Here is my exclusive story at suntimes.com, Tuesday night January 5, 2010, and for the Wednesday January 6, 2010, Chicago Sun-Times on top flutist Mathieu Dufour's decision to stay with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Back on September 14, 2009, I reported from Lucerne, in the Sun-Times and here, that reports out of the Los Angeles Philharmonic that Dufour was leaving Chicago were, um, greatly exaggerated.
Mathieu Dufour staying with Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Much coveted French-born flutist ends trial period in Los Angeles mid-season
When Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal flute Mathieu Dufour takes the stage Thursday night as a soloist for the first of a month of CSO concerts saluting the upcoming 85th birthday of conductor emeritus Pierre Boulez, there should be even more than the usual cheers for the popular musician.
Just before a CSO rehearsal Tuesday morning, the internationally acclaimed Dufour, 37, who has been on leave playing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic the last several months, told his CSO colleagues and Boulez that he would be remaining in Chicago.
"I missed Chicago -- the players and the audience and the city itself -- really a lot," he told the Sun-Times on Tuesday. "I’m glad that I tried something else. But by doing so I realized even more what we have here.
“There are fine musicians in Los Angeles, but we have achieved a very strong common purpose and set of aims in Chicago that they do not have or do not yet have there. They have no tradition there -- no tradition of sound and no tradition of working together as a dedicated ensemble. Maybe they will have that someday in the future.”
In an e-mail Tuesday to CSO trustees, CSO Association President Deborah F. Rutter wrote, "When this news was shared with the orchestra this morning, there was a sustained warm and enthusiastic response (yes, cheering, stomping of feet, etc!). . . . This is great news for all of us at the CSO!"
With the exception of some attention-hungry opera divas, the world of classical music is usually fairly civil, collegial, and lacking in surprises. A contract is a contract. There’s little news until formal announcements are made. Players and singers from rival groups are courted, but never poached.
But in September, the L.A. Phil issued an unprecedented press release announcing that Dufour was leaving Chicago after 10 years to take up the first flute chair at Walt Disney Concert Hall under the Philharmonic’s new music director, the charismatic young Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel. The Philharmonic even posted a biography of Dufour on its Web site, claiming he had been appointed as principal back in 2008 by the orchestra’s former music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen.
There were a few problems with the Philharmonic’s statements, though. In the first place, they weren’t true.
“Everyone in the music business knows that these things are trial periods at first,” Dufour told the Sun-Times in Lucerne, Switzerland, in September while the CSO was on a five-city, nine-concert European tour with its principal conductor Bernard Haitink.
CSO officials were barely given a courtesy heads-up from their Los Angeles colleagues before the press release went out, and they learned of it only as the CSO was taking the stage in Berlin for its first concert of the fall European tour.
"We can’t speak for another orchestra," said CSO vice president for public relations Raechel Alexander in September. "But we don’t announce new appointments until a player’s existing ones elsewhere have been resolved. And Mathieu is the principal flute of the CSO and of no other orchestra, as far as we are aware."
Without bothering to speak to Dufour himself, other news organizations in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago reported that he was moving out West.
Dufour played last season with the Philharmonic and Salonen on a lengthy Asian tour and at its Frank Gehry-designed Disney Hall. He took an unpaid leave for a part of this season to try things out with Dudamel.
But he also played the CSO’s full Europe tour and Chicago dates with Haitink this fall, is playing three weeks of programs with Boulez (including a tour this month to New York’s Carnegie Hall), and is still committed to the CSO’s all-Beethoven Festival, also with Haitink, in June. All of this is a much heavier schedule than usual for a departing musician.
The L.A. musicians, Dufour said, "will have some exciting concerts there for sure as they go along. But in every rehearsal I missed what makes up the Chicago sound: the sense that every member of the CSO knows that you cannot ever go halfway and that every subtle detail is important."
As it is, Dufour will not be returning to Los Angeles at all this season, using the time from February through May for shoulder surgery and recuperation.
"Mathieu has resigned for personal reasons," said Los Angeles Philharmonic director of public relations Sophie Jefferies. "He had a one-year contract with us, and with his known Chicago concert date commitments and his medical leave, he has fulfilled that contract and has played his last concert here.
"We’re very sorry to see him go and wish him all the best. He is an amazing player."
"I know that Chicago is home now," Dufour said. "After ten years I know that. Even in this winter weather -- it's a part of our life. I can say that again, 'our life.'"