Chicago Symphony’s next chair is major headhunter

Chicago Symphony’s next chair is major headhunter


norman lebrecht

September 17, 2021

Helen Zell is stepping down as chair of the Chicago Symphony board on November 3.

Her deputy Mary Louise Gorno will take over.

Tough job, involving a music director search as a top priority.

Gorno is well suited. As Managing Director of Ingenuity International, LLC, she leads global recruitment of CEOs, c-suite officers, and board directors.



  • Suitable for the English-speaking world. Keeping the ethos wealthy donors and elitist capitalism in the arts. A contrast to continental Europe’s publicly funded social democratic orientation.

    • Hayne says:

      Where does the money for Europe’s “publicly funded social democratic orientation” come from?

    • Laurent says:

      “Wealthy donors and elitist capitalism in the arts”

      Have you heard of a family of Italian wealthy donors and elitist bankers called the Medici?

  • mary says:

    Is she rich? That’s the sole purpose of the Chair, to make substantial donations in times of need.

    The CSO had to kiss major ass to get Muti, not to mention shelling out for his exorbitant salary, funded by the Zell family (is Gorno rich?).

    The very top conductors want one thing: a new hall.

    If Chicago can’t provide a new hall (is Gorno rich?), they’ll not get the best.

  • Chicagorat says:

    I’d very much like to believe that she will be headhunting.

    She is part of the Board wing that is under Muti’s spell. We shall see how this ultimately shakes out.

    Maybe while NY hires Mirga, Chicago will double down on Clinton-style Music directorship, with the entertainment circus that goes with it (on the CSOA dime).

    • Hayne says:

      Sorry but didn’t some of the CSO musicians go to NY to steal Muti away from the NY Phil?
      “Marry in haste. Repent in leisure.”

  • James Weiss says:

    After Helen Zell, I was half expecting Melania Trump. The CSO used to be a bastion of establishment old money. Now anyone who’s earned a few bucks doing god knows what can get on that board. Mrs Armour must be turning over in her grave.

  • GCMP says:

    She is also a very dedicated trustee of the University of Chicago.

    • John Soutter says:

      Revelence? Her father might be billionaire or cleaner of a downtown (very downtown) public convenience. Revelence is all, dear boy!

  • Kenny says:

    Oy gevalt. Headhunters led us to the unlamented “Hugh Southern” at the Met 40 years ago. Just ask Henry Fogel whom to take.

  • Richard Master says:

    Zell is leaving with the place having become a real zoo. Time to clean house, I’d say.

  • CSOA Insider says:

    Ms. Zell is well-intentioned. She is very, very generous. But her infatuation with Muti (never ceased even when repaid with disdain and insults) is costing the institution very dearly. Her legacy is the least consequential decade of CSO music-making history in the last 50+ years, with the Orchestra status much diminished on both the national and international stage.

    In addition, Ms. Zell leaves behind the poison pill of Muti’s already agreed contract renewal, now shortened in duration.

    Our unsolicited, candid advice to Ms. Gorno: what’s done is done. Now, wake up and lead the Board to establish the foundation for the CSO future; open your eyes and talk to staff and orchestra members to understand first-hand how deeply Muti’s behaviors have tarnished the organization’s reputation; proactively update the Board and the corporate sponsors on your findings; ask the Board legal counsel to work with HR to immediately institute and enforce sensible sexual harassment policies to protect the institution; do not trust Mr. Alexander to tell you what is really going on (he is just there to keep floating while the CSO’s reputation is sinking); restart the search for the next music director with renewed urgency; make it crystal clear that Muti’s sons will never again be allowed to tell a CSOA President and his staff what they can or cannot do.

    And, please, make Muti wear a mask.

    • James Weiss says:

      Mrs. Zell isn’t “generous.” Mr. Zell is. It’s his money. She’s a second wife. For those who don’t know: Zell is the Trump of Chicago. A crass, crude developer. Also, Muti came to Chicago long before the Zells were involved with the arts in Chicago. But being nouveau riche they are classic starf**kers.

    • Fabrizio di Santolo says:

      There are many different ways of understanding what “reputation” is. The CSO is regularly flooded by international critics for outstanding performances with Muti. If you are talking about what the reputation of the Orchestra is within the inner circle of musicians (that I respect a lot), this is different. The orchestra already went on strike to say what they don’t like. If you are correct, why don’t they go on strike again to complain about the Music Director? Muti is a great Conductor. His way of handling the rest, including the persons he chooses to give him recommendations or help (his sons) are not under the evaluation of an Orchestra. But if this environment is leading to major issues as it seems from other comments below, Muti should be aware of that. As to the reputation, the CSO has a far better reputation now than in the recent past with the previous Music Directors.

