Chicago Symphony seeks two principals

Chicago Symphony seeks two principals


norman lebrecht

December 04, 2022

The orchestra has announced auditions next spring for principal horn and principal viola.

Clearly, some changes ahead.




  • 5566hh says:

    Is David Cooper leaving, then?

    • MacroV says:

      It would seem to be the case. Odd given how his name seemed to be associated with just about every major principal horn opening before he got to the CSO.

      This now means there are principal horn vacancies in: Chicago, New York, Boston, and Montreal, also Berlin (which David Cooper also left).

      • lamed says:

        Whomever these orchestras will hire, that person will be young and fresh out of the conservatory.

        Why? Job security.

        No established horn in a lesser orchestra is going to risk moving up to a better orchestra if that risk means not getting tenure after two years of probation and losing your old job as well.

        In these times, a secured job and pension is more important than prestige.

        DC is a case study, he left Dallas for Berlin and then for Chicago, got the glory of being written up in the New York Times, and now…

        • Bedrich Sourcream says:

          It’s more likely about keeping them away from competing orchestras, and having them pay into the pension fund longer. Judy Loman was denied the Principal Harp position in the Philadelphia Orchestra solely due to her age, even though the Curtis Institute of Music wanted her hired, as she was already teaching there.

        • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

          Would any established horn not simply get leave for a couple of years, potentially?

    • David says:

      Yes. From what I am told, he did not get tenure.

    • LtKije says:

      I’d heard a while back DC wasn’t offered tenure. I think he’s a heck of a player (he was excellent in Bruckner 8 this season) but one has to wonder what his shortcomings were perceived to be and whom is more suited out there in the world of horn players.

      • Will Weller says:

        I would say he’s good enough. Maybe you’re not permitted to grow into the job anymore.

      • Bedrich Sourcream says:

        It may be that he stood out, didn’t fit in with the section, didn’t lead them properly, didn’t blend his sound, any number of things.

    • J says:

      Where is he going?

    • Adrian says:

      Maybe he is going back to Berlin …

  • Chicagorat says:

    These news will not come as a surprise to those who read our posts on August 30 re Thielemann taking over Barenboim’s Berlin Ring.
    [redacted: defamation]

    • lamed says:

      Despite your one-track anti-Muti mind, I have to grudgingly admit, you DO have good reliable sources within the CSO.

      OK, what are your sources saying are the real reasons (that have nothing to do with Muti)?

      • Carl says:

        Chicago Rat probably knows this: that several longtime CSO players (including at least once principal) are waiting for Muti to leave before they announce their retirements. It won’t be long now.

        • sammy says:

          Meaning they’d rather wait and have their successors appointed by someone other than Muti because they think Muti makes mediocre appointments?

          I tend to agree I don’t think I’d want the Chicago Brass section to be entirely remade by Muti, I really would rather not have an Italian banda sound.

          • steve says:

            no. they’re waiting to retire because they don’t want to play for what i am sure will be a mediocre replacement coming in after muti.

          • Bob says:

            Rubbish. After Muti, they will get someone who will not be OK with these old guys warming their chairs, and he/she will want them to earn their salary. Hence, retirement is the rational choice from their point of view.

      • Bedrich Sourcream says:

        I can’t blame anyone for being anti-Muti, after he destroyed the Philadelphia Orchestra, which was never rebuilt.

    • CSOattendee says:

      Like a dummy I dug through and found your Aug 30 comments. Seems you were wrong about the Bruckner conflicting with the Ring dates, and wrong in stating that Cooper would thus not be playing the Bruckner. And quite fortunately so. I attended the Thielemann/Bruckner 8 twice and it was exquisite.

  • Guest 123 says:

    Something must be unbecoming of David’s playing or personality to do two very short stints with better orchestras. What does the Berlin Phil and CSO know that DSO didn’t? Did they keep that seat warm for him to come back, again?

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    I can’t help but think of the former violist of the Dover Quartet.

  • Subscriber says:

    This orchestra can change principals, the end result won’t change. They sound horrible, the sound is all repressed and flat, it’s as if they were holding back on purpose, they have no energy. The orchestra of Solti is long gone. I blame Deborah Rutter who brought the big mouthed, no action italian genius to Chicago.

    • CSOattendee says:

      But how do you really feel about the CSO? 🙂

    • Will Weller says:

      Agree with you. The playing is very sterile and without energy. All you have to do is YouTube the old recording of Solti conducting Pictures and compare it to the clip the CSO has recently posted on its website. Listen for the energy. Not there with Muti. Compare Bruckner 6 with Solti to Bernard Haitink. It sounds like the CSO is taking a nap under Haitink. It’s not just decibel level either. It’s sizzle. Very little of that anymore.

