European tour in ultramodern concert hall

It was as if a gigantic flock of birds, perhaps more than 300,000 of them, was hovering over the defiantly modern concert hall swaddling the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, wishing the orchestra Godspeed as it storms the Continent once again.

That conjectural avian blessing on the orchestra and Riccardo Muti as they launched their sixth joint European tour here on Friday night, came courtesy of the bold architectural vision that informs the Philharmonie de Paris, where the soldout concert (top price: $148) took place. It must have worked, because this first of 11 concerts the music director and the CSO are performing in France, Germany, Austria, Italy and Denmark, between now and the end of the month, proved to be an exhilarating success, with the public and most of the players, even the finicky maestro.

During a rehearsal break the previous day, Muti had pronounced the reverberant acoustics of the innovative 2,400-seat auditorium “strangely artificial.” He was singing a different tune following his and the CSO’s debut at the Philharmonie. While lacking the “natural warmth” of Vienna’s famed Musikverein, he said, the sound was “excellent, a great improvement over the acoustics at the rehearsal with no audience present.”

“I thought the orchestra played great as well,” he added. “They adjusted very quickly to the unfamiliar acoustic. I was very pleased.”

With that, Muti, looking tanned and rested after a recent vacation with his wife, Cristina Mazzavillani Muti, in Mauritius (an island in the Indian Ocean), went back to greeting audience members and autograph-seekers as they crowded around the open door to his basement dressing room.

“This hall is very easy to play in — the sound just wraps around you,” said Li-Kuo Chang, CSO assistant principal viola, clearly savoring his solo in Elgar’s “In the South (Alassio).” “There are no ‘edges’ like we have with the dryer sound of Orchestra Hall back home.”