Exclusive: Principal flute quits the Berlin Philharmonic

Exclusive: Principal flute quits the Berlin Philharmonic

News

norman lebrecht

December 31, 2021

The Berliner Philharmoniker has advertised an immediate vacancy for principal flute.

We have been informed that Mathieu Dufour has left the orchestra ‘at his own request for personal reasons.’

Dufour, 48, was appointed principal flute of the Chicago Symphony by Daniel Barenboim in 1999. After a brief spell with Gustavo Dudamel in the LA Phil he returned to Chicago until 2015 when he won the Berlin audition to succeed Andreas Blau, sharing principal duties with Emmanuel Pahud.

It is highly unusual for a principal player to leave the Berlin Phil in mid-career. Colleagues say that Dufour’s ‘personal reasons’ involve a degree of dissatisfaction with some aspects of the orchestra’s Covid precautions.

Auditions for a replacement are scheduled for the last week in May.

 

Comments

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Having held principal positions with three world-class orchestras, he should have no problem finding work. He’s a wonderful player.

    The beauty of the BP system, with co-principals who can both play at the top standard, is that it allows for a solo career on the side while having the job security of a government subsidized orchestra.

    My guess is there are some issues with having to share the position with Pahud along with any necessary Covid protocols that include vaccination, worries by last desk string players who believe that flutes project spray in their direction, and the general unhappiness that tends to afflict most orchestra players around Year 8 when they realize they are just pawns on the chessboard of the Maestro.

    • Amos says:

      Sorry but you have no idea why he left. He accepted the position knowing he would be co-principal but now suddenly you “guess” he doesn’t care for the arrangement? The year or so that Emannuel Pahud spent with the BSO was a weekly demonstration of superb playing and artistry.

      • Malcolm James says:

        In the BPO and other major European orchestras the two principals are joint principals and have equal status. They do half the work each and divide it up between themselves by mutual agreement, since there is enough glamorous stuff to keep both of them happy.

      • Amos says:

        Apologies I was thinking of Jacques Zoon, not EP. At the risk of belaboring the point in the course of 7 years, a young Principal player goes from Chicago to LA back to Chicago to Berlin and leaves. Without knowing the person it is absurd to speculate why.

    • Christine Clover says:

      Dear Sir David,

      Wondering about this, but when I think about it most of the principals in the BP share their position with at least another one. Perhaps it’s a matter of Covid fatigue as well…I did always enjoy his playing, though, and he always seemed to be a true pillar of the orchestra…

    • Bratsche Brat says:

      Year 8? Hahaha, subtract by 7 my friend.

    • Not a violist says:

      Wow, you know your stuff! You sir have got this spot on. There is a realisation which occurs in most tenured orchestral players. Some ignore it some attempt to out wit it and others quit. Had we been given a short glimpse of the future I believe many would quit.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    Principal flute with Chicago aged 26. Why does someone with such outstanding talent at such a young age choose an orchestral, rather than a solo, career?

    I first wondered this when I read the autobiography of John Georgiadis, who led the LSO at the same age.

    • True North says:

      How many woodwind or brass players can you think of who have made successful careers as soloists on the concerto circuit? For a number of reasons, string players and pianists have vastly more options in this area.

    • CA says:

      Reliable paycheck and benefits that could be one reason why. Tenure!

    • MacroV says:

      Because there aren’t a whole lot of compelling solo flute works to make a career. After the two Mozarts, Nielsen, Ibert, and (my favorite) Rodrigo (which doesn’t get played much, though), it’s pretty slim pickings. A lot more satisfying musically for most to play in a great orchestra.

      • The View from America says:

        How about the Khachaturian, Jolivet and Reinecke flute concerti, Busoni Divertimento, Chaminade Concertino, Griffes Poem, the list goes on …

      • Peter X says:

        “Pretty slim pickings” . I don’t think so.
        There’s a wealth of flute concertos from the baroque era till today. From Vivaldi to Pierre Boulez, from Karl Reinecke and Peter Benoit to André Jolivet, Blavet, Leclair, Kalevi Aho, Malcolm Arnold, Leonard Bernstein, Elliot Carter, Penderecki, Walter Piston, Rautavaara, Jean Francaix, Harald Genzmer, Mieczysław Weinberg, Arthur Meulemans, Christopher Rouse, Jean Rivier, Joan Tower, Isang Yun, Guillaume Connesson … etc., etc.
        There must be many more in France, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Brazil, Chile, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands…
        Nobody seems to care.
        Nielsen’s concerto is quite impressive and original, Iberts and Rodrigos concertos are merely gentle & easy.

