The San Francisco Symphony issued a press release today announcing that Eugene Izotov will be their new Principal Oboe beginning with the 2015/16 season. Mr. Izotov is currently Principal Oboe of the Chicago Symphony, and was the SFS Associate Principal Oboe from 1996-2003 (during which time he went by “Evgeny Izotov”). He was also Principal Oboe of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra from 2003-2006.
“I am delighted to be joining the San Francisco Symphony as Principal Oboe,” said Izotov. “This is a deeply personal decision for me since much of my life is connected to these two great American orchestras and cities. As I look forward to making music with maestro Michael Tilson Thomas and my colleagues of the San Francisco Symphony, I know my heart will be filled with wonderful memories of music-making with Chicago Symphony and profound gratitude to maestro Riccardo Muti for his humanity, support, and inspiration.”
[UPDATE: Joshua Kosman’s report on SFGate.com is HERE, and includes some quotes from a phone conversation he had with Mr. Izotov]
The SFS announcement made no mention of whether he would officially resign his chair with the CSO or if he were planning on taking a year’s leave; however, according to the Chicago Classical Review, “CSO public relations director Rachelle Roe characterized Izotov’s departure as a ‘leave of absence’,” and the Chicago Tribune also described his departure as a leave (albeit without giving a source).
Mr. Izotov was offered the position in October. As Lisa Hirsch described, he has been one of many players who has served as guest principal with the orchestra since the tragic death of William Bennett, the 26-year veteran Principal Oboe of the SFS who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on stage in the middle of performing the Strauss Oboe Concerto in 2013 and passed away less than a week later.
- First of all, congratulations to the SFS and its fans. Mr. Izotov is truly a world-class player.
- If I were a betting man (and I am), I’d put good money that Mr. Izotov won’t be returning to the CSO after his one year of leave is completed. He still needs to be offered tenure by the orchestra, after which he still would need to accept it. That said, he and the SFS already know each other fairly well, having spent seven seasons together, and therefore the oboist will experience few surprises working with Mr. Tilson Thomas and living in the Bay Area. Besides, Mr. Izotov’s official statement above already talks about his time with the CSO in the past tense; there aren’t even any token nods to going on leave or needing to gain tenure, as are often included in similar statements made by other prominent musicians making such moves.
- This is the fourth time in the past few years that one of the Chicago Symphony principal woodwinds has said that they’re leaving the orchestra, temporarily or otherwise — it’s the fifth time if you count both of Principal Flute Mathieu Dufour’s announcements, once for the LA Phil in 2009 and another for the Berlin Philharmonic a few months ago. For those who may have forgotten: Steve Williamson (Principal Clarinet) left for the New York Philharmonic in 2013 only to return after a year; David McGill (Principal Bassoon) surprised many in June of this year by retiring early from the orchestra to take a full-time teaching position at Northwestern University.
- Having all of these principals say they want to look elsewhere begs the question: what is going on with the Chicago Symphony woodwind section or the CSO overall? One departure is random, two may be a coincidence, but when four principals, all in their prime, decide to leave an orchestra of this stature in such quick succession, you’ve gotta ask yourself, “WTF?!!” I’m sure many classical music fans in Chicago are doing just that.
- Despite the alarm bells that should be going off about this latest move, I would be rather shocked to see either of Chicago’s major newspapers or their music critics, John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune or Andrew Patner of the Chicago Sun-Times, actually write about the issue, let alone investigate it. Both have a history of being rather defensive about the CSO, especially when players leave to go to other orchestras:
- In Mr. Von Rhein’s article about the announcement, he took great pains to point out that Mr. Izotov would be going on a one-year leave and attempting to reassure the local populace that, “It’s not uncommon in the symphonic world for players to occupy first-chair positions with two orchestras at the same time, trying on one post to see if it is a good fit without surrendering the other.” Of course, what he doesn’t say is that more often than not, those leaves end up becoming permanent.
- Mr.Patner is even more notorious in this regard. He famously shared personal conversations with Mr.Dufour after the flutist resigned from the LA Phil to return to Chicago, leading Mr.Dufour to issue his own statement distancing himself from those comments. That move seems to have backfired on him in a big way; even when he tries to pump up the CSO and its players, they distance themselves from him.
- On August 26, a few months after Mr. Dufour won the auditions in Berlin, Mr. Patner wrote an article which said, “Chicago Symphony Orchestra administrators, musicians and patrons have been wondering for the past three months if [Mathieu Dufour] would leave the CSO for the same position at the Berlin Philharmonic. Berlin, a peer ensemble with Chicago, announced on its website in May that Dufour had won the auditions for the spot there. . . . Dufour will play with Chicago at least for the 2014-2015 season, the CSO spokeswoman said. The musician himself could not be reached for comment.” [Emphases mine. I chuckle that Mr. Patner felt the need to emphasize that the CSO is a “peer of ” Berlin Phil. Plus, after screwing over Mr. Dufour during his return from the LA Phil, did he really expect Dufour to give him a comment this time?]
- In the same Aug 26 article, Mr. Patner mentions that while Mr. Izotov had been playing some concerts with the SFS, “he said he is ‘not going anywhere’ now.” Turns out the oboist gave him a true quote — he waited until today to announce he was going anywhere.
- Finally, in writing about today’s announcement, Mr. Patner was not content to simply use Mr. Izotov’s official statement, choosing instead to post a screenshot from the oboist’s Facebook page of what appears to be a private message he only shared with his friends (if you go to his Facebook page HERE, no such message is publicly visible). Draw your own conclusions about the appropriateness and ethics of Mr. Patner doing this.
There are still nine months before Mr. Izotov officially joins the San Francisco Symphony, and almost two years before he is obligated to resign from the CSO if he chooses to remain in the Bay Area. That leaves a lot of time for San Franciscans to wait and Chicagoans to fret. It should be interesting to watch.
Photo credits: Todd Rosenberg