Who’s coming after Muti in Chicago?

Who’s coming after Muti in Chicago?


norman lebrecht

February 02, 2022

Larry Johnson of Chicago Classical Review has some inside track:

I believe there are five strong contenders to be the CSO’s next music director who should make any informed short list. Four of the conductors have a demonstrated record of success with the orchestra but all would not only bring excitement and artistic consistency to concerts but expand the rather straitened range of European repertoire that has come to characterize the Muti era.

Any discussion of who should succeed Riccardo Muti as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra must begin with an asterisk.  

A rumor has arisen in recent months—and grown increasingly persistent of late—that CSOA president Jeff Alexander and the CSO board have already settled on the next music director: Marin Alsop. 

Without directly addressing the specifics, Alexander released a statement Monday that appeared to refute that rumor—sort of.

“The search for the next Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is a process that is being carried out by a committee made up of members of the Board, Orchestra and Administration that, in time, will make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees.  The committee has not yet made a recommendation.”…

Read on here for other names.




  • Eeppolitoff-Eevanoff says:

    Mälkki! Mälkki!

  • Achim Mentzel says:

    Alsop, haha, good joke!

  • A soporific, uninteresting conductor. Would be a disaster. Maybe she could get Jennifer Hudson as Isolde for her gala opening night soloist? The woman makes poor choices. Hope the CSO committee doesn’t join her.

  • Axl says:

    Difficult to imagine a worthy successor. Feels that many candidates all over the world are so young and they have not convinced me – if comparing lebel by Muti, Mehta, Barenboim, Nelsons, Rattle and many other living legends. But if I have to say one name – it would be Ivan Fischer

  • Concerned Opera Buff says:

    Alsop would be the woke choice, but I am going with Riccardo Chailly, who has both symphony and opera background, Decca contracts, knows Chicago, has an impressive international profile and would be perfect after Muti. The female Board members want a male conductor they can fawn over, not a lesbian woman, who would sink the CSO’s reputation as a “matcho” orchestra. May not be politically correct, but there you have it.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Concerned Opera Buff, I’m curious, are you just imitating a buffoon, or are you really one for real?

      I guess it all comes down to whether or not your posting is your idea of performance art.

    • John Kelly says:

      Well, in spite of some of your distasteful remarks, your recommendation of Chailly is good and would do one thing for absolute certainty – it would drive Muti crazy.

      • MB says:

        Chailly would be a win for Muti too. Muti could come back in Chicago as a guest conductor, take over Chailly’s office (Chailly MD office by then); and when Chailly comes by to say hi, Muti could go “Milan” and say who the fxxx are you, get the fxxx out of here. And kick him out.

        Seriously, should be considered.

    • Whynot says:

      Chailly has conducted Chicago, like, once, but canceled twice. How exactly does he “know” Chicago?

    • Maria says:

      Yes, not politically correct, and totally unnecessary.

  • MacroV says:

    I like Alsop in Baltimore but for the CSO? No.

    Hrusa seems too young for the CSO, which generally has gone for the grand old man (ok, Barenboim was “only” 49 when he started there).

    I like EPS but I have to assume he intended to close the door to the CSO when he signed in SF.

    With the CSO of old, Sir Simon would seem to be the person – the one who probably has no interest, but will be prevailed upon to guest conduct and then say he blown away by the great musicianship and commitment of the CSO. LIke Muti.

    Or Thieleman.

  • Lothario Hunter says:

    Honeck is a done deal. And I am loath to brag, but this is my doing.

    It’s obvious that, reading our impassioned plea shared on this site a couple of months ago, Maestro Honeck rang Alexander to get the rundown on the CSO-branded Music Director “maritime special fringe benefits” (designed by Muti himself, impeccably implemented and financed by Jeff).

    I assume that Maestro Honeck could not believe his ears (which are good ones). It probably went down like this: Jeff, can this really be arranged? No problem Manfred, I am already on it. Jeff, are these Muti tropical sailing benefits really transferable to me? Of course they are, old boy, don’t you worry, I gave you my word didn’t I. If not transferred, I’ll get you better ones … Now, sport, come down to Chitown for a day-in-the-life and see all for yourself.