      • trumpetherald says:

        Never liked the hectoring,unsubtle,crass blaring brass in the Solti years.Solti had energy,yes.That´s all he had.

    • Bedrich Sourcream says:

      After he ruined Philadelphia. And then, CSO has had the weakest harp section since Druzinsky retired.

    • Sara K. says:

      They;re ‘PIGS’ countries for a reason.

  • Moore says:

    IMHO The horn was the only world class principal still in the orchestra …

    • Mick the Knife says:

      Listen to the trumpet and get back to me.

      • Hal says:

        I have and … you must be

        You probably don’t remember the caliber of the principals only 15 or 10 years ago, oboe, trumpet, flute. The current trumpet is not nearly in the same class

        • CSOattendee says:

          I love Esteban to death but his sound is an odd match for CSO.

          • Musician says:

            Esteban often has a harsh tone and often plays too loud. I often find myself feeling he has ruined the effect of what is going on around him. I was shocked when he received tenure. Hopefully he will mature and understand being a CSO brass player does NOT mean loud! The Solti brass sound achieved its force from impeccable intonation and unity in sound.
            As for Cooper. He does sound very good but clearly there is something else going on. I have my ideas but not willing to share at this time

          • Hornfxr says:

            DC posted a video of the opening of Strauss Ein Heldenleben. That spoke volumes as to maybe why he has no “staying” ability. The playing demonstrated a lack of understanding of the role for the horn in that excerpt and it’s need to add and blend- not as soloist being accompanied.

        • trumpetherald says:

          He is ,absolutely.

      • Chuck says:

        Boy, isn’t that the truth — he is terrific!

      • John Wilder says:

        Yes, he is the real deal. Finally, they have a replacement for Bud. jw

      • TY says:

        Esteban is not a top trumpet. There is no way to spin it.

    • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

      William Welter has a wonderful sound in the principal oboe’s chair, as can be heard in the video link below…Chicago should count itself lucky that their European music director went with someone who plays in the American style

  • Brad says:

    I hope David Cooper wins the upcoming audition and is granted tenure immediately. I’ve been an audience member for years, and I can say with certainty that his arrival as principal horn elevated the section and the orchestra as a whole. I don’t know exactly how the process works, but this outcome is an embarrassment for the organization. I’m frankly disgusted and angry by what seems to be an unjust and foolish decision.

    • CSOattendee says:

      Right there with you. I attend every interesting cycle, sometimes more than once, and Cooper elevates the orchestra every single night.

  • sor says:

    I don’t understand why this website always goes back to the Chicago Symphony – there are many many more interesting orchestras to discuss, that are much more valuable: Dresden, Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Cleveland, Los Angelese, Pittsburgh … why don’t we talk about those?? I personally don’t give a damn about Chicago, I think they are irrelevant and I am curious …. who cares??

    • Amos says:

      Because for decades the musicians and MDs of the CSO were cultural icons and the decline should be highlighted and fixed. The orchestra of Reiner, Mischakoff, and Herseth, among others, is gone. Chicago, the US, and the world deserve better.

      • freddynyc says:

        Mischakoff was never in Chicago – his last stint was as concertmaster with the Detroit….

        • David K. Nelson says:

          No, Amos has it right. I do believe Mischakoff went from Chicago to become Toscanini’s concertmaster.

        • Amos says:

          You are wrong on both points. After his dispute with Stokowski, in which LS demanded that every member of the PO first violin section play a phrase alone to determine whose playing displeased him, MM played the phrase, asked LS if he was satisfied and after being told that he informed the maestro something the effect “wonderful because that is the last time you will hear me play”. He left for the CSO and played under Stock until he joined the NBC and AT. He later led the Detroit and finally the Baltimore Symphonies.

          • Bedrich Sourcream says:

            He certainly worked his way downhill.

          • Amos says:

            I’m not sure where you think the spiral began but it was definitely an upgrade leaving for the NBC where he led a section that included at the beginning Josef Gingold and Oscar Shumsky among others. Based on my recollection of his daughter’s bio he left the NBC for Detroit, and Paul Paray, due to both AT’s advanced age and the financial security that teaching opportunities provided. At the time the orchestra was at or near the top of second tier in the US. The BSO position was brief and more of a favor to MD Comissiona.

        • Amos says:

          I should have indicated that my source is the biography of MM written by his daughter.

        • Max Raimi says:

          Mischakoff (Ne Fishberg) played in the CSO for a while in the 1930s. I must assume Amos is rather long in the tooth if he is qualified to hold forth on the merits of the orchestra from nearly a century ago.