        • MacroV says:

          You’re not going to find many orchestras beating down any flutist’s door to program most of those, fine as some may be.

    • gimel says:

      You’re guaranteed a steady income.
      You’re guaranteed tenure.
      You’re guaranteed health insurance.
      You’re guaranteed retirement.

      Successful wind soloists are exceptionally rare. Orchestras prefer to play wind concertos, if at all, using their own principal players…already paid for!

      Only the very top pianists, violinists, and cellists can really sustain a solo career for life.

      • A Dolfadam says:

        That’s only because of ignorance and discrimination by people who program concert series and audiences who don’t support anything other than a string quartet, or piano-based concert. For a while, in the blooming 1970s and 80s, there were a lot mixed ensembles, flute and harp duos, trios and the like, touring annually, especially through Community Concerts. Then string quartets hijacked the entire scene.

    • Chuck says:

      Why? Adolph “Bud” Herseth, principal trumpet with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 53 years, had his reasons. The link is to a radio interview of him in 1997 while on tour with the CSO in Australia. He talks about this in the course of the interview.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YgeXE38eC4

    • BRUCEB says:

      Temperament, perhaps.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Name one flute soloist who was paid to come solo in your town, other than Pahud or Galway (Rampal is gone).

      • Micaela Bonetti says:

        Severino Gazzelloni (already gone I know).

      • A Dolfadam says:

        Carol Wincenc, Paula Robison, and formerly, Ransom Wilson, Robert Stallman, to name just four outstanding American flutists.

        • MacroV says:

          All fine flutists, none a household name outside their own household. I recall reading an interview with Ransom Wilson 30 years or more ago explaining why he turned to conducting – and it was to the effect that after Mozart you get to Quantz or such and it’s just not good music.

          The biggest star among solo flutists these days (and for the past 30 years) is Manny Pahud, moonlighting from his Berlin Phil job.

          • Tobias says:

            Honestly, Dufour does some things better than Pahud. Even Pahud knows this. Dufour is able a special type of “Ha” articulation (hard to describe) that allows the sound to ring and unfold in a way that I’ve simply never heard before. And they BOTH know that Denis Bouriakov has a technique that no living flutist, that we are currently aware of, can touch (although he isn’t exactly the most interesting artist around).

        • Ben says:

          Robert Stallman was able to play a few nice phrases. But none of these people could come even close to Rampal, Pahud, or Dufour. Wincenc shouldn’t even have a career. Did you ever wonder what a vacuum cleaner (assuming that it is waterproof) would sound like if you dropped it in a swimming pool while running? Well you don’t have to because we have Carol Wincenc.

    • Anon says:

      Who are some modern flute soloists with successful careers?
      Nearly every orchestra engages their own principal flute to play concerti and solo pieces. Almost never is an outside flute soloist engaged for anything.

      • SunnyEd says:

        What’s overlooked is that there are so few wind jobs available and the talent pool so deep that the orchestral wind players are the cream of the top. The BP violin section alone has more players than the entire flute sections in the top 9 or 10 orchestras.

      • Chas Brett says:

        This is very true

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Because there ain’t enough good flute concertos in the repertoire. Duhh.

      Mozart No. 2 was originally for oboe and “suffers” as an arrangement both tessitura and range. So that leaves Mozart No. 1, along with Ibert (double winds and some brass in the orchestra) and Rouse (larger orchestral forces) in modern times.

      James Galway still casts a long shadow in terms of audience reception of flute concertos. Many not ready yet for next round.

    • Paul Dawson says:

      Galway and Nielsen mentioned in different comments. I saw him give a splendid performance of the Nielsen, but instead of allowing the audience to digest this splendid performance of a wonderful concerto over the interval, he came back on stage and destroyed the digestive process by playing an Irish jig as an encore. I’ve avoided his performances ever since.

  • Herb says:

    What a pattern. A few years back there was another principle flute who also walked away from the Berlin Philharmonic. He was quite independent in his thinking and even wore Def Leppard T-shirts to rehearsals. There was also the principle flute incident in Baltimore last year.

    • Adrian Brett says:

      Is a principle flute one who has principles beyond his role as a principal section leader???

    • Ozzie says:

      Who was that “other principal flute” at the BPO who walked away? Pahud has been in the orchestra since the early Abbado years (with a little break) and the principal flute Dufour replaced was Andreas Blau who joined at the age of 18 and stayed there until retirement.

      If Dufour wasn’t happy about the Covid regulations, I guess we can assume he was among the 4 percent of members of the BPO not vaccinated. Say what you will about their rules but they haven’t had a positive Covid test among their members and were one of the few orchestras who played through all this time, even if it was just for streaming.