    Maestro Honeck: Chicago – and the CSO hidden balmy wonders – are waiting for you with open .. arms!

  • Derek H says:

    I am in the UK, but it would be good to see a United States raised conductor appointed at one of the major orchestras to make a change.

    I don’t know if it applicable in this case, but aren’t there any other USA conductors that could make a successful step up, or at least, have the potential?

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Absolutely – Alondra de la Parra!

      She was born in NYC and mostly raised in the U.S.

      She is also the world’s first truly green conductor. While leading the orchestra, her arm and body movements while conducting will equal or surpass what most wind turbines achieve. Hook her up to the right equipment and half of Chicago will be powered during her concerts.

    • Maria says:

      I am in England, and America always seems to be looking abroad, which is ridiculous as if home grown is inferior. Get a grip!

    • amazonian says:

      Maybe you’re right, but then, I’d say a true New Yorker like Alsop would hardly seem the the first choice of the powers that be of the Mighty Midwestern Metropolis.

      • Derek H says:

        Well, probably you are right, but I was making the broader observation that the U.S. produces many great musicians but doesn’t appoint so many home conductors at the top level.

  • Max Raimi says:

    This is ludicrous. The orchestra has appointed five musicians to represent them on the search committee, and the process is still in its early stages. They are not close to a decision. The next time Mr. Johnson writes anything that bears the slightest resemblance to reality will be the first time.

    • Max Raimi says:

      I am not going to cite any of the candidates Mr. Johnson proposes by name (although I must say that his disparagement of Marin Alsop is characteristically clueless and mean spirited). But I do have the advantage, unlike critics, of seeing the faces of conductors rather than their hindquarters–and have hands-on experience being led by them. And in my view (and I know for a fact not just my view), at least one of the other candidates he proposes has about as much business being Music Director of the CSO as I do competing in the Winter Olympics.

      • he says:

        WAIT a minute now, his list only has 6 names:

        Alsop, Honeck, Hrůša, Mälkki, Salonen, Rattle

        So aren’t you revealing way too much as a member of the orchestra (and perhaps the thinking of the search committee), unconsciously or not, when you say “at least one of the other candidates” is totally unqualified?

        1) “at least one OTHER candidate” implies that you already think Alsop is not qualified

        2) “at least ONE other candidate” implies that there could be two others who are also not qualified

        3) The only logical inference is that you and your colleagues think Hrůša, Mälkki are unqualified (since they are the youngest, the only ones without major appointments, and the ones with least experience leading the CSO)

        4) If it is not Hrůša, Mälkki, then it makes even less sense that Honeck, Salonen or Rattler would be unqualified to lead the CSO

        Very interesting.

    • he says:

      I know whom you guys like secretly, and who would be a perfect match musically, but whom the Board would never have the nerve to hire as MD:

      Jaap van Zweden.

    • Larry W says:

      As usual, right on, Max.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Max, I’d like to put forward for your consideration the candidacy of Alondra de la Parra. Please hear me out – it will be worth your time.

      Here are the five best reasons why Maestra de la Parra should be a candidate to be the next MD of the CSO:

      1) After three years in Queensland and an opera debut in Berlin that’s still much talked about, it’s clear the CSO is the next logical step in her career progression.

      2) Maestra de la Parra knows a number of the Beethoven symphonies and can probably learn a couple more too. But she’s committed to only performing the ones she and everyone else likes, which means the CSO won’t have to play those boring ones that most of the public really isn’t that interested in hearing, and which you and your colleagues certainly don’t want to play.

      3) Maestra de la Parra has a unique claim among all conductors: She’s a specialist in 5th symphonies. Some of her favorite 5th symphonies are from Beethoven, Mahler, Schubert, Brahms, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Segerstam, and Haydn.

      But she definitely will not perform the Mendelssohn because she is a practicing Catholic. Hopefully this will not be a black mark against her candidacy.

