Exclusive: Chicago fires concertmaster’s daughter

Exclusive: Chicago fires concertmaster’s daughter


norman lebrecht

September 14, 2023

We understand that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has terminated the employment of violist Beatrice Chen, daughter of the long-serving concertmaster Robert Chen.

When Beatrice, known as Bea, was appointed, aged 19, in April last year, eyebrows were raised over her suitability. But she had been principal viola of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra for the previous five years and, with her father in the driving seat, what could go wrong?

Something, apparently.

The CSO is refusing to comment on what it says is an ‘internal personnel matter’, but we understand there was a disciplinary issue involved.

Whatever the cause, Bea’s name has been removed from the CSO website and the playing roster and there’s a vacancy for a good viola in a flagship US orchestra.




  • Michel.Lemieux says:

    Her bio is still on the website…under former musicians.


  • Jerry says:

    Chicago seems to clearly have a big issue in retaining the best players. They fired David Cooper and now they fire Beatrice Chen.

  • Teodor says:

    I know Beatrice and have performed with her. She is a fantastic violist and deserves to sit in ANY major orchestra in the US (and world). Hope she ok.

  • CSOA Insider says:

    I will not join those who approve or, worse, rejoice of this regretful outcome. Beyond the obvious problems with the propriety of Bea’s audition in the first place, she is an excellent viola player, and the situation could have been handled with alternative remedies, such as a very steep fine, or even a temporary, prolonged suspension. The incident could have been made into a learning opportunity.

    However, the affair does highlight what a poisonous snake pit the CSO has become after so many years of Muti’s “leadership”. The workplace is toxic and deeply divided. Because of the envy of few individuals, and the stupid egomania of a derelict, finished music director, a once in a generation, magnificent Principal Horn was pushed out, and, because of his departure, Chicago’s audience was deprived of musical treasures for many years to come. Because of envy and, frankly, hate (remember, Robert Chen is not loved by many), this young musician was reported and then punished in a disproportionate manner.

    But the question for Mary Lou Gorno and Jeff Alexander is: how can you, with a straight face, discipline this young musician, and turn two (four?) blind eyes to the egregious conduct of you-know-who; a person engaged in behaviors that would not be tolerated anywhere else? Ms. Gorno, what do your clients do when they run into unacceptable conduct like that of Steve Easterbrook at McDonald’s?

    That is the question that we want answered.

    • Bone says:

      What does Steve Easterbrook have to do with a dismissed violist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra?

    • zayin says:

      What did she do?

      • Frankly says:

        Do you love the elitism here? People talk about how she was fired but insiders aren’t willing to tell us the reason. Well how can there be a proper discussion when we don’t even know the reason for the dismissal?

    • zayin says:

      Therein lies the difference between having tenure and having no tenure, the full force of the union and arbitration protect the former, but not the latter.

      Your reference to Easterbrook-type inappropriate relationship reminds one of the principal oboist from the NY Philharmonic, who was fired for some behavior the New York Times suggests was sexual in nature, but he got reinstated by the arbitrator anyway, so whatever this 19 year old girl did, no way it could’ve been worse than what Mr. Wang did, right?

      But you say her conduct was nonetheless worthy of “a very steep fine, or even a … prolonged suspension”, which suggests serious intentional harm to a person, but that no direct victim came forth because a witness had to report it….

      Why did the victim, if there was one, not come forth? Does he or she not have tenure either and was afraid of repercussions from her father the concertmaster?

      • CSOA Insider says:

        Let me be very clear: there was no personal injury, no personal harm, no inappropriate relationships, and no person who is a victim in connection with the story reported by this SD article, that I know of.

        The rest of my comment is a question for Ms. Gorno. It was meant to call out an intolerable double standard in matters that, in my view, are much more serious than the story at hand from a disciplinary standpoint.

        • steve says:

          why don’t you report it to the press then?

