CSO conductor search to reach cruising speed in 2023-24 with a wide array of podium guests

Wed Feb 15, 2023 at 11:00 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Conductor Jakub Hrůša will lead two weeks of concerts in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2023-24 season.

The 2023-24 season of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will offer substantial and intriguing programs, a vast and varied lineup of guest conductors and one sort-of surprise.

The surprise is that the Riccardo Muti era will really be over. Which will come as either a disappointment or a relief depending on how one views the mercurial Italian’s era in Chicago. 

Muti will open this transitional season September 21 and lead just the first two weeks of the fall (plus the Symphony Ball concert) and that will be it for his Chicago concerts next season. No long goodbye. Muti will also take the orchestra on four weeks of touring including a three-week European trip in January of 2024.

More importantly, the ongoing search for music director will hit cruising speed with many of the guest conductors coming to town potential candidates to succeed Muti on the Orchestra Hall podium.

“It’s a season that I think people will enjoy and that will be really exciting,” said Jeff Alexander, president of the CSO Association.

Inevitably, with this interim period between Riccardo Muti, whose 13-year tenure ends in June, and the appointment of a successor, most interest will focus on the two-dozen guest conductors who will populate the season. 

Alexander demurs at terming 2023-24 as an “audition season.” “I would just call it a wonderful season,” he said with a laugh.

Jeff Alexander, CSO president, said the orchestra has no set deadline for naming a new music director. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Still, he agrees that it will inevitably feel like an extended round of podium tryouts for the top job with so many guest conductors coming to town while the CSO’s prestigious MD position remains open.

“Of course, we’re happy to have such a wonderful lineup of guest conductors,” he said. “Obviously, anyone who comes in to conduct the orchestra, we will be paying close attention to.”

He added that doesn’t necessarily mean that people would be ruled out who are not on the 2023-24 podium roster either. Among those are Christian Thielemann, whose Bruckner performances were a highlight of last year. Those concerts came in late October after much of the season was already slotted, Alexander said. The good news is that the CSO is in discussion with the German conductor about his returning in future seasons.

Alexander said the music director search committee has been “quite active.” Composed of 15 people (six musicians, six board trustees and three admin including himself), the committee meets regularly about every eight weeks to talk about recent CSO concerts and potential candidates generally. “These are wide-ranging discussions,” he said. 

In an interesting sidelight, Alexander said that even without a music director on the job, auditions will continue and open positions will be filled. Covid and the year-and-a half pandemic shutdown resulted in leaving positions open, some for years like principal viola. “We’re working out a plan with the orchestra committee on how to proceed with auditions in the interim,” he said. “We just don’t know how long the interim will be.”

Alexander emphasized again that there is no set deadline for hiring the CSO’s next leader and it’s possible that the orchestra could reach June of 2024 and still not have a Muti successor chosen. (Of course, there is also the practical financial benefit of not having to pay a music director’s large salary too.)

“When the right person comes along and the stars align, we will know it,” said Alexander. “And that’s when we’ll make the decision.”

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With eight of Muti’s traditional ten Chicago weeks opened up, Chicago audiences in 2023-24 will have an opportunity to hear concerts led by the most varied array of guest conductors in many years.

The four top short-list candidates tapped here a year ago will all return to Chicago next season: Jakub Hrůša, Manfred Honeck, Susanna Malkki and Esa-Pekka Salonen. There are also many esteemed podium guests who could conceivably be in the final mix. 

A disappointment for many, as mentioned, is that Christian Thielemann will not be returning, at least not next season. Perhaps more significantly, neither will Marin Alsop. 

Four CSO commissions by American composers will have their world premieres next season. Muti will lead the debut of Philip Glass’s The Triumph of the Octagon in September. The remaining three works consist of concerto commissions for CSO principals: Jessie Montgomery’s Percussion Concerto for Cynthia Yeh; Lowell Liebermann’s Flute Concerto No 2 for Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson; and Christopher Theofanidis’ Indigo Heaven for Stephen Williamson. 

Jessie Montgomery enters her third and final season as CSO Mead composer-in-residence. Hilary Hahn’s two-year appointment as CSO artist-in-residence will be extended for the 2023-24 season. Next season Hahn will perform the Brahms concerto. 

