Chicago Tribune Critic Gives His Shortlist of Chicago Symphony Music Director Candidates

Classic Arts News   Chicago Tribune Critic Gives His Shortlist of Chicago Symphony Music Director Candidates
A lengthy feature in the Sunday edition (August 13) of the Chicago Tribune by the newspaper's classical music critic, John von Rhein, looks at the lengthy process to find a new music director to replace Daniel Barenboim, who departed the CSO podium in June.

The article lays out the reasons that a music director search almost invariably takes several years (classical musicians' schedules being planned several years in advance, the guest engagements required for players and conductor to get to know each other), and points out that a candidate for the CSO would have very big shoes to fill, what with predecessors such as Barenboim, Georg Solti, Jean Martinon and Fritz Reiner.

Von Rhein also discusses the particular factors to be taken into account in selecting a music director (chemistry with the players, likely relationship with the larger local community, particular musical strengths and preferences, etc.); he reports that the CSO administration says emphatically that it is willing to take whatever time is necessary to find the right candidate; and he mentions the provisional arrangements that the CSO and other major US orchestras looking for a music director have made to maintain artistic quality as their searches proceed. (He cites the Chicago Symphony's engagement of Bernard Haitink and Pierre Boulez in titled interim posts as a particularly luxurious example; other orchestras taking similar steps in recent seasons include the Detroit Symphony with Peter Oundjian, the Pittsburgh Symphony with Andrew Davis and Yan Pascal Tortelier, and the Louisville Orchestra with Jorge Mester.)

Finally, von Rhein — having observed that CSO management is keeping the progress of the search and the names of the serious contenders so secret that "the Bush administration would do well to study its methods of forestalling information leaks" — reports on the turnings of the rumor mill and gives (with all due disclaimers) his own personal shortlist.

Speculation about the Chicago music directorship seems to focus (according to von Rhein and others) mostly on Riccardo Muti and David Robertson. The former has been a freelancer ever since the acrimonious and very public end last year of his two-decade tenure at La Scala in Milan; the latter just completed — to great acclaim — the first season of an initial three-year tenure at the St. Louis Symphony.

Von Rhein observes that Muti, who will guest-conduct the CSO in November for the first time in 30 years, is indisputably a gifted conductor but that "he is known to have one of the supreme egos in the business, [and] his rancorous public divorce from the La Scala orchestra just over a year ago made many people wonder how well he'd get along with a major American orchestra." (Oddly, the article neglected to mention Muti's previous experience with a major American orchestra: his 1980-1992 tenure as Eugene Ormandy's successor at the Philadelphia Orchestra, which ended with wide reports, widely denied, of bad blood.)

Robertson's guest stints with the CSO have been well-received, and von Rhein acknowledges that he has speculated in print that the orchestra's administration is simply biding its time until Robertson is free to leave St. Louis for Chicago (a suggestion that CSO management denies). Yet the article goes on to report that some CSO musicians are unimpressed with Robertson's kinetic conducting style and what they see as a lack of interpretive depth: "Why should we have to play with direction from a middling talent," one unnamed orchestra musician asks, "when we could attract the best?"

Finally, von Rhein gives, in what seems to be rough order of likelihood (as matters currently stand), his own personal, annotated short list of candidates for the Chicago Symphony music directorship: David Robertson, Riccardo Muti, Riccardo Chailly, Simon Rattle and Mariss Jansons.

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