          • Amos says:

            He led, not merely played in, as concertmaster from 1930-1937. Fortunately, there are recordings that help inform opinions. That said condescension noted and your unwavering defense of the current mess is no doubt appreciated by your colleagues.

          • Amos says:

            I think it is reasonable to conclude that the MM who recorded with the NBC is representative of the musician who led the CSO. Perhaps you should find the video concert of the Brahms Double with future CSO Principal cello Frank Miller to appreciate MM’s brilliance. The solos in the recordings of the Strauss Heldenleben and Beethoven Missa are equally superb. Since you chose to note it did his decision to change his name contribute to your dismissive comment?

      • trumpetherald says:

        I think it sounds way better than the brutal,unbalanced brass attack of the Solti and Barenboim years.

      • Bedrich Sourcream says:

        Same thing in Philly.

    • Bud H says:

      I care. This is my hometown band. We’re very fond of it, and worry about it a lot.

    • trumpetherald says:

      Dresden?Are you kidding????

    • Nick Kalog says:

      Los Angeles and Pittsburgh more “valuable” than Chicago? Nope.

  • Lothario Hunter says:


    Cooper gone is disappointing! and we thought that Muti was the supreme ……. horns… expert!!

  • stephan says:

    Will we see a Chen as principal viola?

  • Phil Greenfield says:

    Atlanta and Baltimore are principal horn shopping, too.

  • Outraged says:

    David’s playing has tons of class; now all that is left is a bunch of old farts … brassfarting under the baton of the oldest fart of all.

    • CSOattendee says:

      Interesting that this got 21 upvotes. I wouldn’t put it quite in those terms, but I think it’s definitely time for some renewal in the back row. Some nights they do well and some nights they trash the entire performance.

  • Mark says:

    Why turn this into a Muti issue? One has to assume that there is a musician comprised tenure committee that assessed his playing beyond decibel levels, which is often the primary factor among the Chicago audience. My own impression was that he’s a wonderful player that did not always blend with the orchestra. Blending and balance is more of a Muti trait compared to his predecessors. That said, good luck finding a replacement.

  • Fenway says:

    Too bad DC is not of color. That way he probably would have gotten tenure without playing a note. Maybe he will move to Seoul to play with Jaap.

  • CSOattendee says:

    Slow down people– Cooper is not “leaving” just yet. He can and should reaudition and can and should ultimately get tenure.

    • Brad says:

      Totally true, and agreed. However, it’s sad he’s being put in this position to begin with. He’s a phenomenal talent who deserved better. If he ultimately has to leave Chicago, it’ll be the orchestra’s loss and a loss for audiences who have benefited from his magnificent performances. And for what? The hope of getting someone “better” after years worth of auditions, trials and tests again? Good luck with that!

      • CSOattendee says:

        Yes, I’m sad about it. Our orchestra has been missing a few shining stars for quite a while. I’m thankful for every performance with Cooper.

    • lamed says:

      1) The only story I am aware of of a principal who kept reauditioning, and kept rewinning, and kept being rejected for tenure, was Sabine Meyer, erstwhile principal clarinet at Berlin.

      How can one’s former colleagues not recognize one’s playing so as to be eliminated at the audition phase?

      That’s both a rhetorical and real question: Wouldn’t the CSO recognize Cooper’s playing at the audition and just eliminate him?

      2) Which leads to my second point: If the CSO really thinks Cooper is redeemable, they would just extend the probation period, they wouldn’t need to hold auditions again and spare everyone the headache.

      • Musician says:

        I think this IS a Muti issue. I’m not sure if this is still the case, but tenure in CSO was 100% a MD decision several years ago. So David will have to wait for them NOT to hire at this upcoming audition and when they hold the audition AGAIN, which they will, to audition and win once Muti is gone. But I still suspect there are other issues going on which need to be resolved, which I will NOT go into. He deserves to stay!

  • Joe Dickinson says:

    Some years ago, we subscribed to the Chicago Symphony “out of towner” series – on two weekends you saw half of their season. Sadly, I don’t think they do that any more. Anyway, I had dropped my wife near the concert hall and gone looking for parking. I wound up some distance away and was hustling back toward the hall when I overtook a fellow carrying a horn case. I asked if he was playing the concert. It turned out that he was principal horn. So I relaxed and walked with him since there was no way the concert could start without him.

    • Joe says:

      You got lucky.
      Many a Musician has sat talking to their colleagues in the lounge too long only to find that the person they were talking to didn’t play that piece.

