Chicago Symphony: The exodus accelerates

Chicago Symphony: The exodus accelerates


norman lebrecht

August 28, 2014

A third senior executive has quit Chicago in what is starting to look like mass flight.

First, Deborah Rutter resigned as president to take over the Kennedy Center.

Then Martha S. Gilmer quit as artistic v-p to go off and run San Diego Symphony.

Now, the CSO’s #3, artistic administrator Nick Winter has announced he’s heading off to the San Francisco Symphony.

Andrew Patner, reporting the latest move, says there’s no sign of progress in landing a new president. We have a list of almost a dozen candidates who refused to be considered for the vacancy. Could it be a collective dread of Chicago winters?




  • Andrew Patner says:

    Thanks, Norman! I can’t speak to prospective or won’t-be prospective candidates for the top job here, but I would note that each person mentioned is leaving for a greater/broader position: Deborah goes to head one of the largest U.S. performing arts centers and a national memorial in our nation’s capital, not to head another orchestra. Martha, after 35 years (!) at the CSO in artistic, goes to run overall an orchestra of her own, and Nick was recruited to a step up as the equivalent of artistic v.p. by San Francisco.

    As for Chicago winters, I can add very little, especially regarding those of the past few years. Oy!


    • norman lebrecht says:

      The jobs in SanFran and San Diego come with free, year-round Vitamin D.

      • Roderick Branch says:

        The average temperature in Chicago in February is -1 degree Celsius. In London, it’s 5 degrees Celsius.

        I wouldn’t ascribe these persons’ decisions to accept promotions made possible by training and experience gained in less senior roles at the CSO to the weather.

        This blog generally provides useful information, but the misleading, click-baiting headlines are a real drawback.

        • MWnyc says:

          Roderick, the average February temperature in Chicago may only be 6 degrees lower than in London, but that’s an average. The morning low temps in Chicago get much colder than in London, and there’s a lot more snow. Not to mention the Chicago winter’s strong winds and constant cloud cover because of Lake Michigan.

          I’d much rather spend a winter in London than Chicago. (Sorry, Andrew! I promise it’s only about the weather!)

          • Roderick Branch says:

            Respectfully, MWNYC, I think you missed the point.

            It also doesn’t sound like you’re very familiar with winter in Chicago. “Not to mention the Chicago winter’s strong winds and constant cloud cover because of Lake Michigan”? Chicago sits on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. Winter winds and weather systems tend to approach Chicago from the west, not from the lake. And, more rarely, when there are easterly or northeasterly winds that pass over the lake before reaching the city in winter, they are warmed by the relatively higher temperature of the lake compared to the air, which means that the lake has a moderating effect on the city’s winter temperature, not the opposite.

            In any case, having lived in all three cities, I can attest that Chicago has harsh winters, as do New York and Boston. London is milder, as is Paris, where I’ve also lived, but neither is a tropical paradise. These excellent and talented individuals were all offered important promotions by other institutions in their fields. That’s (a non-sensationalistic, non-snarky) reason enough for anyone.

          • MWnyc says:

            Naaah, I didn’t miss the point. Andrew’s point – about these three individuals all making major advancements in their careers – was more than clear, and there was no point in adding to it.

            I was digressing. One of my favorite sports.

            True about Lake Michigan moderating the temperature in Chicago (it’s even colder farther inland), but the lake, with its moderating effect, is also the reason the winters are so cloudy. Go not all that far inland and it’s much sunnier. (Colder, but sunnier.)

            Seems to be a problem with all the Great Lakes cities – my sister lived in Cleveland (south shore of Lake Erie) for a number of years and I don’t know how she stood it.

          • Roderick Branch says:

            I’m afraid you may have misunderstood again. My point was not Andrew’s, but rather that clickbaiting (through headlines and statements intended to stir the pot, etc.) is a silly thing to do. Even Facebook’s coming up with algorithms to try to curb the practice.

