Oboist Alex Klein denied CSO tenure; threatens to sue, says report

Thu May 25, 2017 at 2:00 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Photo: Todd Rosenberg

The triumphant return of Alex Klein to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has turned to harsh dissonance as the ensemble’s principal oboe was denied tenure and is now threatening to sue the CSO.

Klein, principal oboe of the CSO for nine years from 1995, resigned his position in 2004 when crippling focal dystonia affected his playing. He had since recovered and found a way to overcome his affliction. Klein’s rehiring to his old chair last year by Riccardo Muti made international news as the heartening tale of a courageous musician overcoming a career-ending neurological illness.

But that happy ending apparently was short-lived. The Chicago Tribune reported Thursday that Klein was denied tenure–essentially fired–last month by Riccardo Muti following the players’ committee evaluation after his probationary period.

The John von Rhein story quotes Klein’s April 16 email to CSO colleagues saying that he was “stunned” by the decision. He apparently refused to take the usual proffered face-saving gesture of “resigning” officially, and instead, tried to rally CSO colleagues to support his staying in the orchestra.

In the same April 16 email, Klein left open the possibility of suing the orchestra, as “the only recourse I have to protect my civil rights.”

Audience members knew something was up last month with Klein’s absence from Muti’s Brahms cycle performances. At that time the CSO said that the oboist “was indisposed and taking a few weeks off.”

While Klein’s rehiring was widely hailed a year ago as a heartwarming story of a brave musician’s return to glory, some observers–and a few musicians–were more dubious. Focal dystonia is a condition that can only be controlled and not cured. The rehiring of Klein seemed like Muti and the CSO were taking an unnecessary gamble on a major appointment when they could have had their pick of the best available players in the world. (Frank Rosenwein of the Cleveland Orchestra was especially brilliant in his weeks playing with the CSO.)

A CSO spokeswoman declined to offer a statement Thursday citing the orchestra’s no-comment policy on personnel matters.

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2 Responses to “Oboist Alex Klein denied CSO tenure; threatens to sue, says report”

  1. Posted May 25, 2017 at 4:42 pm by Dave

    A sad and unnecessary situation. I hope things turn out well for Mr. Klein. As for the orchestra, the principal player drama continues. I suppose it’s a testament to Muti and the ensemble as a whole that they keep performing at the highest level despite this upheaval.

  2. Posted May 26, 2017 at 4:37 am by Tod Verklärung

    I have seen no negative comments by Chicago concert reviewers of Alex Klein’s playing since his return. An investigative reporter might be able to determine whether the committee and Muti agreed in the ultimate decision or this was the Music Director’s determination alone. The absence of critical appraisal by the listening community also makes one wonder whether there were other factors beyond Mr. Klein’s technique that factored in.

    Finally, inside sources could provide information on Mr. Muti’s relationship with the oboe principal: did he ever have private meetings with Alex Klein to express his concerns prior to the decision? Did he tell him of the tenure denial face to face or delegate the job of informing him?

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