  • Leporello says:

    Maybe after a couple of years of living and working
    in Chicago it was his decision to leave … and maybe it had nothing to do with tenure …

  • Nick Kalog says:

    It would be nice if the CSO could keep Mr. Cooper. Too much turnover in principals during Muti’s tenure.

  • Corey says:

    The most important change that needs to happen is for Muti to leave, what he’s done to this orchestra is nothing short of a crime. Just thinking about players like Chris Martin, Dufour, Izotov who were let go… their replacements are nowhere near the same level, oboe being the most horrific one, especially knowing they could have hired Rosenwein instead. On the other hand Cooper, the only other principal next to Williamson who can truly deliver something special, wasn’t granted tenure. Then there’s the principal viola audition fiasco that I recently heard about, this is apparently already the 4th round they’re having for the chair, in the three previous rounds only a single candidate received enough votes for the job, but Muti dismissed the person without ever even offering a trial, meanwhile they tried 5-6 of those who didn’t qualify. This left me speechless. One really has to wonder what is going on in the head of the Italian Primadonna. In many ways it would be beneficial for the orchestra if Muti was not involved in these auditions

    • LtKije says:

      I question the assessment of someone that mourns the loss of Chris Martin. His performances were always technically flawless but severely lacking in inspiration or personality. I view his successor as vastly more interesting / compelling to listen to and I have it on good authority that chemistry within the trumpet section has improved dramatically since CM’s departure.

      • CSOattendee says:

        Chris’s playing started to blossom from my perspective right around the day he decided he was out of there. If chemistry has improved, it may be because a counselor was brought in to try to fix the toxicity that caused Chris to leave. Just a guess, no insider knowledge here.

      • John Kelly says:

        Yes. He’s with the NYPO now and is a technically great player with not much to say about the music. Then again the days of Herseth Kaderabek, Murphy and Voisin are long gone. Replaced with “do you fit the orchestras sound”?………boring….

    • sammy says:

      Chris Martin was seduced by a bigger paycheck in New York, but he became a worse player under Jaap van Zweden, not that anyone notices in the NY Philharmonic.

      Dufour thought Berlin provided greener pastures, but he’s not out of a job. I bet he’d give anything to have his old job back in Chicago, where he was contractually guaranteed a concerto every year.

      Izotov felt underappreciated by Muti and hightailed it back to San Francisco where despite the presence of Salonen will forever toil in the shadows of the LA Phil.

      So the rumor goes. What do I know?

  • Sven says:

    Let’s not beat around the bush. If a player is no longer wanted then it means that there are some serious playing issues present.

    A big problem in recent years is that some better-than-average musicians are using various Internet-based resources to “hack” auditions. These approaches sometimes involve “robotic” muscle memory-based exercises and a ridiculous amount of repetition in order to reduce the likelihood of making mistakes during an audition. However, completing all the steps of that process really has nothing to do with being a world-class artist. I know soloists and orchestral musicians who barely practice but sound absolutely spectacular all the time…more proof that life is not fair.

    • sammy says:

      Spot on! Either playing issues or personnel issues.

      Orchestras don’t deny tenure lightly, not after so much investment — economic and emotional and collegial — in the process.

      Tenures last longer than marriages. You got to get it right.

    • Bedrich Sourcream says:

      I have been very suspicious of that. Improving your audition skills rather than your musical abilities is a bad recipe. It reminds me of a recording by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under Mata that contained not one note of music. Totally accurate and perfectly played, and not a drop of talent. It sounded just like second-tier players at best who could nail auditions and nothing more. Just like competition winners who can nail a perform, and never move an audience.

      • Sara K. says:

        That ‘s most USian orchestra’s and some Europeans too. Robots with no real meaning or passion in the music. No ontological connection w/the music. Just wham, bams, get paycheck. Drink and post on intranet about how great one thinks they are to drum up teaching business –hu$tlers. Very USian.

  • Bedrich Sourcream says:

    They are also bound to be hiring a Principal Harp, but I’m sure it’s already fixed for M. Lynn Williams, who was bounced from the Minnesota Orchestra because she would not give up her Chicago positions.

  • CSOattendeesince1979 says:

    Thank God Chris Martin went to a place where it fits better with his way and style of playing. I’m happy for him.
    Nothing against him, but just be clear folks, he was a “good enough” replacement for some years, but no excitement, no tradition, just saving his own ass.
    It was not exciting to hear him live for years, now, I have some hope and I feel the band has a longer way to go.
    Mr. Cooper should stay, so let’s see what happens.
    For those who think that Mr. Battalan is not at the level (bs) or plays too laud is maybe because He is trying to lead, but the other guys can not follow him anymore, maybe they forgot the ppd days…just a thougt, could be