Exclusive: Chicago Symphony’s other candidates

Exclusive: Chicago Symphony’s other candidates


norman lebrecht

March 25, 2022

We have been leaked the list of Chicago’s guest conductors next season, which will be Riccardo Muti’s last.

Christian Thielemann is the board’s favourite to succeed Muti. If he stumbles, the next music director could be one of these:

Xian Zhang, Manfred Honeck, Thomas Wilkins, Bernard Labadie, Mikko Franck, Fabien Gabel, David Afkham, Thomas Sondergard, Dalia Stasevska, Lahav Shani, Klaus Makela, Herbert Blomstedt.

Reduce that realistically to: Honeck, Mikko Franck, Sondergard, Lahav Shani and Klaus Makela.

Plus Marin Alsop, who has strong support.




  • olivia nordstadt says:

    Blomstedt??? Either that is a joke or the Chicago Symphony board is suffering from a superabundance of optimism.

  • Ed says:

    Manfred Honeck is my choice.

  • Lothario Hunter says:

    Imagine there’s no Muti
    It isn’t hard to do

    No pre-concert cruises
    Above us only sky

    You may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one


  • Gustavo says:

    Ah, Lahav Shani the Barenboim protégé…

    Maybe too obvious and simply not ripe enough to replace the greatest living conductor.

    Why no female?

    Or has Mirga’s flash in the pan put everyone off?

    • Lothario Hunter says:

      Yes! Nothing better than Gustavo’s understated sarcasm on a Friday evening!

      I take exception with your definition of Muti. I think “greatest living cave explorer” is a much better, and well deserved title for him.


  • Chicagorat says:


  • Pedro says:

    Thielemann is by far the best of the mentionned. My other choice would be Gatti but he is happy in Italy and some in the USA don’t accept him for unverified reasons.

    • Fernandel says:

      Thielemann and Gatti are, by far, the two greatest living conductors.

      • Anon says:

        According to what criteria?? Their most recent live recordings I heard, Thielemann in Bruckner’s Ninth from Dresden and Gatti in Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique with BRSO, are both well below the standards one expected from these orchestras. But I understand these two conductors certainly have the correct posturing and marketing that appeal to a certain segment of listeners…

        What are the non-opera recordings you would recommmend that show them in their best light?

    • Chicagorat says:

      These concerns are misplaced. Of all places, Chicago would accept Gatti with open arms. Alexander would accept him, he’s not picky at all in these matters and his record demonstrates that. The corporate sponsors are very open minded and progressive and welcome all at the CSO. They would not welcome the same activities in their own corporate offices, but at the CSO, yes.

      After all, isn’t the CSO the place where the Music Director says to major newspapers that “with ME2, Mozart would be in jail”?

  • Max Raimi says:

    This is utter nonsense. We haven’t seen Thielemann in over a decade, and if this site can offer a scintilla of evidence that he is “is the board’s favourite to succeed Muti” I would love to see it. Possibly somebody gave Mr. Lebrecht a second-hand account of a conversation they may or may not have had with a board member. The fact that Thielemann will spend one week as a guest conductor next season hardly indicates that he has emerged on any short lists. Of course, it is entirely possible that he will make an extraordinary impression next season and merit consideration for the post.
    I am not on the search committee, but I do know that the process was significantly delayed by the pandemic and is still in its early stages. As I understand it, Maestro Muti has generously agreed to stay on in a transitional role until his successor is in place.
    I don’t presume to speak for my colleagues, but naturally this is a topic of a fair amount of our conversation. And my sense is that if the musicians were to compile a list (and the musicians that we have elected to the search committee will have a significant say in the final decision), our list would bear very little resemblance to the one cited in this post, or to Lawrence A. Johnson’s characteristically clueless piece linked to on this site recently.

    • Midwestern Violin says:

      It is not only entirely possible, but very likely that he will make an extraordinary impression on the orchestra.

      On the other hand, it is 100% certain that, with your ill-conceived comment, you have just made a very poor impression on him, who may end up being your new boss. He’s reading SD, you know.

      • Kenny says:

        You can’t be serious?

        • Midwestern Violin says:

          Very much so. What makes you think I’m joking, Mr. O?

          The joke is the majority of male colleagues who pretend and act like you-know-who is a decent man. And the Administration and the Board covering it up.

      • Max Raimi says:

        I reread my comment; I suggest you do as well. I said nothing remotely disparaging about Thielemann. No matter his capabilities or suitability for the post, he has conducted us only twice, and those appearances were decades ago. Given that, it is inconceivable he could be on any short lists at this time. Especially since the process has not proceeded to the point where anybody with any actual knowledge of the situation is even talking about short lists yet.

      • Larry W says:

        MV, you need to read Max’s comment more carefully. He said nothing negative about Thielemann, just the ongoing process of speculation.

    • MB says:

      Transitional role?

