaps to direct the spring concert series that begins in April. Meanwhile, he will do "non-podium" work for the CSO and hopes to attend the finals of a competition for young conductors this weekend.
Dr. Alexis B. Olsson, the Northwestern Memorial Hospital surgeon who operated on Muti Monday, said the conductor was "in very good spirits" and expected to make a full recovery. He said Muti would remain hospitalized for more tests, including to try to find out why he fainted, and it was unclear when he might be discharged.
Rutter said Muti showed flashes of humor, even making fun of how he looked. But he "went directly to saying I hope everybody's OK" in the orchestra, adding that they "were having so much fun, they played like angels."
She also said he was disappointed that he couldn't conduct the performances and "can't wait to get back to them." And she said the feeling is mutual.
"He is human and there are moments when we say 'Why now and why this circumstance,'" Rutter said.
But the work he was doing with the orchestra was "so extraordinary, it's so special that we just want to be able to bring him back and do what we can," Rutter said, adding that she believes "that he will be back with us doing what he can and does the best, particularly with our orchestra."
Muti's influence is being felt with the launch last month of the CSO's Citizen Musician initiative, an effort to get the orchestra into the community. It kicked off with surprise performances in public places, including famed cellist YoYo Ma at Metra's Millennium Station.
Muti first came to critics' attention in 1967 when he won a major competition for conductors in Milan. He soon was appointed to key positions in Florence and London. He has been a regular guest conductor at the Salzburg Festival since 1971.