            But again, your perception of winter in Chicago isn’t accurate. The city experiences very cold temperatures, but it gets plenty of sun, particularly when it’s most bitterly cold outside. Chicago’s average annual sunshine is 54%, about the same as New York and Boston, each at 58%. As you point out, cities such as Cleveland (and Buffalo, Rochester and Seattle) get much less sun–in the 40s–because they lie east of large bodies of water at northern latitudes on a continent where weather patterns move from west to east. Chicago is west of Lake Michigan.

          • MWnyc says:

            Oh, clickbaiting

            Sure, it can seem like a silly thing to do. But most websites live and die by traffic, and clickbaiting works. To an extent, it’s part of a website editor’s job.

            I take it for granted unless it’s very egregious, and this post isn’t particularly egregious at all. Especially not for a site like Slipped Disc, whose readership comes here for a day-by-day play-by-play.

      • shenyeh says:

        Norman, are you making fun of our drought in CA? The sunscreen will cost far more than the free Vitamin D for them.

      • MWnyc says:

        Year-round Vitamin D? In San Diego, yes.

        San Francisco, not so much. They’re not kidding about the fog, and that’s only romantic if it’s right there surrounding you. When it’s a couple hundred feet above your head, it’s just depressing.

        Also, San Francisco’s different neighborhoods have wildly diverging microclimates. Seriously, London gets more sunshine than San Francisco’s Sunset District or Daly City.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          I really like the foggy weather stuff in SF and the Bay Area. Depending on where you are and what time of the year, it can be very melancholic, but in a good way, and very atmospheric. Especially when you are in some of the more rural areas, like Marin Country, it’s almost as if you are in a fairy tale landscape.

          As for Chicago, I have been there multiple times during different times of the year, and it can really get cold there, cold and windy, so cold that you feel like the marrow freezes in your bones. It is one of the more interesting cities in the US, but it really is too cold overall!

          • Roderick Branch says:

            Yes, it’s why no one lives there. Or in New York or Boston.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            I live in Boston even though I really don’t like the weather here either – but it’s not the primary criterion for why I am here (obviously, because if it was, I would be elsewhere).
            What I don’t quite get here is why you seem to be somehow offended by the statement that Chicago has pretty bad weather overall.

          • Roderick Branch says:

            Chicago has pretty bad winters. So do New York and Boston. The mean temperature in Chicago in December, January and February is 31, 25 and 31 degrees Fahrenheit. In Boston, it’s 35, 29 and 32. In New York, it’s 35, 30 and 32. Average snowfall in the same months in Chicago is 8.5, 10.8 and 9.2 inches. In Boston, it’s 9.0, 12.9 and 10.9. In New York, it’s 4.0, 7.8 and 8.8. (For MWNYC’s benefit, “mean” or “average” conveniently builds in the high and low outliers already, and allows an apples-to-apples comparison.)

            What I find annoying in all of this–and I do just mean annoying, rather than offensive–is the regurgitation popular misconceptions by well-read and well-traveled people who should know better. For example, from people who live in Boston or New York: “How do people live in such a climate–Chicago’s just too cold!” Or, as another example, “How do people live in such a climate–Boston is just too aloof!” It just makes one sound silly.

            Anyway, I think that’s about enough about the weather, no? I’m more interested in the names on Norman’s list and how they were obtained, more out of curiosity than anything. The comment about Andris Nelsons and Berlin, I thought, was spot-on.

  • karl says:

    1. When a principal position opens up in an orchestra, the second desk is rarely promoted from within, they always recrute from outside, and so it is with top management positions in an orchestra. When you get a chance to run your own show, you grab it.

    2. Chicago took 5 years to land a Muti who turned down NY. Chicago knows what it deserves and waits for it.

    3. “We have a list of almost a dozen candidates who refused to be considered for the vacancy.” Sort of like Andris Nelsons preemptively saying he’d not be interested in Berlin in 2019. Funny no one offered him the job yet.

    • Rgiarola says:


      I don’t want to defend Nelsons, but he was just answering a question of a German reporter about it. It is like asking Brendan Rodgers if he is intending to be the England coach for 2018 world cup. Perhaps he isn’t even think about something like it, but we will answer something.

  • Milka says:

    They got Muti alright ! to bad Chicago
    couldn’t wait just a bit longer………