      Oh God, no. Dear Lord, why. Please Lord, no. No.

    • waw says:

      I’d love to see who’s on your short list. Just curious, c’mon, share. I mean, since you aren’t on the search committee anyway, you couldn’t be accused of trying to unduly influence any process or telegraph anyone else’s preferences.

    • MacroV says:

      Since you’ve been in the CSO a long time, you’re undoubtedly aware of how aggressively Henry Fogel and then Deborah Rutter pursued Bernard Haitink, first as a guest conductor and then as principal conductor. And then how Ms. Rutter went after Muti even after he had repeatedly declined interest in the NY Philharmonic (at a time when he was conducting there several weeks a year). So it seems perfectly in character for the CSO to go after someone with little prior relationship with the CSO who many might consider the “best athlete (un)available.”

    • Pedro says:

      If someone wants to test Thielemann, they can go to one of his next concerts, which includes Zemlinsky and three Bruckner symphonies ( I’ll go to the sixth in Vienna, the ninth in Paris and the fifth in Milan).

      • waw says:

        He’s doing the Ninth in Vienna with Vienna in the beginning of May, and the same symphony, same venue, with the Staatskappelle at the end of May.

        The Viennese must love Bruckner or Thielemann or both…

    • Oded says:

      BTW Mr. Raimi, I love your music.

    • The Governor of Chicago says:

      “Generously” is code for the Maestro will only suck another couple of millions out of the CSO creaky balance sheet. That will be his parting gift to the institution.

      As long as you are happy, pals … knock yourself out!

  • BigSir says:

    Wasn’t Sondergaard driven out of Seattle? 100:1 odds on that one.

    Looking at that list, my guess is Thielemann or there is a dark horse.

    • Don Ciccio says:

      A different Thomas, Dausgaard, was the one who left Seattle.

      • The View from America says:

        Yeah, “what’s-his-name.”

        Whatever. What’s a little mistaken identity when no one’s counting? We’re only talking about the future MD of the CSO, after all …

    • Donna Giovanna says:

      Dausgard not Sondergard. Two totally different conductors .

  • MacroV says:

    Thielemann has long been my favorite, as he appeals to the CSO’s seeming inclination to get the “ungettable” person (like Haitink and then Muti). Though his right-wing tendencies could be his undoing.

    Manfred Honeck would seem a very strong candidate but he’s shown admirable loyalty to Pittsburgh (a vastly underrated orchestra).

    The others – all fine conductors to be sure – seem too young and most/all are tied up for the next few years. The CSO tends to go for the Grand Old Man.

    I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in Arizona that Marin Alsop would get the job (though I like her more than most folks on SD seem to).

    • waw says:

      “Manfred Honeck would seem a very strong candidate but he’s shown admirable loyalty to Pittsburgh”

      He has strongly hinted that he was offered the job at the New York Philharmonic, but told them he had to finish out his contract at Pittsburgh first, so NY offered the job to van Zweden, who quickly broke his contract with Dallas.

      I don’t think Honeck, given a second chance, is going to make the same mistake twice.

    • Player says:

      Why would his politics (right wing or anything else) prove his undoing?

  • Monsoon says:

    So basically, the field is wide open.

    Why does everyone assume that Chicago is trying to wrap up the search so fast that it will be one of the 2022-23 season guest conductors?

    When Barenboim’s tenure ended, Haitink served as “Principal Conductor” for four years. Maybe they end up doing something like that again for a few years. And that seems to be a growing trend with orchestras — taking their time with a search and having a conductor or two who serve as the face of the orchestra.

  • phf655 says:

    Some of these conductors – Franck, Sondergaard, Makela – are barely known in the United States. Sondergaard has an appearance with the Minnesota Orchestra in April. He may be very talented, but will a 25 year old (Makela) become music director of the Chicago Symphony? Perhaps this is merely the upcoming list of guest conductors for the CSO.

    • Don Ciccio says:

      Mikko Franck did actually guest conduct in Washington, thought it has been some time. I believe that he led other US orchestras as well.

  • Karl says:

    Bernard Labadie is Baroque and Classical specialist. Would he change CSO from Beethoven/Bruckner to Handel/Haydn? It’s weirding me out just thinking about it.

  • CSOA Insider says:

    Could you hear it?

    The whistling sound of relief of Alexander and Osborn, when they were reassured these leaks are not about Muti’s “lifestyle”.

  • Michael henri says:

    Who cares, their concerts are empty.

  • Rob says:

    Lahav Shani is the very best of that lot, excluding Blomstedt who might have been ‘perfect’ 30 years ago. Nothing against you HB!

  • George Young says:

    I’ve been a Chicago Symphony subscriber fo 54 years now. I was there when Solti did Mahler 2nd before he became Music Director.

    My preference is for Karina Cannelakis. What a breath of fresh air she would be. Same age as Dudamel and past winner of Solti conductor competition. Her podium manner reminds me so much of his conducting style. I’m so looking forward to seeing her here in person in a couple of months.

