Winner in Musical Podiums

February 05, 1989|JOHN HENKEN

Almost as soon as Georg Solti made it known late in 1986 that he would retire as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1991, Daniel Barenboim headed the roster of rumored heirs. After all, the 46-year-old musician had first conducted the orchestra back in 1970, and has made more than 30 recordings with the CSO.

Reached at his home in Paris, Barenboim confirmed that he had signed a contract more than a year ago with the Chicago Symphony, which made the agreement public last week. Barenboim becomes music director designate immediately, dropping the designate portion of the title for the 1991-92 season.

"I have a number of ideas about the role of the musicians, and the orchestra in general. It is time now to look back and see how the symphony orchestra has developed," Barenboim says. "We have made really tremendous progress in the last 50 years in improving the social position of musicians. However, because of the need for more concerts--and more audiences--the life has become a little too much based on routine. It is all too much in compartments."

Barenboim's solution to the problem is to expand the activities of the orchestra, in collaborations with other arts institutions, citing in Chicago the opera, theaters, museums and music schools. "I would like for the Chicago Symphony to have a catalyzing influence," he says. "I would like to give the musicians of Chicago the widest possible opportunities."

His ideas may seem familiar to followers of U.S. orchestras. Ernest Fleischmann, executive vice president of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, put forth similar proposals in a widely discussed article, "The Orchestra Is Dead. Long Live the Community of Musicians."

Barenboim is not quite ready to say that the orchestra is dead, a statement seemingly used principally for shock value by Fleischmann. Nor does he believe the symphony orchestra is an elitist institution.

"No, absolutely not," he says. Elitism, however, was one of the charges laid against Barenboim when he was fired two weeks ago from a $1.1 million job heading the new Opera de la Bastille in Paris.

"That was a very inaccurate way of describing what I wanted to do with the Opera," Barenboim says. Nor is he plannning to go gently into operatic night. "We are going to court now."

Even if the French courts disappoint him in his bid to remain as head of Opera Bastille, Barenboim will be a busy man. He is music director of L'Orchestre de Paris, succeeding Solti in the position in 1975, and will remain there until 1990. He conducted the new "Ring" in Bayreuth last summer, and confirms that Bayreuth remains a long-term commitment. He also has other guest-conducting engagements, and intends to maintain active as a piano soloist and recitalist.

"I don't forsee any problems," he says of this schedule. As music director designate, Barenboim is expected to be in Chicago for at least six weeks during each of the transitional seasons, and will share conducting duties with Solti during the CSO tour of Japan in April, 1990. When he takes over in 1991, his three-year contract calls for him to conduct a minimum of 12 weeks of concerts in Chicago per season and lead all major tours.

"I'm going into this position in Chicago with a great sense of joy," Barenboim says.

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