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Two orchestras, one principal flutist

September 16, 2009|Diane Haithman

Celebrated flutist Mathieu Dufour will be joining the Los Angeles Philharmonic -- or will he?

The philharmonic announced that Paris-born Dufour, principal flutist for 10 years with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), will become the L.A. orchestra's principal flute. The musician will assume the chair in mid-September for the new season under the baton of the orchestra's new music director, Gustavo Dudamel.

So why does CSO still call Dufour its principal flutist? In fact, on Friday, when his L.A. appointment was announced, Dufour was in Berlin with the Chicago orchestra under that title. In the wake of the philharmonic's announcement, a couple of Windy City music writers wondered what was up.

The fact is the Los Angeles orchestra didn't jump the gun in announcing Dufour's appointment. You see, the rarefied world of major orchestras does not operate in the humble realm of pink slips and two-week notices that includes most 9-to-5 working stiffs.

In fact, most orchestra contracts allow a musician a year to decide whether to stay or go -- during which the artist often continues to honor commitments with the orchestra he or she plans to leave and also perform with the new group. In the meantime, the musician may enjoy the title in both locations (in this case, Dufour will be on a formal "leave of absence" from the Chicago orchestra during the 2009-10 season).

While traveling in Europe, Dufour could not be reached for comment -- but Deborah Borda, president of the LA Philharmonic, called the situation "very standard."

Dufour, who auditioned for the position in May 2008, was not invited to audition by the Phil but rather sought the position himself and won out over a "large number" of competitors. However, Borda said a musician of Dufour's stature automatically advances to the final audition without having to go through the first cattle call.

Dufour was appointed by the Phil's outgoing music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen, but has played under Dudamel's direction when the Venezuelan guest-conducted in Chicago, Borda said. "In fact, Gustavo had dinner with him and spoke with him very extensively when he was there," she said, adding that Dufour also formed a bond with the Los Angeles orchestra when he joined the orchestra's tour of Asia last season.

Vanessa Moss, vice president of orchestra and building operations for CSO, confirmed that the transition process is standard but sounded somewhat hopeful that Dufour might just change his mind. "The final decision has not been made," she said. "This is a year of exploration; he is on leave this year and won the position in Los Angeles . . . we love having him, he is a great artist."

Moss said that the fact that Dufour will play the full tour of Europe with principal conductor Bernard Haitink and will join the orchestra in a tour to New York's Carnegie Hall, among other commitments, "is a testament to his dedication to us. He's got a real sense of musical responsibility."


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