CHICAGO, Illinois. Conductors of major metropolitan symphony orchestras are known to be a highly competitive and egotistical lot, but a recent move by the Chicago Symphony’s musical director has the normally-sedate world of classical music buzzing.
Muti: “I also like to be called ’The Big Boss With the Hot Sauce.’”
“It is my desire that other conductors should henceforth refer to me as ‘Jellyroll,’” said Riccardo Muti. “I am the big dog with the baton right now, and I think they should recognize me as such.”
The nickname “Jellyroll” was first used by Ferdinand Morton, the self-proclaimed inventor of jazz who learned his trade playing in New Orleans’ houses of prostitution. The word “jellyroll” alludes to the resemblance between the pastry and the male sexual organ, and its adoption by Morton served as public proclamation of his superior position in his predominantly male musical world.
Other conductors were quick to respond, with most saying they would not honor Muti by using his chosen monicker. “He ain’t da big dog,” said Lorin Maazel of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. “I’m da big dog–I take two strong men and a boy with me when I go to the bathroom ’cause my doctor told me not to lift heavy objects.”
Levine: “Muti has sex on the brain. He told me a story about a two-peckered billy goat who walks into a bar . . .”
James Levine, former director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, refused to take sides in the dispute, but said that the strength of a symphony was based primarily on factors other than its conductor. “We are at best glorified timekeepers,” Levine said modestly. “A great symphony is made up of great musicians and a great selection of candies and snacks available at intermission, which people tell me is their favorite part of my performances.”
Muti stood his ground, however, saying Levine was in no position to judge his talents. “That little schlong? Please. He couldn’t carry my jock strap to the podium.”