Dale Clevenger, longtime CSO principal horn, to retire June 30

Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 10:43 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Dale Clevenger

Dale Clevenger, the principal horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the past 47 years, will retire June 30.

Appointed by Jean Martinon in 1966, the 72-year old Tennessee native played under four music directors and two interim conductors throughout his long Chicago career.

Clevenger will join the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music brass department faculty as a full-time professor of practice in the fall of 2013.

“Dale Clevenger will remain in the world of music not only as a great horn player, but also as a true musician and dedicated teacher,” said CSO music director Riccardo Muti, in a statement released by the orchestra. “His unique contributions to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as Principal Horn since 1966 leave a legacy that will forever be remembered and admired. I thank him for the music he has shared with me personally and I wish him great joy, peace and happiness as he begins a new chapter in his musical life, one I am sure will continue to enrich the musical world in innumerable ways.”

Clevenger soloed with the CSO 35 times on subscription concerts, as well as 23 times at the Ravinia Festival. In 2004 he performed in the world premiere of John Williams’ Horn Concerto, written for him.

Before joining the CSO in 1966, Clevenger was a member of Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra and the Symphony of the Air, directed by Alfred Wallenstein; he also served as principal horn of the Kansas City Philharmonic.

Clevenger undoubtedly stayed on several seasons too long with the decline in his musicianship fitfully marring CSO concerts in recent years.

Still, in his prime his reputation as one of the great orchestral horn players remains intact. His distinguished musical legacy will always be there for future generations on innumerable recordings, especially the Mahler symphonies under Sir Georg Solti for Decca and his set of Mozart Horn Concertos on Sony.

No announcement has yet been made about auditions for the position.

Posted in News

26 Responses to “Dale Clevenger, longtime CSO principal horn, to retire June 30”

  1. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 10:55 am by Tylar

    “Clevenger undoubtedly stayed on several seasons too long with the decline in his musicianship fitfully marring CSO concerts in recent years.”

    Was it really needed for you to insert such a bitter and jaded comment into an otherwise decent article?

  2. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 12:28 pm by Jennifer Paradis

    Classy way to kick someone on their way out the door.

    Cheap shots like that really mean and nasty and shame on you for this kind of attack.

    Just saying.

    Jennifer Paradis

  3. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 12:32 pm by Rhonda Kremer

    I agree with Tylar’s comment. Even in the most recent years, Clevenger displayed his remarkable musicianship at every concert he played, and for you to deny that is ridiculous. I, just like most other concertgoers, always prefer to hear expression and depth of music over a technically perfect performance. When Clevenger plays, he plays directly into the hearts of everybody listening. The fact is that he sometimes misses notes and recently there have been more of these technical faults, but the fact is not that he “undoubtedly stayed on several seasons too long […] marring CSO concerts in recent years.” His playing, with or without flaws, is consistently more beautiful and more touching than that of any other musician I have encountered, and I am so grateful that Clevenger retained his principal spot with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for so long. Thank you, Dale Clevenger, for all of the inspiration and beauty that you have exposed me to and instilled in me over the years.

  4. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 12:40 pm by Lou Korell

    I agree. Why spoil a nice tribute with nasty commentary? Totally tasteless.

  5. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm by David Martin

    Incredulous!,,,, Lawrence Johnson! I only hope that you can retire before you put your proverbial foot in your own mouth again! Was that really necessary? Maybe you’ll be perfect until the day you retire.,,,,,,,,, I doubt it!

  6. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 2:21 pm by Kevin

    “Clevenger undoubtedly stayed on several seasons too long with the decline in his musicianship fitfully marring CSO concerts in recent years.”

    The author of this article undoubtedly has stayed in his position too long, as the decline in his tact and professionalism is marring the image of chicagoclassicalreview.com

  7. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 3:25 pm by Ed Staubach

    The above comment by Tylar is correct. The superfluous and vitriolic comment is an example of why music critics are justifiably reviled. Were the music directors of “recent years” also deaf to his declining musicianship?

