Breaking: Chicago flute flies off to Berlin

Breaking: Chicago flute flies off to Berlin


norman lebrecht

October 01, 2014

After months of cogitation Mathieu Dufour, Principal Flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has submitted his regination, effective November 4, 2014, in order to join the Berlin Philharmonic in the same position in the new year. We hope he’s made the right choice.

Press release follows.  UPDATE: Why would he do that?


CHICAGO—Mathieu Dufour, Principal Flute, the Erika and Dietrich M. Gross Chair, of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has resigned his position with the CSO, effective November 4, 2014, in order to accept the position of Principal Flute at the Berlin Philharmonic. His tenure there begins in 2015.  

Dufour began his tenure with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as principal flute in 1999, appointed by then-music director Daniel Barenboim. Since then, Dufour has appeared numerous times as soloist, most recently in March 2014, giving the world premiere performances of Guillaume Connesson’s Flute Concerto, which was commissioned by the CSO.

Vanessa Moss, Vice President for Orchestra and Building Operations of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, said, “In the 15 years he has been with the CSO, Mathieu Dufour has made an extraordinary contribution to the artistry and musicianship of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. We wish him a long and successful career with the Berlin Philharmonic.”


  • Sad to see him leave. CSO’s loss is Berlin’s gain.

    • Frank says:

      Not a chance. CSO principal openings can remain unfilled for long periods of time until the right player is found. Except during the Barenboim years when emphasis on other criteria was stressed, such as boasting an international personnel roster, over the musical fit of a given player in the orchestra’s overall sound.

  • The Incredible Flutist says:

    So let’s speculate on who Chicago has found to take his place. I think this is why he’s taking off earlier than planned. This is far-fetched, but is it possible that Chicago might call on the now-famous “Butterfly Girl”, Yukie Ota?

    She’s a Dufour pupil, she’s Chicago-based & her Nielsen Competition video with the butterfly has now hit well over 2 million views. Could Madame Butterfly be the one?

    • NunoIC says:

      I hear the flutist has already accepted, but the butterfly is undecided.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Orchestras do not “call on” musicians to fill vacant seats, other than as temporary guests. There will be an audition for Mr Dufour’s position.

      • The Incredible Flutist says:

        @ Michael: They need someone, or perhaps more than one person to fill the job until the audition can be held. Yes, temporary guests. THAT is exactly why they call on someone.

        Also to Michael, it was announced that Mr. Blau would play one more seaon before retiring to cover in Berlin until Mathieu Dufour arrived.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Very possible that they will invite Ms Ota to try out for the job and/or help out until they find a permanent replacement – which could of course be her if she wins that audition, who knows.
          But that’s not what you said: “…let’s speculate on who Chicago has found to take his place…”. To take his place is what you said, not to fill in. You also said “who Chicago has found” as if they could just have found someone overnight.

    • Herrera says:

      No, Chicago will just raid the Met, again, and take their entire wind section. The principal clarinet and oboe are already from the Met. Now they just need to convince their flute and oboe colleagues to join them. Plus, the Met musicians just settled for a reduced salary and Muti prefers opera musicians.

      • Herrera says:

        “flute and oboe colleagues to join them”

        meant to say “flute and BASSOON colleagues to join them” as Chicago’s principal bassoon just retired as well

  • Emil Archambault says:

    Who’s leaving Berlin? Why is there an opening?

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Andreas Blau is retiring from his position as co-principal flute. He has been in this position since 1969.

      • Shalom Rackovsky says:

        And, one might add, still plays magnificently.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Yes, but since he is an employee of the state, he has to go into retirement at the age of 65.

          • Caleb Young says:

            I heard a life changing performance of Mahler 10 with BPO with Andreas Blau. Never before had I heard such conviction through an instrument. Truly an artistic to be missed.

          • Shalom Rackovsky says:

            I seem to remember reading somewhere that the retirement age in Germany was being raised to 67. Is this indeed true? If so, when will it take effect?

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            That was introduced in 2012, but it will be implemented only in small steps. So people who turn 65 this year have to work until they are 65 plus a few months, people who turn 65 a month or so longer, and so on. I think the plan is to raise the retirement age step by step until 67 is reached in the late 2020s.
            Not sure how that applies to public positions though, it’s probably the same and it probably is still the same for the Berliner Philharmoniker, too, although the orchestra was reformed at the beginning of the last decade, from where the musicians were essentially employees of the senate of Berlin where now it is a foundation run by the senate, but I don’t know what all the fine legal detail and differences are.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            …or not exactly *run* by the senate, but subsidized by it and mostly self-governed. But in this context, none of that makes a big difference.

  • jack says:

    Hmm, I guess CSO is not willing to pay the ransom!

    • Herrera says:

      Remember when Dufour left for LAPhil for one season, Chicago must have paid a ransom back then to get him back. I think Chicago got tired of paying his ransom.

      There’s no doubt Dufour is taking a HUGE pay cut going to Berlin, where musicians are paid a lock-step state salary, whereas in the States, it’s an open competitve market where top players negotiate their way for everything, from top salary to concerto performances.

      Flutists apparently are worth their weight in gold: Dufour had an Opening Night performance a few seasons back, and Cleveland featured a newly commissioned flute concerto for its principal flute during its last European tour including a residency in Vienna. And you thought the concertmaster got paid well!

  • Nicholas Reaburn says:

    Does anyone have any idea why the principal horn position at the BPO has remained vacant for years? Poor Stephan Dohr has held the position by himself for, I think, at least 4 years.

    • Shalom Rackovsky says:

      The Berlin Phil is famous for not filling a position until they find someone they like- and that means someone the entire orchestra likes. They have gone as long as 8 years before hiring a new member. Martin Owen filled the principal horn position on a temporary basis for one season, but apparently something didn’t click. Does anyone know what happened?

  • David Pickett says:

    I believe that it is illegal (age discrimination) in the USA to make someone retire on account of age. Why not in Europe, and why doesn’t Herr Blau move to Chicago?

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      I don’t know what the exact legal parameters are and I think in private companies you don’t have to retire and take your pension at 65 (or, eventually 67), you can work until you drop dead, if you like, but in public positions, I think you have to retire at 65 because you are part of the state pension system. Believe it or not, most people actually see that as a privilege, being able to retire with a nice pension and full benefits! Besides, those rules were not made specifically for musicians, but for “regular” state employees, from policeman and town clerks to professors and judges. These are not supposed to hang on until they fall from their chairs, they are supposed to retire at a given age and let the next generation come in.

      In any case, that doesn’t mean that Herr Blau is now condemned to sit at home. He can draw his full pension and still be very active teaching, playing, guesting with orchestras (including the BP) for as long as he wants to.

      As for moving to Chicago, that’s a pretty bizarre idea. Why would he want to move to that dreary city rather than enjoy his retirement and do all of the above things as he pleases?

      • NYMike says:

        American orchestras do not appoint principal players past their late 30s, early 40s because they want to get maximum use out of the players before pensioning them off.
        The Philadelphia Orchestra once had a mandatory 65 retirement rule that was soon scrapped. Famed principal flute Kincaid and principal oboe Tabuteau (acknowledged founders of American woodwind playing) retired at 65, dying within one or two years post-retirement.

  • Finkie says:

    Honestly, the preceding posts sound like school girls telling stories on the playground. Facts are important. Mr. Dufour abruptly left L.A. because he needed shoulder surgery and wanted to have the procedure done in Chicago and recover there as well. As for his new post in Berlin, he will share principal chair with Pahud. They are friends.