Music of Gustav Mahler will be back with a vengeance next season: The Symphony No. 1 will be led by Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider; No. 2 by Esa-Pekka Salonen, and No. 4 by Susanna Mälkki. Baritone Christian Gerhaher will perform selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

Also Sir Simon Rattle will lead Mahler’s Symphony No. 6—alas, not with CSO, but on a tour stop with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. 

Conductors making their debuts next season are Gemma New, Elim Chan, Philippe Jordan, and Kazuki Yamada.

Other returning CSO conductors include Semyon Bychkov, Michael Tilson Thomas, Herbert Blomstedt, Paavo Järvi, Stéphane Denève, Jaap van Zweden, James Conlon, Klaus Mäkelä, Hannu Lintu, Mikko Franck, John Storgårds, Juraj Valčuha, Daniel Harding, Lahav Shani, James Gaffigan, Tugan Sokhiev and Giancarlo Guerrero.

The popular Jakub Hrůša will lead two weeks of concerts March 7-16, 2024. Works include Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra, Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration and Also Sprach Zarathustra,  Bartok’s Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham, and Martinů’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with Josef Špaček.

Guest soloists next season include pianists Yuja Wang (Bartok 3) Daniil Trifonov (Mason Bates), Jean-Yves Thibaudet (Saint-Saëns 5), Seong-Jin Cho (Beethoven 3), Martin Helmchen (Beethoven 1), Behzod Abduraimov (Tchaikovsky 1), Yulianna Avdeeva (Chopin 1), Conrad Tao (Gershwin) and Orion Weiss (Mozart).

Other soloists coming to town are violinists Joshua Bell, Leonidas Kavakos (Szymanowski 2), and Renaud Capuçon (Saint-Saëns 3); cellists Jian Wang (Bloch) and Sheku Kanneh-Mason (Elgar); trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (Marsalis), and organist Paul Jacobs (Barber).  

All CSO evening performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. beginning next season.

Visiting orchestras next season are the aforementioned Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra led by Rattle and the Staatskapelle Berlin led by former CSO music director Daniel Barenboim in an all-Brahms program.

Symphony Center Presents chamber events include a program of Hilary Hahn and friends and a pair of starry trio programs: Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Lisa Batiashivili and Gautier Capuçon; and Emanuel Ax, violinist Leonidas Kavakos and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.  Ma will also perform a recital with pianist Kathryn Stott. 

Also appearing are violinist Maxim Vengerov and pianist Polina Osetinskaya. And pianist Mitsuko Uchida returns with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra to lead another program of Mozart piano concertos from the keyboard. 

Appearing in the SCP Piano Series are Sir András Schiff, Hélène Grimaud, Bruce Liu, Yefim Bronfman, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Benjamin Grosvenor, and duo-pianists Lucas and Arthur Jussen.

CSO subscriptions are now available. Go to cso.org or call 312-294-3000.

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5 Responses to “CSO conductor search to reach cruising speed in 2023-24 with a wide array of podium guests”

  1. Posted Feb 16, 2023 at 5:25 pm by Stephanie D

    End of Muti era is a relief, not a disappointment. Good season.

  2. Posted Feb 17, 2023 at 2:19 pm by Alan Hammer

    At the risk of belaboring the obvious, every time a conductor leaves his or her post, his or her former orchestra joins the CSO in looking for a replacement. It’s almost literally a game of musical chairs. Since your first article a year ago, Makela, Hrusa and Dudamel have accepted new positions. If the CSO waits too long for the “stars to align” its preferred candidate may be gone.

  3. Posted Feb 22, 2023 at 3:42 pm by Gerry A

    I’d wait for Esa-Pekka Salonen…

  4. Posted Feb 27, 2023 at 3:50 am by Erem E Bobrakov

    In my opinion Maestro Muti is one the most important conductors of our time.While it is true that programming was somewhat limited to the more traditional pieces in the era of decreasing attendance–for multiple reasons no doubt–CSO remained the only beacon of world-class music in Chicago.

    After all, who wants to hear music of Varese and the like no one heard of?

    Hope CSO finds a worthy replacement.

  5. Posted Jul 08, 2023 at 5:56 pm by J.J. Watt

    Is David Robertson available or interested in the position?

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