Chicago drops conductor

Chicago drops conductor


norman lebrecht

March 04, 2016

Word went out last weekend that Monday would be Cliff Colnot’s last concert as chief conductor of Chicago’s Civic Orchestra. And so it was.

He got a rare review in the Tribune, but no-one has said why he’s going after 22 years and what will become of the orchestra, except that Colnot will continue working with the ensemble until the end of the season.

The Civic is a training ensemble for the Chicago Symphony.

In Solti’s time it was exactly that. Now, outsiders seem to be winning auditions for CSO seats.

Is the Civic safe?

cliff colnot



  • Misha_K says:

    “In Solti’s time it was exactly that. Now, outsiders seem to be winning auditions for CSO seats.”

    This is nonsense from beginning to end. It’s a training orchestra, yes. But the seats in the CSO were never reserved for Civic alumni. “Outsiders” always were invited to audition and have won seats in the CSO. Also, Solti rather neglected the Civic during his tenure.

  • MacroV says:

    “Outsiders” have always won CSO seats. I imagine that sthe CSO has some Civic Orchestra alums, probably because they were studying at Northwestern or DePaul and won the audition. But it’s quite inaccurate to suggest the Civic was ever a major or dedicated pipeline to the CSO.

  • Truth Detector says:

    Good riddance. Terrible conductor and egomaniac. The End!

    • Alex says:

      Agreed. I (unfortunately) played under him for two years. He uses his knowledge of psychology to manipulate and intimidate students and colleagues alike. He shamelessly plays favourites with the players in his orchestras. Those who don’t choose to brown-nose are permanently out of his ‘in-crowd’.

      Despite his political machinations and questionable ‘axioms’ of ensemble technique, his orchestras don’t sound particularly great. Players ultimately want conductors who inspire, not terrorize.

      Colnot ought never to have been put in charge of anything – and he wouldn’t have, except that he bought his way there (a well-known fact in Chicago).

      • H. Kupper says:

        Alex, your assessment of Colnot and his methods mirrors my own experience as a session player with him back in the day; playing favorites, intimidation, showing off to the clients in the booth with endless and pointless minutiae. A deeply narcissistic personality who (in my view) used his various positions to gain greater glory and power for himself, a walking cliche of the ego maniacal conductor. His music making was as empty and clinical and uninspiring as if he had been using a protractor and graph paper. He may as well have been wearing rubber gloves given his complete lack of involvement with the emotional content of the music. The young players of the Civic and the organization are much better off without him.

    • Sam says:

      I played under Colnot as well during university. I share concerns that he was an egomaniac who belittled players rather than helping them grow. He was disrespectful and manipulative with me from the beginning. I feel he is truly a small person.

    • Civic Alum says:

      I played 2 years in this ensemble and sincerely appreciated what Maestro Colnot brought to the orchestra. While at the time I remember being somewhat frustrated with some of his rehearsal techniques, I found the very same techniques regarding intonation and ensemble extremely useful after winning my first full time orchestral position. I hope that they find a replacement capable of instilling the same fundamentals of orchestral playing into these young inexperienced student musicians.

  • Rick Lohmann says:

    If you are going to post an assertion that in Solti’s time it was “exactly that”( training orchestra for the CSO), then provide a record of such. The AF of M may have problem with that.

    There is not a single sentence in the CSO’s audition clause that provides preferential treatment for former Civic musicians.

    “Training orchestra for the CSO” was not the case in the 1990’s when Barenboim was vaguely in charge. Young musicians played in Civic to get the financial aid. Period.

    I know: it was my small bank account that was saved.

    (PS to your helper who runs the comments– LOVE Norman and loved the “Maestro Myth!” If your boss is wanting a worldwide blog, have him hire a real staff and do his homework in the western hemisphere.)