      4) She’s also a specialist in 200th symphonies, and her favorites are the Segerstam and Haydn.

      5) Mahler sells well, and Maestra de la Parra will conduct lots of Mahler in Chicago. She loves the music and knows she looks really good on the podium doing it.

      Please give serious consideration to including Maestra de la Parra’s name on the candidate shortlist. Thank you!

  • John Kelly says:

    The CSO is one of the GREAT orchestras of the world and anyone less than a truly outstanding conductor will fail there. Honeck is a conductor I like a lot and he is never boring (unlike so many), but this would be a stretch even for him. Hrusa is exceptionally talented and I’ve heard him with the NYPO a couple of times. Still not experienced enough. Their best years were with Reiner and Solti – any Hungarians available?

    • msc says:

      There are the two Fischers (just commenting on availability, not recommending, although, frankly, either would be good).

    • John Kelly says:

      4 thumbs down (so far). I guess they don’t like Hungarians………..

    • Chicagorat says:

      Was. It was one of the great orchestras.

      No longer. Tier 3, after the Muti cure.

      • steve says:

        Wow! What absolutely delusional thinking on display here! You’re living in an alternate reality if you think CSO is Tier 3. It’s one of the top music institutions, not just in the city of Chicago, but in the entire world.

        • Novagerio says:

          Steve, you are talking to a rat.

        • Burnham says:

          “Top music institutions in the world”, perhaps in your own mind.

          I listened to them before Covid started in New York, they had a beautiful sound and the music making was as dull and boring as it gets. I listened to BP-led Petrenko recently in Berlin, it was vastly superior to the CSO in every respect. Way way superior. I listened to Dresden, same experience.

          I suspect the few advocates of the CSO who can still be found on this blog are Chicago based or Italians. The CSO is not on people’s minds in Europe or even major US cities, nobody buys their recordings. Cleveland has a better orchestra now, as far as the US are concerned.

          • MD says:

            Burnham said “Perhaps in your own mind”, obviously believing that his opinion instead is magically instilled in everyone’s mind. It never ceases to amuse me the absolute certainty with which some people present their judgment as the final verdict. Especially when comparing different orchestras, in different halls and, one would think, playing different programs. And equating quality to number of sales. Leaving the best for last, Burnham admonishes us to pay no attention to anyone who disagrees. They obviously must belong to some categories with a vested interest in saying otherwise. Definitely not a pompous behavior at all

      • John Kelly says:

        Not based on my experience in Carnegie Hall with the CSO (and Muti). Still a Top 5, however, NOT as great as in the 1980s at least as far as the brass are concerned. Strings are much better though. Solti didn’t do them any favors.

  • Karl says:

    Jakub Hrůša is great. I’ve seen him in Ottawa and hope to see him in Boston this week if the snow doesn’t stop me. Alsop would be an odd pick. If they think need a woman Susanna Mälkki gets raves but I’ve never had the chance to see her. Maybe she and Hrůša could arm wrestle for it?

  • Mick the Knife says:

    Gatti is rehabilitated and knows what he is doing on the podium. Though, I admit that the Baltimore Symphony sounds excellent with her.

  • msc says:

    I am not as critical of Alsop as some, but she simply hasn’t proven her merit. She’s competent, but it is a big leap from Baltimore or Sao Paolo to Chicago. Malkki’s concerts, to judge from radio broadcasts, have been very good, but just because you enjoy someone’s company regularly doesn’t mean you want to live with them. Among the younger generation, Gaffigan and Afkham have both done well with the CSO lately. One name I’d like to see seriously considered is V. Jurowski — I don’t know if he’s been since 2010, but that was a great concert.

  • Anon says:

    What about Alan Gilbert? He has the experience and would be a dream for the CSO.

  • Monsoon says:

    Well that’s a seemingly random list of conductors from someone who obviously has no insider knowledge of who is actually being considered. And any credibility the author may have had was shot when they put Rattle out there who is such an insanely long shot choice given his professional and personal commitments. He might as well suggested Chailly, Dudamel, YNS, Gergiev, etc. because why the hell not?

