Gandlmayr: Riccardo Muti deserves a warmer welcome

Michael Gandlmayr, Bienen Senior

Last week, it was announced that Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, will give the main address at the 2014 commencement ceremony. As a senior in the Bienen School of Music, you can imagine that I was overcome with joy at this news. When I found out, I was in the Patten locker room, scrolling through my news feed filled with my friends’ excitement, but then I began to see posts expressing disdain for NU’s choice. I get it; anybody that is not a classical musician or a fan of classical music would likely not know who this guy is. But writing him off before learning about what he has accomplished and before hearing him speak does not embody the value we place on open-mindedness, curiosity and respect at NU.

(Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti to speak at commencement)

A heated debate rages in the comments of Sherman Ave’s two recent articles on the subject. Friday night, they published an article titled “Class of 2014’s Senior Citizens Thrilled with Selection of Commencement Speaker.” Obviously, they’re poking fun at the old and not entirely untrue stereotype, the low-hanging comedic fruit, that classical music is most enjoyed by the elderly. However, the intent of the article was not to satirize (if it was, it was poorly done); it instead expressed the sentiment that NU chose a bad commencement speaker. The message from the article and from the general reaction of a significant portion of the student body is this: We’d prefer somebody other than Riccardo Muti. Many of us in Bienen who are upset are justified in being upset. It is disrespectful to a man we greatly admire and we are also left feeling ostracized from the NU community; a speaker from our discipline is perceived as not worthy to give the commencement address. It shows that our profession is less valued than others, and is even being ridiculed.

Last year, Mikhail Baryshnikov gave the main address at commencement. Baryshnikov, too, comes from the performing arts realm, and is tied to NU through his daughter, who is a student here. He gave an uplifting speech about what it means to be human and what it means to succeed. The core message of his speech was this: “Once you figure out what you will do with your life, and eventually you will, work hard at it … give it your time, let it consume your thoughts. But remember … you don’t have to make yourself crazy trying to succeed. What do you have to do is leave yourself time to pose and think … What’s important? How can I contribute? Am I doing something today that will make me better tomorrow? In my view, working to be better is not the same as trying to be the best. Do not make your goal to be the best. Best is a label. It’s something someone else decides for you. Better is something more personal. It’s a process, and in my opinion, better is something more interesting than best.” This inspiring message is applicable to all of our lives, inside or outside of our professions.

Baryshnikov learned this valuable lesson through his career in dance. For those upset that Muti is not relevant to them, remember that passion, hard work and excellence are universal. For those upset that Muti has no standing relationship with NU, realize that there are many members of the CSO on Bienen’s faculty. So before we complain or sulk in not having gotten a mainstream celebrity as our commencement speaker, let’s ask ourselves, what does this whole kerfuffle say about our student body? It says that there are those among us speaking loudly and disrespectfully, giving the false impression of how vapid and shallow our student body is. I love NU for the lack of these traits. Let’s not judge a man based on these flaccid caricatures presented to us or on our preconceived ideas. Go downtown. See and hear for yourself what he does. Listen for the message in his speech, then by all means, judge the living hell out of him. I bet you will all be pleasantly surprised.

Michael Gandlmayr is a Bienen senior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].