        • Support standards says:

          It’s worth mentioning the absent Cso musicians also didn’t respect the programming and conducting leadership for the missed Ravinia week such as Tchaikovsky bang a canon . Hire leaders and conductors with moral and ethical standards that treat people and musicians with respect , most importantly without treating women like sex objects or harassing subordinates. That makes it much easier for musicians to also follow rules with morals and ethics with worthy leaders . Examples of fine humans as conductors include Honeck who is also talented and intellectual . It’s not that I want to give a vote to a future md but hiring leadership and guest conductors with artistic excellence to inspire musicians and audiences that are educated as well as guest conductors that have morals and ethics is essential to the success of Cso and classical music.

      • Couperin says:

        So? What did she do?

    • Ken Smith says:

      Whoever you are, how dare you criticize the leadership of the greatest conductor in the world, Maestro Maestro Muti!

  • CA says:

    She likely was still probationary and not tenured being just one year in. If that’s the case a player can typically be terminated without appeal etc.

  • Anon says:

    She actually studied at Curtis for 4 years before winning the CSO position.

  • Guest says:

    If a player isn’t tenured in an American orchestra, I guess it must be racism, right? Where is the angry mob and the #istandwithbeatrice hashtags? /sarcasm

    • Maximilian Syracuse says:

      Beatrice isn’t exactly the big self promoter that Josh Jones was. He cultivated nearly a decade of online content detailing how his approach is “the best” because he’s “the only musician who will practice shifting with the left pinky by 1 picometer to alter the sound on this one note in a fast run” and so he has convinced both a bunch of 12 year olds and older players who didn’t worry about such things and only learned “the music.” His entire online personality is focused on him being the only one in his field who practices as detailedly as he does and therefore when he wins a position it’s a “no-brainer”, hence the outrage and jump to claims of racism. When you think so highly of yourself, any criticism is just racist.

      • Heidi says:

        “He cultivated nearly a decade of online content detailing how his approach is ‘the best’ because he’s ‘the only musician who will practice shifting with the left pinky by 1 picometer to alter the sound on this one note in a fast run’”…

        Someone with true knowledge needed to sit Josh down and tell him, “Son, it’s chess, not checkers.”

    • MarkOtt says:

      Dear Guest, you are on the wrong website which is beyond your education (or lack thereof) and knowledge (or lack thereof).
      You may go back to Foxnews where you belong together with your peers.
      There is an expression in Latin which is “talis pater, talis filius” (just for your limited knowledge, “pater, patris” is masculine belonging to the 3rd declension, “filius, filii” is masculine belonging to the second declension in -us). “Talis” is the adjective in two endings, -is (m/f) and -e (neutral).

  • John R. says:

    It’s a brutal business. People lose their jobs…..Asian, white, black, etc. Even being the concertmaster’s daughter may not save you. Perhaps that’s something to remember in the future rather than just having selective outrage for a few based just on how they look.

  • How low will you stoop for clicks says:

    Really? We’re going to start tarring and feathering orchestral musicians at the age of 19?

    Please feel free to tell us how totally together and free of error you were at this tender age.

    • anonymous says:

      Hard to comment without details on the “crime”. However, an employee at any age should be held accountable to appropriate behavior norms. The CSO is not a conservatory orchestra or summer music festival where the institution might consider a breach a “learning opportunity” for a student. if you are too young to understand that, you are too young to hold a job – any where.

    • John R. says:

      How is this story not news on a website that covers classical music?

  • Ricky says:

    Including her chair, there are 3 openings for the viola section, both principal chairs and two sections. I’d the principal chair trial doesn’t go well for either of the candidates, there will be 4.

  • Couperin says:

    So much for that! Remember all the defensive musicians last time talking about how fantastic she was and how fair the audition was and how it couldn’t POSSIBLY have been nepotism. I need to hear the dirt!

    • Cso player says:

      Yeah, good, it actually had nothing to do with any of that. And sadly it’s pretty boring. Ready? She got fired for her own stupidity, thinking she could get away with lying to the personnel manager about not being able to show up for work because of injury while playing concerts elsewhere and it got posted on social media. Happy?
      Hope she learned her lesson.

  • Ifigenia auf Aulide says:

    Overrated children. I don’t like the expression (it’s not fair ) “Nepo babyes”; but, nevertheless …

    • John R. says:

      She was a recent Curtis graduate. The CSO claims there was no nepotism since it was a blind audition. That may or may not be the case, but it certainly isn’t unusual for Curtis grads to get jobs with major orchestra right out of school.

