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CSO goes back to the future, appointing Alex Klein principal oboe

Sat Jun 25, 2016 at 5:00 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Alex Klein won the final audition for Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal oboe on Friday.

Alex Klein won the final audition for Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal oboe on Friday.

Meet the new principal oboe. Same as the old principal oboe.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has reached into its past, picking Alex Klein to fill the position of principal oboe, a return to the post he formerly held with the same ensemble. The surprise choice was appointed Friday after Klein won the final audition earlier in the day.

As is the orchestra’s current custom, no public announcement was made. A CSO spokeswoman would only confirm Saturday that Klein had won the final audition Friday.

But it doesn’t appear that negotiating a contract will be difficult. Klein joyfully announced the return to his old post on his Facebook page Friday afternoon, quickly joined by congratulations from friends and old and new CSO colleagues.

Daniel Barenboim appointed Klein, then 30, to succeed Ray Still in the CSO’s first oboe chair in 1995. The Brazilian musician served for nine years, winning a Grammy Award for his recording of the Strauss Oboe Concerto with Barenboim and the orchestra. He resigned his position in 2004 due to focal dystonia in his left hand, which severely inhibited his ability to play.

Klein’s heroic persistence has clearly found a way to overcome the crippling neurological affliction that cut short the oboist’s first CSO tenure. Music director Riccardo Muti and the audition committee must be satisfied that the condition is under sufficient control to offer him his old job. We will likely hear how Klein accomplished this feat in the coming weeks.

The oboist has substituted with the CSO on several occasions since his resignation, most recently in Muti’s concerts in April, including the memorable concert performances of Verdi’s Falstaff, in which Klein played with high distinction.

After leaving the CSO, Klein returned to his native Brazil for several years. He taught at the Oberlin Conservatory and pursued a conducting career. He is currently artistic director of the Santa Catarina Music Festival in Brazil.

As recently as 2010, Klein described his focal dystonia as “a death sentence” in a New York Times article. After resigning from the CSO, he said he  consulted with 30 doctors and tried acupuncture, deep massage, steroids and even injecting Novocain into his hand.

Klein stated that through trial and error he found a way to play for short periods. In the Times article he said that he could only practice for an hour a day. He described trying to keep up a full-time performing career with dystonia as “driving cross-country in first gear.”

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