  • Alank says:

    I attended a number of concerts conducted by Ms. Alsop when when she led the Baltimore Symphony and found her interpretations dutiful and pleasant but never rising to an exalted level. A Mahler 3 was ok but certainly not memorable. Interestingly her recordings of the Brahms and Dvorak Symphonies are really excellent. In contrast, Yuri Temirkanov brought to Baltimore fine interpretations of Shostakovich 10 and Mahler 2 which I shall cherish. Zinman was also a fine steward of the orchestra

  • NYMike says:

    Jurowski, Rattle, Chailly have all had chances to come here and have turned them down – preferring to live/work in Europe. Gilbert is settled in Europe, as well. As already opined here: Alsop is a non-starter.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    OK Dim Wits, listen up.

    > The CSO can wait until the right person comes along. They did it in the past and they can do it again.

    > Chailly would be a great choice for this orchestra. His work at Ravinia was well received back when Ravinia was more than a Pops Show.

    > It is indeed unfortunate that the qualified pool of candidates can be listed on one hand with perhaps one or two fingers missing.

    > Alsop will not get the job but she’s fine in her role at Ravinia. She’s a female version of Conlon. Get the job done, have the NYC connections, party with the BOD after concerts and talk about “Diversity and Inclusion”. Ravinia is perfect. But OH is not.

    • EagleArts says:

      Dim Wits, lol. To your first point, the landscape has dramatically changed and the “past” is no longer a guide. If you have failed to realize that, the rest of your thoughts don’t matter.

      It’s foolish to compare anyone’s work in a summer season (Ravinia, HWood Bowl etc.) to their accomplishments in the hall during the regular season. Apples and oranges. Failing to acknowledge this makes you the most dim witted of all!

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      So Chailly’s success at Ravinia proves his chops for the top job but not Alsop’s? Bit of a contradiction, there, even if the dynamic has changed over the years. Notwithstanding, I think Chailly would be fantastic for the CSO, a brilliant conductor who consistently makes a difference on the podium.

    • msc says:

      I know this is way past this conversation’s expiry date, but I just have to say that I think that’s a bit unfair to Conlon.

  • Woman Musician says:

    These are all silly speculations. Let’s just wait and see where the cookies crumble? Also, give Marin a break – being the Music Director in Baltimore was no small feat with the players involved! Hopefully continuing onwards and upwards for her. And can we stop with all of the WHITE MALES as the candidates?

  • EagleArts says:

    Simone Young.

  • Monty Earleman says:

    I understand that Tom Brady is suddenly available…..

  • Bigfoot says:

    I understand Thomas Dausgaard has some newly open space on his calendar.

  • fflambeau says:

    Honeck, if he can be pried away from Pittsburgh. He deserves it. Two other good choices: Ivan Fischer. Riccardo Chailly: big name who can do it all. I don’t think Chicago is ready for a female conductor.

    • Chilynne says:

      Alsop may not be ready for Chicago. She’s not an inspiring possibility, and that has nothing to do with her sex. Honeck on the other hand…

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      I don’t think Chicago is ready for a female conductor.

      Not even Alondra de la Parra?

  • fflambeau says:

    Sorry, but Mr. Johnson’s list make little sense. I think the biggest objection to Alsop is not her skills but the unwillingness of a Chicago audience to be led by a female.

    Honeck could be the right choice: he’s exciting and his German skills fit in. A long term contract elsewhere could work to his advantage.

    Right age too unlike
    Jakub Hrůša who is far too young and relatively unknown. He would be a good replacement for Honeck in Pittsburgh.

    EPS just started in San Francisco and it is much more his kind of town. I doubt he is interested at all in Chicago (he turned down the NY Phil job) plus his repertoire doesn’t fit in with the more Germanic/Hungarian Chicago crowd.

    Ivan Fisher and Ricardo Chailly, neither named in this strange article, would also be excellent choices. Rattle is too British. It would be a first for Chicago.