    • John R. says:

      Oops…..that post was intended for Maximilian Syracuse instead. Apologies!

  • Maximilian Syracuse says:

    Youth Orchestra isn’t nearly enough experience to join a major orchestra like the CSO. Robert Chen should be investigated for nepotism.

    • John R. says:

      She was a recent Curtis graduate. The CSO claims there was no nepotism since it was a blind audition. That may or may not be the case, but it certainly isn’t unusual for Curtis grads to get jobs with major orchestra right out of school.

  • Player says:

    This had nothing to do with musical ability.

    • anon says:

      What did it have to do with? Most corporations have standards of personal behavior to which employees are meant to be held. It seems she was caught out? With no info, all is speculative.

  • Chicagorat says:

    Every time we fool ourselves into thinking that the CSO could not possibly be more of a terrifying train wreck …. they do something like this and shatter our naiveté .

    Bea is very young. If I was her, I would not beat myself up too hard. With CSO tickets selling at this pace, very soon she would have been out of this job, regardless.

    • Bob says:

      The CSO box office is like a scene from “The Day After Tomorrow”. A tsunami of unsold seats (check for yourself on their website).

      But then I read the program of Muti’s upcoming concert (yes, he’s going to be here again next week, believe it or refuse to believe it). Philip Glass, the Triumph of the Octagon, marketed with fantastic stories of how this is apparently a tribute to Muti’s view, from his vacation house in Italy, over some norman castle shaped like an octagon (you are supposed to be dreaming of that view, by the way).

      Then Mendelsshon Italian; Then Strauss Aus Italien.

      This is all crafted by Cristina Rocca, the Italian VP of artistic planning.

      Wtf? After 15 years of this Italian mummy in Chicago, they still play on his “Italianness” to try and sell tickets? And they scratch their heads wondering why they can’t fill the hall.

      I am pinching myself in disbelief. You could not make this stuff up if you tried very hard.

  • GUEST says:

    OK, everyone. Now that some of you have winked and nodded about what ‘she did’, how about spelling it out for the rest of us? What grave offense would require a very steep fine or lengthy benching? Did she punch someone on the jaw? Did she kiss an elderly CSO member without his permission? Come on! Dirt!

    • Maximilian Syracuse says:

      She threatened to tattle on her desk mate to her dad? Maybe?

    • Someone who knows says:

      Long story short, she asked for an unpaid leave that was denied, reasons to me unknown but either probationary members aren’t granted those or other members with seniority asked for the same period and were given priority. She then proceeded to call in sick for the same period, last week of Ravinia, claiming that her doctor told her she shouldn’t play that week. Meanwhile she flew off to Taiwan with her daddy where they performed Mozart sinfonia concertante. Daddy obviously approved of such behavior, or worse, I am more less sure this was her parents idea, all this while being paid by the CSO, who I assume had to hire a sub at additional cost, and lying to the personnel manager about her injury and inability to show up for work while on probation. The orchestra they performed with posted all this on social media so it was pretty understandable why the management took action. Also with Robert being easily the most disliked person in the orchestra, no wonder some players took umbrage with such behavior.

      Those saying this could have been dealt with differently, perhaps, but frankly what kind of precedent would this set for those who are protected by tenure and union?

  • Violist says:

    Not getting tenure is awful. If she got fired, and not for harmful behavior, I feel for her!

    Bea had a hard role to step into. For those who love their concertmaster, she has to hold up to their rxpectations. For those who don’t? It would be even harder for her.

    Bea is a great violist and I hope this unfortunate experience will catapult her into new and interesting opportunities. Maybe in a place where she can be herself fully and not be judged for it.

  • Midwest Violist says:

    It’s hard to get fired from one of these jobs but if you break certain rules you are toast, REGARDLESS of your last name.

    • CSOA Insider says:

      No, not true at the CSO. If your last name is you-know-who, you can get away with very serious misconduct (of a completely different type), over a number of years. That was the point if my previous post. The double standard is intolerable.

