Chris Martin to leave CSO for New York Philharmonic

Thu May 05, 2016 at 2:16 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson


Christopher Martin, the highly esteemed principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is going to New York.

Martin will join the New York Philharmonic as principal trumpet in September, the Philharmonic announced Thursday. The Georgia native succeeds Phillip Smith, who retired from the Philharmonic in 2014 after 36 seasons as principal trumpet.

Martin’s CSO departure has been one of the worst-kept secrets in town and was widely known in Chicago and New York for months. As usual in these instances, the CSO made no comment, apart from noting that Martin’s 2016-17 roster absence is officially a one-year leave.

CSO principal trumpet for 11 seasons, Martin is the latest in a string of principal players who have left the CSO during the tenure of Riccardo Muti. Also departing the orchestra in recent years have been flutist Mathieu Defour (who went to the Berlin Philharmonic) oboist Eugene Izotov (San Francisco Symphony), and bassoonist David McGill (retirement).

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last month, Muti was unconcerned about Martin’s impending leave saying, “He is very close to the Chicago Symphony but he wants another experience.” More broadly on the issue of musicians departing the CSO, the conductor was philosophical, stating that “change is natural in symphony orchestras” and that “no player is indispensable in this orchestra.”

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18 Responses to “Chris Martin to leave CSO for New York Philharmonic”

  1. Posted May 05, 2016 at 4:34 pm by Tod Verklärung

    If Mr. Martin chooses to stay in NY, he will be missed. The CSO now has four empty first-chair seats (oboe, flute, horn, and trumpet) for the first time in at least a half-century. Since they pay top dollar, one can only wonder what other factors might be involved.

    As it is, Martin goes to an orchestra that will soon be without a permanent hall (due to renovation) and in the midst of the departure of Alan Gilbert and the transition to Jaap van Zweden — in other words, an unsettled situation.

    If Mr. Muti is the wizard some say, his magic doesn’t keep his best musicians from looking for greener pastures.

  2. Posted May 05, 2016 at 10:04 pm by Peter Borich

    This one hurts. Just don’t understand how one can leave the CSO brass section for the blasé New York Philharmonic. Adolph Herseth must be rolling in his grave. Sad Sad News….

  3. Posted May 05, 2016 at 11:37 pm by Dave

    This is quite a loss for the Chicago Symphony and its audiences. I don’t know what’s going on, but it would be great if management could stop operating in a vacuum and fix whatever is wrong. It’s not normal for an orchestra of this class to hemorrhage principal players, and to my knowledge, this is completely unprecedented in this ensemble’s history.

    On one hand, the maestro is right to say that the orchestra doesn’t hinge on any one individual. On the other, it takes a really long time to find the perfect person to occupy a principal chair in an orchestra like the CSO, especially the chair named after the legendary Bud Herseth. It took years to find that person in Chris Martin. Now at least one year will be in limbo, and assuming he stays in NY, it could be much longer than that until the right successor is found. It looks like the week to week unevenness in the woodwinds is set to spread to the brass.

    These great players help to create a style and musical identity for an orchestra over time, much as Herseth and others did in decades past. With the orchestra as a whole reaching new heights during Muti’s tenure, this constant turnover makes even less sense. Sorry for the rant.

  4. Posted May 07, 2016 at 6:42 am by Mark

    The bassoon position has been filled and so has the flute position I believe (the new player has not started yet). The principal horn position is still vacant, and that does not look like it will be resolved soon. Some principals retire and some have moved on to other posts. Is it a Muti issue? I have not heard any rumors, but he is clearly rebuilding the wind section and I think that the results are productive. I for one have noticed intonation and blending issues in the past, and find these to be non-issues now for the most part.

    The fact that Mr. Martin has decided to go to New York should not be seen as a competition. It is just his personal choice. He has played with the incoming music director of the Philharmonic, and he should have a good idea of what to expect. I’m sure that the CSO will find another highly-qualified trumpet player, the local media will dub him or her the world’s best and everything will be fine.

  5. Posted May 07, 2016 at 8:41 am by RON pryble-

    Muti dislikes trumpets. La Scala trumpet section, 1st trumpet in Philly and now Chicago.

  6. Posted May 07, 2016 at 2:21 pm by Lawrence A. Johnson

    Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson is the CSO’s new principal flute, as announced last fall. He begins in Chicago May 30.

  7. Posted May 07, 2016 at 10:28 pm by Matthias

    Mark, I don’t understand. You say that “Muti is rebuilding the wind section” even though you believe that Martin’s departure is “his personal choice.” So which is it?

  8. Posted May 09, 2016 at 6:10 am by Mark

    Matthias, you would have to ask Mr. Muti or Mr. Martin about whether it was Martin’s personal choice to leave. Everything I have read and heard has indicated that it was his choice. But irrespective of that, with all of the departures, Muti is rebuilding the wind second of the CSO (including the brass for the avoidance of doubt).