    Very odd names on a list by Johnson. My long shot: V. Gergiev. Very, very big name and lots of talent. He could sell lots of cds. Maybe he does not have the “Chicago rep”, though.

  • Mark says:

    When Muti was courted, he had very little history with the CSO. He had not conducted the CSO in 25 plus years, recently turned down the NY Phil and made statements that he was not interested in another MD position.

    At the concert at Symphony Center where he courtship started, there was no doubt he was in total command of the CSO which sounded magnificent. The interpretations of the works did not impress me much, and those impressions continued on throughout subsequent years. He actually does much better in newly commissioned works and has accomplished a lot as MD of the CSO. The MD is only in Chicago 8 or 9 weeks a year, but not including touring.

    All of this leads me to believe that whoever the CSO wants as it’s next MD, chances are good that it will happen.

    • Poor Tom says:

      absolutely incorrect.

      the MD spot was open for years before Muti because the CSO could not get anyone, though they wanted.

      Muti had two years before been fired (voted out, kicked out) by La Scala, who had enough of his bullshit and baggage. He was desperate to find another stable spot and was on sale. NY was smart not to fall for him.

      His statements means zero. How many times he said he did not want to renew in Chicago? Behind the scenes, he is moving heaven and earth to stay one more year beyond 2023.

      The CSO will get a second tier conductor as their next MD.

  • Barry says:

    I’ve been predicting Honeck would go to the CSO after Muti leaves for a few years and think he would probably be the best pick. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already.

    Of the older, big-name maestros, I suspect Chailly is more likely than Rattle, unless Muti works extra hard to block Chailly.

    I get the feeling Rattle can’t stand the U.S. at this point for political/social reasons and has no desire to spend a good deal of time here. I assumed that he would spend an increasing amount of time in Philadelphia after leaving the BPO. He had a close relationship with that orchestra for years and may have been MD there by now if not for a desire to spend his time in Europe, rather than the U.S. He’s also never had two major positions simultaneously and it just getting started in Munich. It seems unlikely he’d break with that practice and take on a second major orchestra at his age. (Fischer has also shown a repeated inclination to stick with one major position at a time.)

    Chailly has some history with the CSO, albeit from a long time ago.

  • Bill says:

    I bet Jaap van Zweden already this or the Concertgebouw locked up. The timing and his odd departure from NY seem to line up.

  • IP says:

    Good luck. I have seen her do Mahler 7 at Cologne, and all I can say is that there won’t be a second occasion.

  • Oh no, not Alsop surely,she was hopeless at Bournemouth.

  • PianistW says:

    “Not another white male”, “not a man”, “not a white”, “we need inclusion: black, asian, latino…”, “not European, we need American, Asian, Latin American…”

    The orchestra disqualifies Rattle, Gergiev, Bychkov, and every other white male… appoints Alondra de la Parra (woman, US passport, Latina). Orchestra disbands in 2 years.

  • Marco Cecchinelli says:

    Daniele Gatti !

  • amazonian says:

    Strange article. Sounds like something designed just to sink Alsop’s boat before it gets too far across Lake Michigan, whatever her real merits or shortcomings.
    The other names seem to be just padding. Could be any other five or six conductors, as someone has remarked.

    What a pity. Great orchestra(used to be, at least), wonderful city. Been there some 20 years ago, got a last-minute ticket to see and listen to maestro Boulez conduct Bartok’s Mandarin.

    It was unforgettable, but one-fourth of the public left at intermission, before the Bartok. All very senior and very well-dressed ladies and gentlemen (I had grunge-tourist rags, more fit for Woodstock than for old-fashioned symphony hall).

  • Willem Philipa says:

    I don’t for a minute believe Alsop will become Misic Director and Conductor of the CSO. No individual has held both positions. Second, she doesn’t have the type of acumen to deliver incandescent performances in the manner of Abbado, Solti, Giulini and many others. She is a junior Haitink — delivering musical, literate interpretations lacking in depth of character. Witness her early Naxos recordings for what would be the product. Not ok.