      • Paracelsus says:

        The servile visits and sycophantic writings of Valerio Cappelli are the only events regularly flooding the CSO this day and age. You should read less of him and pick-up serious newspapers.

        The Corriere in Italy (hardly a notable news outlet), the Tribune in Chicago, and a couple of Vienna papers who still have a fetish for his hair (as disturbing as that sounds) are the only places still writing about him.

        • Fabrizio di Santolo says:

          I don’t live in Italy and I read many newspapers, sir. The more I read these comments (on his hair! At 80!!), the more I believe that this has nothing to do with music making, but just personal issues.

      • Franco says:

        Surely you must have meant to write “An Orchestra is not under the evaluation of the persons he chooses to give him recommendations or help (his sons)”?

  • helen says:

    At least Jaap van Zweden had the grace and foresight to resign.

    I doubt Muti has either.

    Unless … the CSO signs a unanimous letter, down to the usher, of no confidence à la Scala, lol.

    • Lothario Hunter says:

      Yes yes, Muti has no grace ..but he has the gift of foresight! He knows well enough that no Chicago, no free Caribbean cruises in his future! He won’t resign!

    • Fabrizio di Santolo says:

      Well, the Orchestra can go on strike again if they are unhappy. No need to sign any letter. As to La Scala, trust me: I attended many concerts at the time of Muti and others in the recent past. The quality has much changed (not positively). We all know in Italy that the move vehicled with the “letter” was done by the Unions. Nothing to do with Music making.

      • Franco says:

        Nothing to do with music making (please don’t capitalize word initials like he does, it is sickening) and everything to do with the fact that they hated his guts while they were making music, with a passion. And they still do, almost 20 years later (!)

        Very notably, La Scala was absent and silent in the special occasion of Muti’s 80th birthday, they did not send any wish.

        At the Teatro San Carlo, they hate his guts even more, if that is possible, and they were silent in the same occasion. Silence speaks more loudly than a thousand letters.

        Legend has it that Lissner sent his special agents to treat the floors of Naple’s conservatory with a lethal mix of soap and olive oil. The day after, Muti crashed his b-day cake. :-DDD

        • Fabrizio di Santolo says:

          Dear Franco, this are legends, using your own words. Muti has many enemies. Neapolitans can be very needy and San Carlo is in the worst possible position ever. Paying a lot of money for Netrebko for just one occasion and a season that is not worth even reading the program. Shame on whoever is responsible. Muti slipped, you are right. But he stood up after few seconds stronger than before and ready at 80 to conduct the Missa Solemnis in Salzburg with the Wiener. Not the San Carlo or…the lazy Scala.

  • Chiara says:

    I wish her luck. It won’t be an easy task to find a music director.
    I’m aware that many people here appear to hate Muti, but I feel sad at the thought of his departure and will miss him.

    • Cristina says:

      Many accounts of him paint a homophobic, racist stuffed shirt.

      His interviews demonstrate a man of limited intelligence.

      His good looks have long departed him.

      What is it you will miss about him?

  • John Soutter says:

    Ms Gorno (spelling?) might be well suited because she is Managing Director of Ingenuity International, LLC,
    leads global recruitment of CEOs, c-suite officers, and other headhunters. But what about music? Tell us, Norman, do!

  • Another CSOA Insider says:

    Reading some of these thoughtless, juvenile and highly inappropriate comments I must once again set the record straight.

    The Zell/Alexander leadership of the CSOA for the past six years has served the institution, its employees, the public and the art form extremely well. There is no doubt that the benefits of their leadership, the care and dedication to supporting all aspects of the organization, will be of significant benefit for generations to come.

    I hesitate to even acknowledge such an absurd accusation, but I truly doubt Muti has taken a Caribbean cruise during his time as Music Director of the CSO. I know no conductor who could sit still long enough to take such a vacation. The accusation Alexander authorizes payment for such things is beyond absurd. He is one of the most scrupulous CEOs I have ever observed, watching over every expenditure with great care. Thankfully, he is equally obsessed with bringing in earned and contributed revenue.

    Helen Zell deserves a medal for her strong, consistent, unyielding leadership of the organization and for her generosity. Ms. Gorno is an excellent choice to succeed her. Not because of her occupation, but her many decades as a subscriber and donor, her many years on the CSOA board, and her vast leadership skills having served on numerous boards in leadership positions.

    As far as the reputation of the CSO, try to get a ticket to any of its performances on tour in Europe, Asia or the U.S. but don’t wait too long as the concerts are most often sold out.

  • Lothario Hunter says:

    Oh yes … yes dear friend! in your dutiful and valiant apologetics, you must not interpret all things so literally, lest you get befuddled. A little exegesis might come handy from time to time …

    It is Caribbean, that it is. It is a journey … a voyage … an experience shall we say. that it surely is!

    You have a fondness for Alexander … ask him. He knows, and he knows how it is financed!!