      • Dennette McDermott says:

        Very good points. These are times which are un charted and we can not understand the situation of another.

    • Bill says:

      What’s a principle flute?

    • Paul Carlile says:

      Obviously, both highly principled players…

    • NYMike says:

      Principal

    • Mystic Chord says:

      I have great respect for anyone wearing Def Leppard t-shirts to rehearsal.

      On a potentially more threatening note I had never considered the dangers of being too close to a flautist in full flow and am not sure that I would volunteer for the position. I would be most interested to see some lab tests of whether flutes are indeed viral projectile launchers and what their range might be, but I suspect those qualified to run such a test might have better things to do.

      Not difficult to erect some kind of acrylic or perspex barrier between flautist and neighbour though, but not much of an issue if the flautist has all the necessary jabs and daily testing as would be prudent.

    • BRUCEB says:

      We are mostly crazy, to some extent.

    • Nydo says:

      That principal player that walked away from Berlin was Pahud, who returned the next year, and in the year that he took off, his chair was filled quite well by Jacques Zoon.

    • Bernard says:

      Are you talking about James Galway?

    • Liam Allan-Dalgleish says:

      It must be a matter of principal.

    • RM says:

      That crazy lady in Baltimore has nothing in common with these players, except for playing the same instrument. That’s not a pattern.

    • Malcolm James says:

      James Galway walked away from the Berlin Phil in the mid 1970s., but I don’t suppose he wore Def Leppard T-shirts. As for the Baltimore SO flute, didn’t she get sacked, rather than leaving of her own accord?

      • Gerry McDonald says:

        I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Galway wore DL teeshirts. He wasn’t quite the flute’s answer to Nigel Kennedy in those days but not far from it!

    • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

      My guess is that it was not a good idea for the fellow to wear the T-shirt when Raymond Leppard was conducting.

  • Schnitzel says:

    I’ve never played the flute but I just applied. Who knows, with a dash of luck.

  • MacroV says:

    COVID protocols something to quit over? Well, he knows what he’s doing. He’s an extraordinary flutist but there are a lot of great flutists out there, so they’ll eventually find a good replacement.

  • anon says:

    Dufour is an exceptionally fine player. One can’t appreciate one principal player from another until one hears an exceptional one.

    I never really understood why he left Chicago, he had gotten to a place where his contract, one infers, not only gave him the right to play a concerto every year (he was playing more concertos than the concert master!), but even to open the season with a flute concerto (unheard of!). There was a lot Berlin could offer him, but there was no way Berlin was going to offer him what Chicago offered him. (Not to mention salary: so way a European state orchestra could afford what a private American orchestra can offer in salary.)

    Best of luck to him. He really is a fine player.

    • Burnham says:

      “There was no way Berlin was going to offer him what Chicago offered him”.

      Except a far superior orchestra and the opportunity to work with the best conductors in the world and record for the top labels on a regular basis.

      Musicians tend to care about that.

      • A Dolfadam says:

        Berlin is not superior to Chicago in any way. Nor is any other European orchestra.

        • Paracelsus says:

          I suspect you have not listened to Chicago recently. Don’t think Solti Chicago, or even Barenboim. These days, they sound like a carillon in the second hald of its charge time.

          • MD says:

            I suspect you are the one who hasn’t listened to the CSO recently. Too enthralled by carillons?

    • Samurai Sam says:

      Dufour suffered a lot in his early CSO days because of the cruel old timers in the woodwind section who were simply set on having things their way. They really didn’t appreciate Dufour very much at all…proof that they were all deaf. Unfortunately, Dufour’s perfectionism is a double-edged sword. Only the mediocre do quite well in Chicago these days.

  • Mark Cogley says:

    Hardly anybody has a solo flutist career – only a handful at any given time. The repertory is not ample and all first desk flutists can handle it.

    • A Dolfadam says:

      That is so not true. In France alone, there was Rampal, Larrieu, Debost and others. Prior to that, Moyse, LeRoy, Kincaid, Baker, etc.

      • MacroV says:

        Baker and Kincaid were orchestral players and teachers primarily, with a little solo work on the side. Other than Rampal, the others were primarily teachers.

    • Marcel Mouse says:

      Adam Walker is having a shot at it having left the LSO for non-musical reasons

  • Chicagorat says:

    Let’s be serious, Chicago is no longer world-class, no matter how one looks at it. It has slipped into Tier 3. The Italian Stallion has sucked all the blood out of the orchestra which is now the despondent, mummified shadow of its former self. No wonder they have not recorded anything of significance in a long time, Muti has been scared of recording in Chicago since the beginning.