  • Stradivari says:

    Her father is not well liked in the musical community and one of the (many) highly overrated Dorothy DeLay violin students from the 80’s. So this is probably blowback towards him, rather than having anything to do with his daughter’s performance.

    It is a fact Robert Chen did not get tenure as a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra and was unemployed for a little bit before winning the CSO job. I had one encounter with Robert years back and he was extremely unpleasant and rude. I know I’m not the only one he has treated poorly.

  • Just sayin says:

    Apparently Robert and his daughter played a concert during the week that Beatrice called in sick for, after she was denied a week off. The pics of the concert were on social media, so it quickly became widely known.

  • Larry W says:

    Bad news for Robert, but she is also her mother’s child.

  • Novagerio says:

    This seems almost ridiculous. She sits in a different section than her father.
    The Vienna Philharmonic has for ages had families among its members, the Boskovskys, the Wellers, the Otternsamers, the Staars and a long etc…
    Where exactly is the wrong-doing?

  • Michael Lemieux says:

    It’s been a bad week for incompetence and nepotism in the Windy City. First Anthony Freud resigned and now this nepo-baby has been shown the door.

  • Alphonse says:

    I was told by an inside source what the cause of the firing was- and it’s extremely benign- nothing to do with musical ability or all, or any sort of egregious “misconduct.” Apparently she had called out sick but was in fact traveling on vacation. Not even remotely scandalous, and not worthy of termination in my opinion. A sad situation.

    • Disgusted by your comment says:

      Oh yes another white glove treatment! I wonder what any HR department or manager of a major corporation would think if their employee called in sick after having a leave request denied, claiming injury and inability to show up at work, while flying off to the other side of the world for different work (no, she wasn’t going on vacation but that would actually be even worse), all this while the orchestra has to fully pay her and then hire a sub at additional cost. She was on probation so unfortunately this kind of behavior is a no no in a major orchestra and given that Chen senior was involved and obviously didn’t see anything wrong with such behavior, I think the management easily calculated that by firing her, they will set an example and slap daddy across the face at the same time. She’ll have no trouble winning the next audition but people should be held accountable!

      • CSOA Insider says:

        The comparison with major corporations exposes a very deep problem. Like I said in my previous post, the CSO and its HR department are tolerating misconduct at top leadership level which would not be tolerated, and has not been tolerated, by major corporations like McDonald’s, and that exposes the organization to reputational and financial risk. At the same time, they are rescinding the contract of a young musician for a disciplinary infraction. This double standard cannot be accepted.

        • Confused CSO related person says:

          I see you angrily ranting on this site all the time yet no action in reality, why don’t you come forward with all that you supposedly have against Muti? He’s no longer the MD, just a guest conductor, what can he do? You’d actually be doing everybody a favor

          • steve says:

            agreed. for so long, this “insider” has been spewing all these claims about rm, but nothing concrete has ever actually been reported. i wonder why?

        • Agreed says:

          Leaders have to lead musicians with exceptional high morals and ethics .

    • wah wah says:

      Look, I got no dogs in this fight. I think she’s a good player and I think she won that audition fair and square. But when you’re on a probationary contract it is presumed you will demonstrate yourself to be a model colleague both in your playing and your conduct. If you’re gonna break rules (at the expense of your organization) when you’re not even tenured, what expectations can we have of your boldness when you feel you can’t be fired?

      Most players refrain from taking auditions or outside work while on probation in lesser orchestras (or keep it quiet from their colleagues and take approved leave if they do), they practice their music, show up a minimum of 30 minutes before each service, try to get along with everyone, avoid taking discretionary leave, follow the rules, dress professionally, and generally go above and beyond to show they’re dedicated to the job. And despite all that, some people just don’t get tenure for one reason or another. How would it be fair to have such high expectations of those who try their best to do good work, follow the rules, and fit in, and then turn a blind eye to someone who would lie to the personnel manager at the expense of her colleagues and cost the orchestra a week of sub wages?

      I feel bad for Bea but I think her parents should feel even worse for their role in it. They should have helped her make good choices, not hindered her budding career. She’ll win something else, and hopefully she learned her lesson.