    Look, I’m not a huge Muti fan. I think too much of the programming has been unpersuassive as well as some of his interpretations. There is no doubt, however, that when Muti is on the podium, he is the Man. The CSO sounds terrific, but more in the Reiner tradition than Solti.

  9. Posted May 09, 2016 at 10:10 pm by Matthias

    Right. Thanks for your response, Mark. I think it is quite clear that Muti has not forcibly removed any of the departed players, woodwind or brass, from this orchestra. And yet they all have had their reasons to leave, which we may never know. I admit I have not heard him conduct very many times, as his programming selections simply do not interest me. To each his own.

  10. Posted May 10, 2016 at 1:48 pm by Justin Cohen

    Well, apparently Bud Herseth WAS indispensable–so far. But certainly no conductor is!

  11. Posted May 14, 2016 at 5:48 am by Markk

    Bud Herseth was not indispensable, because the CSO has kept standards high since his time. If anything, what we have seen is a transformation of the CSO from an excessively brass heavy sound to a more balanced one.

    I agree that no conductor is indispensable as well, but only certain conductors seem able to successfully cultivate an orchestra’s sound. Muti is such a conductor, but at some point his time will be over and someone else will need to be found. Just like Chris Martin leaving, the CSO will continue to be successful.

  12. Posted May 19, 2016 at 9:22 pm by Bud

    To suggest that any of these players left the CSO because of Muti is utterly ridiculous. Players move for many reasons. Izotov’s first job was in San Francisco as associate principal. Many of his family live there. Likely a personal decision. Dufour is French. Only natural for him to have a desire to go back to Europe, especially to Berlin, one of the world’s most esteemed orchestras.

    CSO may be a better orchestra than NYP (opinion) but they have Juilliard so if Martin wants to teach, that is a much more prestigious place to be (sorry Northwestern). There isn’t even a guarantee that Martin won’t go back to CSO. It’s just silly to blast Muti over it.

  13. Posted May 21, 2016 at 9:28 am by Tod Verklärung

    It is not ridiculous that Muti’s presence here might have influenced a player’s decision to leave, but not the only possible reason. For whatever reason, it is interesting that the number of defections of principals didn’t happen even with Music Directors like Martinon and Barenboim, both of whom had strong detractors in the CSO.

    Moreover, Solti intervened in the feud between Peck and Still, showing a commitment to the orchestra that Muti has not displayed in similar grievances between woodwind players. Whatever the reason, Muti’s charm or diplomacy or talent are not enough to keep these guys in their seats.

    In other words, empty seats on stage and (if one discounts the tons of students in school groups receiving budget rates), empty seats in the audience.

  14. Posted Jun 12, 2016 at 10:45 pm by Rick

    As one who wasn’t the biggest fan of Martin being hired for the CSO in 2005, this doesn’t bother me at all. I would be delighted if Ridenour gets offered the chair as I think he should have gotten it to begin with (I much prefer his playing over Mr Martin). There will be no drop off in playing next year if Ridenour plays Principal.

    As for Muti not liking Martin’s playing: I highly doubt that. It seems Muti has always enjoyed a rather subdued trumpet section and has clashed with big musical personalities such as Kaderabek in Philadephia. Martin is one of the most laid-back players I can imagine so I don’t think Muti was mad at him. Maybe he just wanted to go to NYP because their brass is in the ascendancy and the CSO may be on the wane.

  15. Posted Jun 15, 2016 at 8:04 pm by Mark

    Chris Martin is certainly a very fine trumpet player; however any one of the guys to Mr. Martin’s right in the CSO would do a wonderful job playing principal trumpet. After all they were there under Bud Herseth and Martin was not. I wish Mr. Martin the best as he begins his job in New York.

  16. Posted Oct 05, 2016 at 3:50 pm by Robert

    Mr. Martin brought a softer, warmer sound to the principal chair. Chicago audiences were very used to the power and brilliance of Bud Herseth. Being an orchestral trumpeter myself, I specifically marked my parts with “NTL” (“not too loud”) when listening to Martin’s dynamics.

    I agree with Rick’s comments that Mark Ridenour should be given the chair and leadership of the section. I am one who carries a bias that the trumpets should be heard when the parts read forte or louder.

  17. Posted Feb 19, 2017 at 1:55 pm by John

    Mark Ridenour should not be “given” anything. If he wants the chair he should audition for it, the same as anybody else.

  18. Posted May 06, 2017 at 12:27 pm by Jon Schneider

    The comments above about Mr Martin’s tendency to play more softly were interesting. I couldnt help thinking that his moderate dynamics might have been diplomatically recommended to him at the start: something along the lines of “whereas, Mr Herseth, by his eminence and uniquely well earned lengthy reign was tethered to the orchestra at the end of a long and stretchy leash, a more unassuming presence was expected of any new principal trumpet.” Perhaps the rules of engagement in the present NYP were assured to be less confining than here in Chicago.
    On a related subject, does anyone know the circumstances that led to the departure of Mr Martin’s predecessor?

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