Bad blood, great art
In CSO's search for director, history shows despised conductors can inspire best performances
By Alan G. Artner
As the procession of guest conductors has crossed the podium of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and speculation has centered on this or that visitor as a possible candidate for music director, a consideration has appeared that largely was absent from past searches.
Reviews of concerts not only have described what has been heard by the audience but also have drawn upon backstage reports on how well the musicians enjoyed working with the conductor, in some cases characterizing the interactions as "love fests."
Such regard for player opinion is inevitable at a time when orchestras have more to say about their destinies than ever before. But the theory that musicians' liking a conductor personally or musically will foreshadow a distinguished partnership is false. Some of the conductors most admired today were, in fact, hated by their musicians.
The greatest musical partnership in Chicago, confirmed by recordings that for 50 years have continuously been available, was between the CSO and Fritz Reiner, an artist described as a precisionist, perfectionist, conductor's conductor, martinet, tyrant and sadist. Critic Paul Griffiths delicately wrote, Reiner's "insistence on rhythmic precision and clarity from his players was unmoderated by any wish to be loved." Critic Harold C. Schonberg bluntly wrote, Reiner "would probably have run at the bottom in any kind of popularity poll taken among orchestral musicians." Yet Reiner raised a good provincial orchestra to one of North America's "Big Five," and had he not been averse to touring, would have gotten it recognized in Russia and Western Europe 20 years before Georg Solti did. It is no exaggeration to say the outstanding CSO began with Reiner, that is, not with love but with fear.
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