Breaking: Chicago Symphony president quits, heads for Washington, D. C.

Breaking: Chicago Symphony president quits, heads for Washington, D. C.


norman lebrecht

December 10, 2013

Deborah Rutter, turnaround chief of the CSO, is off to Washington to save the ailing  John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, replacing Michael Kaiser as president.

Rutter signed Riccardo Muti for Chicago and started its revival. Kaiser has been coasting for a while, devoting his energies to telling the rest of the industry how to improve its performance. The Kennedy Center has a divided orchestra with a contentious music director (Kaiser’s call) and an opera company that has left little mark on the national consciousness in recent years. Can Rutter do better? Let’s see.

We wish her all good fortune.

deborah rutter2

press release:

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—David M. Rubenstein, Chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, today announced the selection of Deborah F. Rutter as the next Kennedy Center president. Ms. Rutter currently serves as the President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and will assume her Kennedy Center duties on September 1, 2014. She will serve as the Kennedy Center’s third president, following Michael M. Kaiser who will step down from the position on August 31, 2014.

“The Kennedy Center is fortunate to have found in Deborah an individual with an undeniable passion for and knowledge of the performing arts; a long, well-respected track record of managing and enhancing performing arts organizations; and a commitment to making the performing arts accessible and appealing to people of all ages and backgrounds,” stated Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein. “I applaud Michael Kaiser for his 13 years of leadership and look forward to watching Deborah bring her unique experiences and interests to this position.”

Ms. Rutter stated, “It is a true privilege to be asked to lead this unparalleled institution. The Kennedy Center represents the very best of American culture of all forms, and I am honored at the prospect of building on the great work of my predecessor, Michael Kaiser. I thank the search committee and especially its co-chairs David Rubenstein and Tony Welters, for their commitment and the significant dialogue we had in the course of the last few months. I am incredibly excited about the future of this institution and the opportunity to work with its great artists and leaders: Christoph Eschenbach, Suzanne Farrell, Jason Moran, Francesca Zambello, as well as the Kennedy Center’s many talented staff, volunteers, and supporters.”


  • Thespian on the Potomac says:

    This could be a very good move for the Kennedy Center. The country’s major, and only national, music center needs new blood on all levels. Certainly Ms. Rutter will want to look at the NSO and urgently replace its problematic music director Christoph Eschenbach, who seems to be coming off the rails, yet again, unable to convince with his peculiar and downright weird personality and music making, both in Washington and abroad. I live in Maryland and am a frequent attendee of many Kennedy Center events, being in theater myself. The potential of the Kennedy Center is enormous, but I feel that it is only being partially used. If Ms. Rutter will be able to bring in top artistic leaders, not only for the NSO, but also for the National Opera, the Theatre and the ballet, that would make a huge contribution. As it is now, there is certainly a feeling that we are a bit “provincial”, if I may say, not having great artistic leadership, especially at the NSO with the very mediocre Eschenbach and without Domingo at the Opera, after his wonderful fifteen years at the helm.

    Yes, Ms. Rutter can make a difference and all the possibilities are there, if she makes the right moves. The future of the Kennedy Center may be bright after all.

  • David Boxwell says:

    Job One: ease Eschy out.

  • MacroV says:

    Not sure this is an improvement over running arguably the greatest orchestra in the world, and I’d certainly prefer life in Chicago to DC, but I can see she might be up for another challenge after ten years at the CSO. She did a lot to put the Seattle Symphony on a solid footing before she left for the CSO, and hopefully she can have a similar impact on the Kennedy Center, whose performing groups are, IMHO, a bit ho-hum.

  • Member in the NSO says:

    It has been proven Christoph Eschenbach has more minuses than pluses to be an effective Music Director for our orchestra for the long run (his way of making music would be fine with us if he were to come here for 1 week per season as a guest conductor). With Mrs. Rutter on board she will have her main priority, together with Rita Shapiro, to choose a better leader for the NSO beyond 2015.

  • Robert Levin says:

    I am thrilled for Deborah Rutter, but what a huge loss for Chicago. It is only because of her that Muti is here, and our great orchestra has never sounded better!

  • Don Ciccio says:

    I see that one thing that Eschenbach is getting criticized for is that he puts musicians outside their comfort zone. For me, this is a plus.

    And let’s not forget that usually the voices of those who dislike something are the stronger ones. If you like something, why bother?

  • Daniel Farber says:

    I wish her all the luck in the world but the DC area is very provincial and has never valued the performing arts. Having lived all my adult life in Boston and NYC until 18 months ago when my wife’s work took me to DC, it was plain as day the first time I walked into the Kennedy Center with its entirely bloated social areas in which you could land a good-sized plane and a concert hall with acoustics that make Avery Fisher seem like the Musikverein. (Of course a better hall would be wasted on the second-tier NSO and its current music director.) If Ms. Rutter can turn things around, she should receive a Nobel Prize or a Genius Grant.

  • Alvarus says:

    This is an inspired choice on all levels. She makes terrific artistic decisions, is great at raising money and is unparalleled at leading an institution. I expect nothing but the best in the coming decade.

  • ML says:

    Big loss for us Chicagoans. I am also grateful for her bringing in Haitink as a fantastic caretaker and keeping Boulez on board.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    Tye most pressing Kennedy Center problem is IMO Zambello at the opera which so far was an unmitigated disaster. But Zambello has friends in high places and Midgette seems to give her the benefit of the doubt.

    The one good thing now about Washington Opera leadership is Philippe Auguin, the music director.