Riccardo Muti was born in Naples and studied the piano with Vincenzo Vitale at the city’s Conservatorio di San Pietro a Majella, graduating with distinction, before going on to study composition and conducting with Bruno Bettinelli and Antonino Votto at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan.
Riccardo Muti first came to the attention of critics and public alike in 1967, when he was unanimously awarded first prize at the Guido Cantelli Conducting Competition in Milan. The following year he was appointed principal conductor of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, a position he held until 1980. In 1971 he was invited by Herbert von Karajan to conduct at the Salzburg Festival, the first of many such occasions. From 1972 to 1982 he was Otto Klemperer’s successor as principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra. In 1980 he took over from Eugene Ormandy as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, remaining in charge until 1992.
From 1986 to 2005 Riccardo Muti was music director of La Scala, Milan. During his tenure — the longest in the house’s history — he oversaw several major projects, including a Mozart-Da Ponte cycle and Wagner’s Ring. Alongside the classics of the repertoire, including numerous operas by Verdi, he also brought rarely performed and neglected works to light, including Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, for which he won the prestigious Premio Abbiati. In December 2004 he triumphantly reopened the restored opera house with Salieri’s L’Europa riconosciuta.
In the course of his exceptional career, Riccardo Muti has conducted many of the world’s leading orchestras from the Berlin Philharmonic and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra to the New York Philharmonic and the Orchestre National de France. He has particularly close ties to the Vienna Philharmonic and has appeared with the orchestra at the Salzburg Festival on a regular basis since 1971. When he conducted the orchestra’s 150th anniversary concert in 1992, he was presented with its Golden Ring. He began 2018 conducting the New Year’s Day Concert in Vienna, marking the fifth time he has conducted the event, following appearances in 1993, 1997, 2000 and 2004.
In 2004 Riccardo Muti founded the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra, which is made up of young musicians selected by an international jury from more than 600 instrumentalists from all over Italy.
His social and civic conscience as an artist is reflected in the concerts he has conducted as part of his ‘The Paths of Friendship’ project organized by the Ravenna Festival. These concerts are given in places symbolizing our troubled past and contemporary history. Among the ensembles that he has conducted on these occasions are the Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala, the Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Musicians of Europe United and the Cherubini Youth Orchestra.
Riccardo Muti’s multi-award-winning discography ranges from Classical symphonic works to operas and contemporary music. His current label is RMMusic.
He has received innumerable awards. He is a Cavaliere di Gran Croce of the Italian Republic, a recipient of the German Order of Merit, an Officer of the French Legion of Honour and an honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire. The Salzburg Mozarteum has awarded him its Silver Medal and in Vienna he is an honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, the Vienna Hofmusikkapelle and the Vienna State Opera. He has also been awarded the Russian Order of Friendship and Israel’s Wolf Prize for the Arts. He has received more than 20 honorary degrees from the most important universities of the world.
In 2007 Riccardo Muti initiated a five-year project with the Cherubini Orchestra at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival devoted to the rediscovery and reassessment of the operatic and sacred music heritage of the Neapolitan school of the 18th century.
In September 2010 Riccardo Muti became music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The same year he was named musician of the year by Musical America. In 2011 his live recording of the Verdi Requiem with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus won two Grammy Awards, for best classical album and best choral performance.
In 2011 Riccardo Muti not only received the coveted Birgit Nilsson Prize, the Prince of Asturias Prize for the Arts and an Opera News Award, but he was also appointed an honorary member of the Vienna Philharmonic and honorary director for life of Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. In 2012 he was awarded the highest papal honour when Pope Benedict XVI appointed him a Knight of the Grand Cross First Class of the Order of St Gregory the Great. In 2016 he was honoured by the Japanese government with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star. In October 2018 Riccardo Muti received the prestigious Praemium Imperiale for his life’s work.
In July 2015 Riccardo Muti set up a further scheme for training young musicians, when the first Riccardo Muti Opera Academy for young conductors, répétiteurs and singers attracted participants from all over the world to the Teatro Alighieri in Ravenna. The aim of the academy is to pass on to young musicians Riccardo Muti’s experience and mastery and to familiarize audiences with the complex process that goes into performing opera.