Anticipation runs high because his soloist, pianist Dubravka Tomsic, is much loved by the Boston public, and also because the Boston public is very curious indeed about (Federico) Cortese, who made his unscheduled debut with the BSO under spectacular circumstances in September. Seiji Ozawa had planned to celebrate his 25th anniversary as music director by conducting a free performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on Boston Common, but he was still down and out with a viral infection. Cortese conducted the first two movements -- without rehearsal, and for the first time in his life, in front of television cameras and an audience of thousands -- before Ozawa came on to finish the performance. ("You've got to start sometime," was Ozawa's reassurance to his shellshocked assistant.) A week later Cortese won even more new friends when he took over for Ozawa again, at a benefit concert for breast cancer research, leading a Symphony Hall performance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony.
Cortese was born in Rome of Neapolitan parents, which means that he thinks of himself as a Neapolitan. "In Italy," Cortese says, "where your family's from, that's where you're from too." His father is a professor of medieval history and law; his mother is an antiques dealer. No one in his family is musical, though his parents encouraged Cortese's musical hobbies. When his commitment threatened to grow beyond the hobby stage, his family, like the families of most musicians, urged him to do something else. One result is that Cortese earned a law degree -- like the popular tenor Andrea Bocelli, his countryman.