Why I walked out on the Chicago Symphony

Why I walked out on the Chicago Symphony


norman lebrecht

January 31, 2017

From an entertaining memoir by Nathan Cole, associate concertmaster of the LA Philharmonic:



The following day, I moved back to my assigned seat near the back of the second violins. I began marking some fingerings in the toughest passages. Since I was sitting on the audience side, or the “outside” of the stand, my markings went above the notes. At least that’s how things had always worked…

As I put in my first set of numbers, my stand partner made a sound, a kind of groan cut short. I looked over, the point of my pencil still on the page. “Did you want my markings on the bottom instead?”

“We don’t mark fingerings here,” he said.

“Here, you mean at this spot?”

“I mean in this orchestra.” His face softened, and he added, “Sorry, you’re probably used to seeing them, right?”

I was indeed used to seeing fingerings as a matter of course. My mind was fairly blown.

“How do you play all this music then?”

My stand partner paused, as if he’d never considered the question before.

“Practice?” he suggested.

Read on here.


  • Scott Fields says:

    The headline confuses me. In the entire memoir there is no mention of why he left the CSO.

  • Emil says:

    “At that moment, I knew that as long as the Chicago Symphony was the place to hear violin playing on that level, Chicago was the place for me. ”
    Why I walked out on the CSO indeed. Seriously?

  • William Osborne says:

    Some of his observations are a fairly strong indictment of modern orchestral culture. I wonder if that was his intention.

  • Bruce says:

    It’s a wonderful piece of writing. I don’t understand what NL’s headline has to do with it.

  • Paul says:

    This headline should be “Why I tripped and fell at the Chicago Symphony” since the most shocking part of his story comes at the end:
    ” I tripped and nearly fell flat on my face (and, needless to say, the Strad). It was not a simple loss of coordination: something, or someone, had tripped me! I looked back, and there against the wall, mostly concealed in shadow, was Barenboim. His mischievous grin removed all doubt as to who had been the culprit.” !

  • Daniel F. says:

    Wish he had (or could have) named the conductors that went with the anecdotes. That aside, it’s a very good read. Is it part of a larger work–a book? Is that the reason NL gave it the headline he did? Is the culture less tension-filled in Los Angeles? Did the author leave the CSO during the Barenboim regime or during the Muti regime. Was the reason he left “personal” or “musical”? That’s all pretty vague, at least to judge from this “chapter”, assuming it’s merely that.

    • M2N2K says:

      His bio says that he joined LA Phil in 2011, so apparently at the beginning of “Muti regime” in CSO. The culture of LA Phil was well-known to his wife who played there for several years before moving to Chicago, so she must have given him some positive information about it. But the main reason he made his move was very simple: he was a section player with CSO, but in LA he immediately became “First Associate Concertmaster” which in this case really means The Second Concertmaster. That is a considerable difference, and not only of monetary kind.

  • Sue says:

    It reminds me of the teaching profession; the in-groups, the sotto voce comments, the looks, the back-biting, the insecurities when somebody does something better than others. Ugh; working within a group is fraught with danger. I couldn’t ever stand it myself.