      • Alphonse says:

        Yes, I didn’t express myself clearly in my original comment. It is indeed a very serious offense. I just think it’s a shame that her own father cost her her job. Something tells me that she herself, young as she is, knew this was a bad idea, but let herself be swayed by her father’s presumed “authority” as concertmaster.

      • anonymous says:

        It’s not only those on probation with major or minor orchestras who refrain from lying to take on other jobs. Freelancers who aim for longevity in the business are careful about respecting the commitments they make even if it means sticking with a lower paid gig and forgoing a more lucrative offer arriving later. She and Dad get no sympathy from me – this should have been an obvious professional breach. The sense of entitlement is palpable.

      • meh says:

        Heavily off topic but I wonder if “taking auditions or outside work while on probation” was a factor in Josh Jones’ famous tenure denial.

  • waw says:

    She still got her job in the Chen String Quartet.

    In a show of solidarity against this manifest injustice, the patriarch should resign in protest from the orchestra and bring his family quartet full time on the touring circuit.

    Or as testimony of their much heralded talent, father and daughter should bring their Mozart Sinfonia Concertante on the road and solo with major orchestras around the world.

    Who needs the office politics of a desk job (even if it is first desk) in a big bureaucratic management-heavy organization anyway?

    Let them be artists, not employees subject to the envious whims of failed conservatory students turned mid-level managers.

    • zayin says:

      Said tongue firmly planted in cheek, lol!

      The Chens wanted their cake and eat it too, paid by the CSO, but with the option of calling in sick and jetting off to Taiwan whenever they felt like it, to give concerts and promote the Chen family brand.

      The CSO was like, ok, you want time off? We’ll give you time off!

  • CSO Player says:

    Basically she submitted a doctors note saying that she needed to stay home and take it easy. She then went to Taiwan with her parents to ply concerts and teach at some festival. All this happened during the last week of Ravinia.

    • RogationDays says:

      I’ve been in orchestras a long time. All she had to do with color within the lines for 16 months. I am incredulous that she thought playing a concerto with her father (he is an entirely different story and should be dealt with by the Maestro/CEO) with a youth orchestra was worth risking punishment of any kind. I’m inclined to believe that this constituted some kind of last straw. Two (2!) principal violists of the LA Phil were fired for cause…behavior matters when you are playing on a team.

  • CRWang says:

    Leave her alone people. She’s only 19 and obviously very talented, with or without her father’s support. I wish her well.

  • ANON says:

    The amount of clueless people in this comment thread is unfathomable. Most of us DON’T know what happened. There is no need to share your irrelevant opinion.

  • women says:

    what is up with violists getting kicked out of ensembles? this is like when the violist of the dover quartet got kicked out by the first violinist after doing mediation together for months! he was seen screaming at her on the street after quartet rehearsal. in terms of chicago, i bet bea did not do anything wrong. muti and the first violinist of dover are both misogynists. WOMEN POWER PLEASE.

  • Claudio Barenboim says:

    Ooops! At least she has the Chen Family Quartet to fall back on! ‍♂️‍♂️‍♂️

  • Fritz Solti says:

    Where is Max Raimi when we need him? He usually has so much to say. LOL

  • waw says:

    Her behavior is worse than if she had slapped someone, because it speaks to her professionalism — loyalty, integrity, morality — things that matter more than talent for orchestras looking to hire a full time employee for life tenure.

    In terms of career planning, what were the Chens even thinking?

    To abandon the CSO to play with a second rate national youth orchestra to a half empty hall


    Did they think no one reads facebook in Chinese in Chicago? Half the CSO strings is Chinese!

    And I hate to say this, where do their loyalties lie? It just feeds into the fear and stereotype that ethnic Chinese are loyal to their motherland and not to America. Seriously, the Taiwan youth orchestra over the Chicago Symphony???

  • Nardo says:

    …and that flagship orchestra happens to be said Chicago Symphony.

  • A retired musician says:

    If a musician plays half of the season wearing surgical mask, obviously she is terrible as risk analysis!

  • justice says:

    the oboe lady of baltimore should do a close up article of maestro muti and the dover quartet first violinist. sounds like bad men not liking women. justice bea and justice milena!