The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its conductor Riccardo Muti took a blow to their pride last night when principal flute Mathieu Dufour ended a period of prolonged vacillation by announcing he was leaving next month to join the Berlin Philharmonic.
Dufour is a central attraction of the Chicago band and his decision was greeted with some bafflement. He will probably earn less in Berlin where, aside from deep public subsidies, commercial and media fees have dried up. He will need to find a new home, new friends, new fans in a foreign language. And he will be moving from an orchestra with a powerful and charismatic music director to one with an open podium and no certainty of its future direction.
Mathieu is saying nothing.
As a Frenchman, formerly at the Paris Opéra, he may feel the tug of his home continent. As a cosmopolitan, he will embrace Berlin’s dazzling diversity. And as an artist, he is ever ready to take risks.
He was, in any event, never the most settled member of the Chicago ensemble, having flitted off to Los Angeles for six months in 2009 when the CSO was between music directors. Appointed in 1999, Dufour belonged to the Barenboim era and never struck deep roots.
But his departure leaves Chicago with three big holes in the woodwinds – no principal flute from November, no principal bassoon since David McGill resigned in the summer and a big question over principal oboe Eugene Izotov who has successfully auditioned for the same post in San Francisco. Will he stay or, like Dufour, go?