The unfulfilled ambition of Chicago’s Dale Clevenger

The unfulfilled ambition of Chicago’s Dale Clevenger


norman lebrecht

January 30, 2022

The principal horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra dreamed of becoming, in his description, ‘a respected (and permanent) conductor of a major orchestra anywhere in the world.’

It never happened for Clevenger, but not for want of trying. Clevenger died three weeks ago in Italy, aged 81.

The Chicago clinical psychologist Dr Gerald Stein describes Cleveger as ‘a man of no small ego’ and recalls one of his reach-outs:

While still pursuing that goal, Clevenger consulted the legendary maestro Carlo Maria Giulini (1914 – 2005). In June 2013, Clevenger told me about their final meeting, two years before Giulini died.

I called one of his sons to arrange an interview with him (at his home in Italy) — to chat with him, talk about old times, and so forth. He was stately, elegant, classy.

We talked about my being a conductor, and he said, ‘Dale, every night after the concert (as part of the orchestra), you can go home to your house, sit down at your table, drink tea, rest, talk to your wife and go to sleep.

‘I go to a hotel room.

Read the full article here.


  • Caleb Y. says:

    In my last year studying at Indiana, Dale came barging into a brass sectional I was conducting on Shosti 9… I was working on the low brass on the third movement. Dale sat in the back of the room for about 2 minutes before standing up and shouting “can I show you how Barenboim does this?” with a smile on his face. Naturally, I let him conduct… like I had a choice. Needless to say, it was pretty impressive conducting. Much better than mine at the time! I’m not surprised to read he wanted to be a conductor.

    • SEATAC says:

      Are you sure it was Shosti 9/Barenboim? Barenboim never conducted Shostakovich. Maybe Dale was referring to Solti or you were conducting something else?

      • Stuart says:

        2001 – 1st violin concerto – also conducted it in 2013 in Germany. Agree he never conducted any of the symphonies. The Indiana story seems unlikely to have a Barenboim connection.

        • Caleb Y says:

          He might have said Solti… most of grad school was a blur! He could’ve just been talking about a general style, as well. Haha. His son was playing principal horn. Maybe I should ask him. Sorry!

  • CSOA Insider says:

    Things in the time of Giulini were different.

    These days, the organization has arranged the company to make the Music Director’s hours short.

  • MacroV says:

    It’s no secret he was a very capable conductor, and conducted “members of” the CSO occasionally, though never the CSO proper. Years ago I read him saying he made known his desire to conduct the CSO and Solti said no. Though plenty of years post-Solti when it could have happened.

    Principal trombone Jay Friedman is also a conductor (others in the CSO, too, I imagine).

  • John Kelly says:

    Every orchestra player has a baton in their instrument case………………like every Senator thinks they can be a better President than the current one…………

  • dalet says:

    He should’ve consulted with Muti, who would’ve told him:

    “No problem, I fly in for a couple of weeks, I choose a program I’ve been conducting for 50 years, I fly home to Italy for the rest of the season, then I take the summer off to go to Salzburg, then I collect $2 million from Chicago. Suckas.”

    • Chicagorat says:

      “In between, I pocket Euro1M of Italy’s COVID rescue fund for my Cherubini sweatshop (to be clear, the musicians won’t see a Euro), courtesy of the German taxpayers who are dumb enough to subsidize me and my great country”.

      Very close. But what the Italian Stallion would really do is to praise Clevenger conductor’s skills during the conversation; only to deride him with his inner circle the moment Clevenger leaves the room. After all, this is what he does with the other great aspiring Karajan from the brass section.

      • steve says:

        Wow, what an extremely ludicrous (or shall I say LIBELOUS) statement! The young and extraordinarily talented musicians of the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini are, in fact, paid stipends for being part of this training orchestra, and many of them go on to win prestigious positions in orchestras across the world. No surprise there, since they’re being mentored by one of the world’s greatest conductors. And I guess you’d be surprised to hear that all he does is commend his Chicago musicians to his “inner circle”. So, why don’t you just f off 🙂

        • Burnham says:

          How much is the pay of the Cherubini musicians and do they share in the royalties coming from Riccardo Muti Music recordings?

          Who won prestigious positions and where?

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    There are many reasons NOT to have a member of the orchestra conduct the orchestra in place of the music director. It changes the culture of the orchestra in a big way.

    If these first desk instrumentalists are really worth their salt in the conducting profession, they should venture forth on their own and make their way against all the qualified candidates in a much bigger pond.

    There is no question that they may be qualified. Silverstein did it. Schwarz did it. Jaap did it.

    It takes courage and conviction and it means leaving one’s first chair position which has a certain amount of security.

  • MacroV says:

    Related to this, one the Berlin Philharmonic films has a segment showing (now) recently retired concertmaster Daniel Starabwa, playing with his quartet, and commenting about how Gidon Kremer had warned him away from the soloist life, about the loneliness of life on the road, hotels, etc., – the implication being he was happy to have the Philharmonic and his quartet instead.

  • Nathaniel Rosen says:

    Dale was a wonderful man and a good friend. He and I sat with Georgia O’Keefe over lunch at her home as she told us her musical tastes: Mendelssohn yes and Mozart no. I am sure that Dale was an excellent conductor, but when we played together he never told me what to do.