The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Barenboim announced the players' honor during remarks he made from the stage at his final concert with the orchestra on June 17. According to The Chicago Tribune, a statement to Barenboim, drafted largely by CSO violist Max Raimi, was adopted by the players following a rehearsal on June 15; the Sun-Times reports that the statement was read in full to Barenboim at a reception following the farewell concert.
The statement, as quoted in the Tribune, reads: "Maestro Barenboim, This is a difficult time for us. After so many years, it is hard to believe that we will no longer be sharing the transcendent musical experiences we have known with you. Yet we have chosen to celebrate this occasion, not to mourn it. We celebrate first of all our extraordinary good fortune in having had these years together. We will always cherish our memories of what we have accomplished under your leadership.
"We also celebrate because it is simply beyond imagining that this is the last time that you will conduct us. There is too much music left to make. So at this time, we do not wish to say goodbye. In the eyes of the musicians of the Chicago Symphony, you are our Honorary Conductor for Life. In this way, we wish to thank you for all that you have given us in the past, and to thank you in advance for all you have left still to give."
The CSO Association, the entity which operates the orchestra, did not offer Barenboim any conductor laureate or emeritus title — the maestro has said that he is "not laureatizable" — and the musicians' honor has no contractual status.
Barenboim was appointed principal guest conductor at La Scala last month and will remain general music director at Berlin's Staatsoper, as well as lifetime chief conductor of the opera's Staatskapelle orchestra. He currently has no further dates scheduled with the CSO and was quoted in a previous Tribune article as saying he did not plan to return to the Windy City following his departure, as he has "never been a guest conductor."
At the June 17 post-concert reception, according to the Sun-Times, violinist Alison Dalton announced a gift from the musicians: a crystal obelisk carved with the signatures of all 110 orchestra members. In response to the gift and the statement, Barenboim said, "I am glad that this evening, this week, this time, is ending with joy. As I told the musicians privately in our last rehearsal together, I don't know if and when or how many times my eyes will set on them as a group, but my heart will be with them always. They will be my honorary orchestra for life."