    • NYMike says:

      And she will conduct at the Met this season and guest at the Phil (finally) next season.

    • music lover says:

      Exactly my thoughts!I have played for her 3 times and she was absolutely fantastic.I know i ´ll get some thumbs down by armchair musicians whose only instrument is the remote control,but who cares…

    • George Young says:

      Sorry, I did mean to type Karina Canellakis.

    • fflambeau says:

      I agree with you on KC, George. She is amazing and well deserving of this but not in Chicago, which has a thing about women. Maybe in Minny which is far more liberal.

  • Michael says:

    Klaus Makela? Really? He needs to mature a bit. As for the others, not really sure. Question, though – are there any good conductors in the US or do we need to import?

  • Musician says:

    Mikko Franck is tremendous but doesn’t he have physical or health issues? I don’t admit to knowing much but I wonder about his ability or appetite for lots of cross-continent travel as I’d assume he’d stay very active in Europe.

  • Fiddleman says:

    What an unimpressive list of candidates! Where are the liked of Dudamel, Rattle, or Nelsons? An Orchestra as great as the CSO deserves better. Thielemann would be a disaster as music director.

  • Hermann Lederer says:

    It will be….. none of the mentioned names.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    What a funny list. A few names from my spies within the orchestra are correct.

    The others are just laughable and will not any support from the musicians.

    It’s obvious this list was leaked by the people upstairs in Symphony Center.

  • I have been following the Chicago Symphony since the early nineties when (I was very young and with little resources to travel to US,) I saved money to buy the expensive tickets in Salzburg or Lucerne where the orchestra came on summer tour. Then I had the opportunity to come regularly to the concerts at the Symphony Center with many conductors, starting with Barenboim. I wish all the best to this orchestra and I really hope that they can keep their eyes (and hears) open to what makes an orchestra the place where a work of art can become alive at every concert. My last experiences at the Center has proved that the attraction to new audiences is still an issue as clearly proved by the few nasty comments we see here on Maestro Muti by a handful of persons. Music should heal and can heal. Unless you are so old (not only on your identity card) that your skin is terribly insensitive and dead. No space for the emotions. I have been sit by the ticket office many times in the first row of the Terrace. Hell on earth w

  • Andrew T Clark says:

    Gergiev is available?

  • fflambeau says:

    If Thielmann becomes music director/conductor as expected in Chicago this will cause some other big changes.

    Marin Alsop doubtlessly will be the major one as Thielmann has made misogynistic statements that I doubt she can live with. She will leave the Ravenna Festival and probably take over in New York. Also, frequent guest conductor, Edo de Waart, who is 80 years old, will resign. He is at odds philosophically with Thielmann. So is his protégé in Milwaukee who is also head of the CSO’s Civic Orchestra, Ken-David Masur. In fact, Masur, who is in his last year in Milwaukee likely will move on to Cincinnati since his contract renewal has not been announced. It is late in the day for that.

    • Pedro says:

      I hope that Thielemann will go to Chicago. The others mentioned all put together are not in the same class.

    • mary says:

      If Thielemann heads Chicago, and Alsop heads Ravinia, Chicago would be the only orchestra in the world headed by 2 openly gay conductors of 2 genders, how can that not be celebrated as progress?

  • Marin Alsop couldn’t conduct a No77 Bus.

  • leo grinhauz says:

    It’s going to be Marin. Especially with that excellent film that just came out of her.

  • prof says:

    Are there not a long list of versatile, experienced conductors who would be meaningful contenders?

    David Robertson
    Emanuel Villaume
    Vlado Jurowski
    Fabio Luisi
    Paavo Jarvi
    Marek Janowski
    Daniele Gatti
    Osmo Vanska
    Stephane Deneve

    • Sashimi says:

      Add Honeck and that looks like a list that could be taken seriously, since the info has obviously been leaked, all the names mentioned in the article are all coming as guests next year and no they won’t be considered for the music director position just based on one appearance, as a member of the orchestra I can openly say the musicians won’t allow that

  • SM says:

    Since someone has been leaking info that has been classified as confidential, I’m just going to say that all the names mentioned are coming as guest conductors next season, but no it does no

  • Nana Barfod says:

    With Sondergard they would get a profound talent and a great personality. He just had his debut with Berlin Phil on Digital Concerthall. And having worked in Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, Seattle, and many times in Atlanta in recent years, he has proven his high musical level again and again not only in Europe but also in the US!

  • Thomas M. says:

    Whoever you hire, DON’T hire “the great white schlepp” Thielemann. He’s had a falling out with each and every institution he’s ever worked for as chief conductor, and he’s a lousy conductor even of the “Hitler liked this music, too” repertoire he conducts almost exclsuively.

  • CleferClefer says:

    Klaus Makela made a terrific impression. Way too young? Maybe not.