Appointments / Auditions & Appointments / Music News & Info: Classical

Dale Clevenger to retire from CSO this June; let the speculation begin about who could possibly fill his shoes

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra announced this morning that Dale Clevenger, their renowned Principal Horn since 1966, will be retiring from the orchestra on June 30 of this year (read the official CSO press release HERE). This comes right on the heels of Indiana University announcing that he will join the Jacobs School of Music as “professor of practice” beginning this fall.

Dale ClevengerMr. Clevenger, together with Adolph “Bud” Herseth (Principal Trumpet, 1948-2001) and Jay Friedman (Principal Trombone, 1962-current), has helped to create the iconic brass sound for which the CSO has become world-famous.  For most of his career, he has been known for playing with a rare combination of  power, warmth, and precision.

For the past few seasons, however, he has been the subject of increased scrutiny for refusing to step down despite recurring instances of what many critics described as sub-par playing — sub-par not just for Mr. Clevenger, but for any principal horn.  As recently as this past December, reports emerged about potential behind-the-scenes activities at the CSO to get him to step down.

Now that this announcement has been made, the orchestra can spend the rest of the season preparing appropriate tributes to him to honor his distinguished tenure instead of allowing all of the lingering negativity to fester.  Despite the very legitimate criticism about his playing of late, Mr. Clevenger certainly deserves the boatload of praise that will be coming his way.

Of course, with this announcement will also come speculation about who may potentially be able and willing to take his place.  Just for proverbial grins, let me be among the first to toss a name out for your consideration:  William Caballero.

The current Principal Horn of the Pittsburgh Symphony plays with a level of technical skill and ass-kicking boldness that has made him a legend in his own right.  Moreover, he has shown a willingness to consider a move to another orchestra as evidenced by his trial and subsequent guest principal stint with the Los Angeles Philharmonic during the 2010-2011 season.  While he eventually turned down the offer to move to LA to stay in the Steel City, a number of critics in the US and Europe pointed out that his all-or-nothing style seemed out of balance with the rest of the LA Phil.  In contrast, this approach would seem to be an ideal fit in Chicago.

Of course, I doubt he’d be willing to audition unless he received an invitation, and that would only happen if/when the CSO and Riccardo Muti don’t find anyone via open audition first.  The list of candidates vying for this position will certainly be quite long.

I am willing to bet a whole lotta money that given their ongoing difficulties in finding a Principal Clarinet, combined with the amount of time it took the LA Phil, San Francisco Symphony, and other orchestras to find their own Principal Horns, Mr. Muti et al will take years to replace Mr. Clevenger — which, given the size of the shoes to fill, undoubtably seems appropriate.

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5 thoughts on “Dale Clevenger to retire from CSO this June; let the speculation begin about who could possibly fill his shoes

  1. Just to clear it up, the CSO (by contract) can’t hire anyone unless they’ve gone through the normal audition. For a principal position (like this) the music director has a limited number of invites to a “pre-final” round, but if the audition doesn’t produce a winner they have to start all over. They can’t then simply invite people to do trials that would lead to a hire.

    • Thank you very much for that info, sir. When the CSO was looking for a Principal Clarinet a few years back, it seemed that Steve Williamson was hired via invite-only audition based on everything I read in public and heard through the grape vine. Clearly, you would know better.

      • It did seem that way, didn’t it? That was, I believe, the 3rd audition they held. Basically, after the 1st one that leads to a no-hire, those Music Director invites get talked about more and more since there’s a sense that the committee has already “heard everyone out there” who would come for the open audition. But Steve did have to play against others in the finals when he was given his trial period that ended in a job offer. I forget if anybody advanced from the prelims (open audition) that time around.

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