Features: The Sound of Muti

Regaled by the critics, revered by his players, the dashing maestro of the Philadelphia Orchestra is finally being embraced by his adopted city

"YOU KNOW, I’VE DONE ALL the opera stars who come through this town, a lot of the musicians. I see the differences between personalities. And Riccardo Muti has a quality that, in his business, I don’t see too much of. Class."

Dino isn’t a classical music critic or a record company executive or even a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Dino is a barber. A transplanted Sicilian who lives in South Philly, Dino has a shop in the Academy House, the condo complex adjoining the Academy of Music. He has cut Riccardo Muti’s hair for 12 years, ever since Muti first guest conducted with the orchestra in 1972, after Eugene Ormandy all but discovered him in Florence and invited him to America. Even then, Ormandy saw in the 31-year old Muti those qualities that were to make him such a celebrated and enigmatic figure in classical music: brilliance, a powerful charisma, and matinee-idol looks, yet an ability to turn frighteningly serious, uncompromising, his dark eyes emitting a laser glare that could turn an audience of coughing adults into squirming, embarrassed sixth graders, or stop the powerful sound of an orchestra on a dime. Now Muti is an international superstar, one of the chosen few whose name sells as well as the music he conducts. But he still needs to have his hair cut.

Over the years, Dino and Muti have become friends. "Riccardo was just at my house two weeks ago for dinner, he and Cristina, his wife, and the baby," Dino says, his accented English competing with the noisy blow dryers for attention. "We are close in age, in our early 40s, we are both from Italy. We talk about all kinds of things. Of course, many times, no matter what we are talking about, we end up talking about music. But I understand that. If you talk to me for very long, we could be talking about girls or something, but at the end we talk about hair."

Well, what about Muti’s hair?

"He has beautiful hair, but they screw it all up in Italy, " Dino says forcefully. "His hair should be cut for his profession. It’s got to shake when he conducts. Can you see an orchestra conductor with short hair? You want to see him moving. His hair is an artistic symbol. Some people, they layer his hair.

"You think maybe this doesn’t matter? I have people who come in here and tell me, ‘Dino, I don’t like Muti’s hair this time.’ I tell them, ‘Look, I don’t always cut it, only when he is here.’

"Riccardo is a perfect human being," Dino concludes. "He is Muti, yet for the glory of the man he is, he’s like everybody else."