Barenboim Bids Chicago Adieu in Classic Fashion
Monday, June 19, 2006
With music of incandescent beauty, a dignified handshake for every player, and ovation after ovation, Daniel Barenboim bid adieu to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening at Orchestra Hall.
The performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 -- one of a trio of canonical Ninth symphonies, with Bruckner's Ninth on Friday and Mahler's Ninth on Thursday -- marked not only the end of the conductor's 15-year tenure as music director of this renowned ensemble but also perhaps the end of an era for American orchestras.
At 63, Barenboim is one of the last foreign-born directors of a major U.S. orchestra with close ties to the longtime German conducting tradition, and everything about the concert spoke of his bond with that heritage.
This was playing alive to the moment, with subtle tempo fluctuations highlighting the music's construction and mood. The players responded with the precision and gusto that left no doubt the orchestra remains among the world's elite musical ensembles.
The Beethoven showed the CSO to be a very different orchestra from the one Barenboim took over in 1991 from Georg Solti, who wielded the symphony like an artillery commander. The spacious opening movement emerged with a grace and grandeur far removed from the stridency of the Solti years. Yet in sheer volume and depth of expression, the CSO showed that its essential identity remains intact.
The Chicago Symphony now faces an interregnum with no successor yet appointed, while Barenboim himself remains music director of the Berlin State Opera and conductor-for-life of its orchestra, the Berlin Staatskapelle. Next season, he also becomes the principal guest conductor of La Scala.
Barenboim joins a long list of Europe-based conductors, Kurt Masur, Yuri Temirkanov and Mariss Jansons among them, who have recently left posts in the United States. While an exciting new vista has opened for American orchestras, after the luminous Chicago performances one was left wondering whether we are losing something unique and special.