CSO's search to replace Deborah Rutter

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Deborah Rutter

Deborah Rutter, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune / December 18, 2013)

So we're not talking about an infinite number of job candidates.

"It's not a big pool," League of American Orchestras President/CEO Jesse Rosen. "These are extremely challenging jobs. Relatively speaking, the orchestra field is a small one compared to the legal profession, doctors, what have you. You start out with a small universe, and when you get into these top jobs, the challenges are in many respects larger than leading an orchestra at a tier below, so you have a relatively small pool of applicants."

At the same time, the required skill set is constantly evolving. Rutter said that when she took the CSO job, she wasn't constantly checking email to see whether she might have missed some urgent matter.

"If you look at anybody doing business in 2003 or 1993 versus 2014, the biggest difference is technology and the expectation for communication, decision-making, information-sharing and the immediacy that comes along with that," Rutter said. "The environment around us has changed so dramatically and so quickly; how do we keep up with that with an art form that is essentially hundreds of years old?"

Zarin Mehta, former executive director of the New York Philharmonic and, before that, executive director of the Ravinia Festival, said another key factor in the CSO search will be the incoming president's compatibility with the strong-minded 72-year-old music director, Muti.

"Let's face it, that person must be acceptable to the maestro," said Mehta, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade Muti to take over the New York Philharmonic. "He's demanding but demanding in the right way. He's professional, and he wants things to go properly. He loves the (Chicago) orchestra, and he loves the city; I know, because he's told me. So the person that comes in is going to have to be a really strong partner."

A CSO spokewoman said Muti was unavailable to comment.

Muti's current contract runs through the 2014-15 season, and although negotiations on an extension have taken place — with the general feeling that both sides wish to continue this relationship — no agreement has been reached.

Capturing top talent to replace Rutter could add to the CSO's expenses as well. Among top executives at the "Big Five" plus the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Rutter had the lowest total compensation: $577,189, in 2012, the most recent year for which tax filing data was available.

Muti and Rutter have been of like minds in extending the CSO's reach far beyond the Symphony Center walls through performances in prisons, churches, community centers and other venues and audiences not traditionally served by the orchestra — as well as through the broad Citizen Musician initiative to establish music's relevance in more people's lives. Muti and Rutter brought in renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma (who performed with the conductor and orchestra at Symphony Center this weekend) as the CSO's creative consultant in late 2009 to spearhead many of these activities.

The organization's increased involvement in the city can be seen in the CSO's and Lyric Opera's partnership in the Chicago Public Schools Arts Education Plan, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel appearing recently with Ma and Lyric creative consultant Renee Fleming to tout new initiatives.

Lyric general manager Anthony Freud said such a collaborative spirit among Chicago's arts organizations and city no doubt makes the CSO president job more attractive. "I think it's a great job," Freud said. "It's a great institution, obviously a great orchestra, and it's a great city to live and work in the arts."

Rosen, who worked under Rutter in Seattle, said the orchestra's extracurricular efforts represent a cultural shift for the CSO, an institution formerly thought of as "a fixed icon."

"Now I think of it as a place that is continuously evolving, doing new and innovative things, and it has great momentum," Rosen said. "Deborah's leaving the Chicago Symphony in a very different place (than she found it)."

But CSO violist Max Raimi expressed concern that some of these efforts ultimately might be in conflict with the quest to maintain the highest artistic standards. He complained that when the orchestra played its inaugural concerts at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle last summer, it was performing film music and other watered-down repertoire rather than the classical music that shows the orchestra at its best.

"I don't feel that evangelical zeal anymore," Raimi said. "With all Deborah's strengths, I hope the new person has a real evangelical zeal toward the greatness of classical music. I do not feel it was a real emphasis in where the direction was going under her leadership."

Rutter said one can't lead the organization without a great passion for the orchestra's work.

"In order to do this job, you have to have stamina and dedication and an open heart and an open mind, and you have to really love the music, because it's not going to be fun all the time," she said.

Although she said she is not involved in the process to find her replacement, she has her hopes. "I believe in putting the city, the audience and the institution first and knowing that the goal is for it to be here forever, healthy artistically and financially," she said. "You need to find the right leader who can do that. Each new executive takes the institution however they find it and with a new set of eyes makes adjustments."

"It's just a lot of things to have to sort out," Rosen said. "They're tough jobs, and in some ways Deborah has made it harder for the person coming in because she really raised the bar."

Tribune classical music critic John von Rhein contributed.



Twitter @MarkCaro

Twitter @hgillers

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