    Dufour had the foresight to see Chicago’s decadence and leave the place. Hard to imagine one can do better than BP, curious as to where he will go.

    • MacroV says:

      That’s just moronic; there are many excellent orchestras, but the CSO is still one of the greatest in the world, even if you don’t like the Muti tenure.

    • A Dolfadam says:

      He certainly did his worst to the Philadelphia Orchestra, which has never fully recovered. If you want to hear the Philadelphia Sound, you have to listen to the orchestra of the Curtis Institute of Music.

    • steve says:

      sick of your (at-best) tier 3 commentary lmao

    • Maple Leaf says:

      Let the truth be told!

    • Superiormusic in chitown says:

      I pity ignorance. You are ignorant. Take off the blinders when it comes to Muti and actually attend a concert. DO you even know where they perform???

  • Gustavo says:

    The Rise of the Young Flautist

    Soundtrack by John Williams

  • BerlinPhil Criticism says:

    Berlin! What a “modern sewer”, with the crazy people living there.
    Good for him, to get away from those goody-goody-two-shoes wimps, who live in utter conformance and don’t have any own opinions, but bow down to dogma; and push guilt on anybody who does not also loudly conform.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    What is “M, F, D, X”? Might this, in part, explain this musician’s antipathy/departure? I’ve grown increasingly tired of the BPO and its virtue signalling, having ceased my subscription to the DCH as a result. I don’t have to pay for that!!!

    • Mock Mahler says:

      Appreciate your regular virtue signaling on SD–saves me a trip to Berlin.

    • True North says:

      Not sure where you’ve been for, well, many years now, but a general statement of equality in hiring practices is standard boilerplate in job postings for any halfway reputable organization. Knowing that, I guess you’ll also now have to quit your banks, your insurers, your medical providers, your grocers, your utility services, your television and newspaper subscriptions, and probably everything else too.

    • Ozzie says:

      “M/F/D(/X)” = German legal requirement for any job advertisement a.k.a. Germany arrived in the 21st century, in difference to you apparently.

    • Ozzie says:

      By the way, I hope you never listen to any Austrian orchestra ever again either – because it’s not only the law in Germany but in Austria as well that any job advertisement must include the third gender.

    • Windriven says:

      Huh. I thought you were paying for the music.

  • Nick Kalogeresis says:

    A great player- we miss him in Chicago.

  • Nick Kalogeresis says:

    We miss him in Chicago.

  • Greg says:

    Did the colleague say if the dissatisfaction is with the Covid precautions being too strict or too lax?

  • Couperin says:

    Just take a job and stick with it. Who honestly wants to hear solo flute?

  • 5566hh says:

    ‘Dissatisfaction with Covid precautions’ – what does that mean? Are they too strict or not strict enough?

  • Mike says:

    Three different world class orchestras in 20 plus years? Sure he’s great. But maybe it’s not the situations in each orchestra but maybe it’s him. Ego? Not enough deference? Wrong field? Maybe he should focus on being a soloist and not part of an ensemble which seems to be a challenge for him.

    • Dani Bošnjak says:

      Not an ego. Nobody mentioned Covid-19’s protocol. Nobody. I do understand him very much l play in an orchestra for 32 years. There’s no ego after such a long time. But there’s character. Personality. I do think that he won’t play in an orchestra anymore. I know that the orchestra job is the best payed job but if you are that good there is a freedom also

  • Pon says:

    And I just found Albrecht Mayer’s bio missing on BPO webpage of musicians. Any news about that?

  • Liam Allan-Dalgleish says:

    I have been a professional musician my whole life and have always believe all that air did something to your brain

  • IP says:

    Is this a video still? I’d love to hear the duet. . .

  • Michel Lemieux says:

    Berlin, Chicago and LA are all better off without his diva antics.

    He may be an exceptional musician but his dissing of the LA Phil was cruel.

  • Jean Pierre says:

    No me sorprende en absoluto. Ya había abandonado Chicago y Los Ángeles.

  • Jean Pierre says:

    Not surprised at all. He had already dropped out from Chicago and LA.

  • E says:

    Nice photo! It looks as though the shepherd is singing along with him.

  • Axl says:

    This makes me sad because Dufour was an absolutely stellar star in their woodwind section. It can hear e.g. in performances of “Pelleas & Melisande” and “Symphonie Classique”.
    But I know who can might be a perfect successor for him: Ms. Silvia Careddu. Principal in Berlin Phil would be more than perfect job for her

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