  8. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 3:39 pm by Paul Cohan

    In addition to the recordings you name, I would like to mention “The Antiphonal Music of Gabrielli,” a Great Performances title, now on Sony Classical.

    Dale Clevenger is one of seven CSO brass players on this 1960s release, which includes my favorite jacket blurb of all-time, from Stereo Review magazine: “Spectacular, spectacular, spectacular. And in case you didn’t get the message, SPECTACULAR.”

  9. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 3:51 pm by Mike Farthing

    I agree. He has and always will be one of my favorite horn players.“Clevenger undoubtedly stayed on several seasons too long with the decline in his musicianship fitfully marring CSO concerts in recent years.” was totally uncalled for.

  10. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 4:12 pm by EmmaMad

    Clevenger is a great player, no doubt.

    But let’s cool it on the hero worship.

    He was faltering. That’s why he’s retiring.

    It’s ok – he’s human and it will happen to us all. But let’s not deny that he had some noticeable problems toward the end. That’s not “uncalled for” – that’s honesty.

  11. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 4:16 pm by Lynne Schatz

    Comment was inappropriate and tactless. Whatever one’s take, this was neither the time nor the place for this. Dale Clevenger’s recordings will continue to give great pleasure long after the reviewer’s sour note fades into deserved oblivion.

  12. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 4:28 pm by EmmaMad

    When is the time or place for honesty?

  13. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 4:38 pm by Elisabeth Matesky

    My illustrious CSO colleague, Dale Clevenger, inspired the highest musical respect and always warm hearted affection from Sir Georg Solti. Their common ground was not in the Solti Hungarian accent, nor the contrasting Clevenger Southern drawl, but in the utterly hightened musical “zone” they both inhabited. It is not unreasonable to align Dale Clevenger/Horn Great, with another legend, Jack Nicklaus/Golf Great… Perhaps Mr. Johnson should aspire to literary heights rather than sinking to “bling” attention getting depths. Shame on all who allowed such a wicked and spiteful comment to appear in the same announcement on Dale Clevenger’s body of work adorned by the testimonial of present Chicago Symphony Orchestra Music Director, another musical/spiritual giant, Maestro Ricardo Muti…

  14. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 7:14 pm by EmmaMad

    Honesty is neither wicked nor spiteful, Elisabeth.

    You know what *is* wicked? Revisionist history.

    I would love for just one other commenter to admit that Clevenger, while truly great, was human and therefore fallible.

  15. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 7:42 pm by Mike Farthing

    What you are missing here is that this was NOT the place to make a comment such as this. Any comments regarding a performance error would be appropriate during the week of the performance, not within a notice of his retirement and his many many years of outstanding performances.

  16. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 7:45 pm by Tod Verklärung

    Dale Clevenger rescued the CSO horns from mediocrity when he began as section leader in the mid-60s. Unfortunately, the same man who solved the problem eventually became the problem. I acknowledge his musicianship and sensitivity, as well as the boldness and fearlessness that made him a wonderful player. Nonetheless, however much heart and artistry you put into your playing, you still must hit enough of the notes for the audience to appreciate those qualities. No one can do it forever. Let us be grateful for all that Dale Clevenger did for the CSO and for those of us lucky enough to hear him and leave it at that.

  17. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 7:57 pm by Dale Phelps

    Whether real, or perceived, there was no need to mention a decline in facility in a news article about Clevenger retiring to go teach at IU. Omitting that snark would not be “revisionist”, but rushing to defend that catty remark is being just as mean-spirited as the author. No wonder the players in this premier orchestra would strike, you people do not deserve them!

  18. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 8:38 pm by EmmaMad

    I’m not missing anything – quite the opposite.

    I’m choosing not to gloss over the *full
    career* that Clevenger had. And I absolutely guarantee that some of the commenters who are wringing their hands over the “inappropriateness” of the comment were tittering about Clevenger’s missteps as they were happening. Please, save the sanctimony.

  19. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 8:40 pm by Philip Myers, New York Philharmonic

    Dale’s arrival at the Chicago Symphony revolutionized that orchestra in a very short period of time. Herseth was great, Jacobs was great, with Dale they were better. One of the qualities of a great musician is the ability to make those around him perform at a higher level. Dale did this for many people.
    For horn players of my generation he was a pivotal figure. First, he was barely older than we were. Second and most importantly for me, he was able to share his excitement of the horn, the orchestra, the music and the musician’s life.
    If I go to a concert and am excited by 20 seconds of it, I consider it an evening well spent. Dale always provided those 20 seconds.
    I’ve heard him play all the big solos, the audience literally holding their breath in awe, but for me, one simple phrase at the end of the fourth movement of Mahler’s 7th Symphony is something I will never forget, never.
    Thank you, Mr. Clevenger, for all the inspiration that you have provided for so many including myself.

  20. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 9:47 pm by Paul Manz, Prescott POPS Symphony

    I agree with Mr. Myers. Along with David Cripps, he has been an inspiration to me my whole life. One of the highlights for me was hearing him perform “Till” with the CSO in Gammage in Tempe, AZ, then chatting with him afterwards. Very exciting to a 22 year old. I will cherish my CSO recordings with him forever. Last year I met him for the second time at the Conductor’s Guild conference. He was just as gracious.

  21. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 10:16 pm by Peter Borich

    As a longtime patron of the CSO, I find nothing wrong with Mr. Johnson stating the truth about a great musician. During the past few seasons, it went from holding one’s breath in awe over Mr. Clevenger’s solo lines to holding one’s breath in fear that he would not make it through without bobbles and cracks. That should not be, and it marred many a concert-going experience for me. Does that make me think any less of Mr. Clevenger? Hardly. He is one my musical heroes and, thank goodness, I have recording after recording of his wonderful artistry to enjoy for years to come.

  22. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 10:34 pm by Tylar

    Mr. Borich, the reason so many of us take issue with the statement by Mr. Johnson is not that it is untrue, but that this is not the time or place for such comments. As it would not be appropriate to dwell on a person’s faults in their obituary, neither was it appropriate in this announcement of his retirement which essentially amounts to an obituary of his career with the orchestra.

  23. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 10:55 pm by Peter Borich


    I understand your point. However, personally, I don’t take Mr. Johnson’s article to be an obituary of a musical career, but rather a truthful account of a great musician’s retirement. It is as if Greg Norman announced his complete retirement from playing golf, and fans got angered over an article pointing out his choke in the 1996 Masters or other majors. I just don’t think pointing out human flaws in stories about accomplished individuals make them any less accomplished or praiseworthy.

  24. Posted Feb 20, 2013 at 4:30 am by Brian Richardson

    Dale Clevenger was a fabulous contributor to the CSO’s musical heritage, and his sound and expressive courage in live performance and recordings were simply awesome for music lovers…not just horn players. I trust that the CSO will quickly move beyond any recent memories of a string of technically deficient clams from the horn section, and regain their well deserved reputation for musical expression and technical wizardry..both qualities abundantly in evidence with other top shelf ensembles like Berlin, Philly, Concertgebouw, etc.

  25. Posted Feb 20, 2013 at 8:21 am by EmmaMad


    Thank you – my point exactly. And as I said before, I’m not questioning Clevenger’s overall greatness. In my wildest dreams I’ll never play as well as him. But to deny that there were problems at the end – well-publicized problems, by the way – is simply dishonest.

    We should admire Clevenger all the more for taking this opportunity to leave gracefully.

  26. Posted Feb 22, 2013 at 6:18 pm by Toni Spezzati

    Johnson is writing a review, which is about informing, not paying tribute (as Muti rightfully did), and Johnson states a pertinent fact.

    No one can dispute what a giant Clevenger is – and will always be remembered as – in the horn-playing world. But the brief comment about his decline seems perfectly reasonable, honest, and – if the various reviews and comments on the Web from the last couple of years are at all accurate – gently understated. The comment nicely tempered with the graceful acknowledgment in the paragraph that follows it.

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