It hasn’t been a good year for Chicago Symphony Orchestra maestro Daniel Barenboim. Hilary and Jackie, a semibiographical movie about his late wife and her sister, made him look like a two-timing cad; in early summer Britain’s Simon Rattle beat him out for the top post at the Berlin Philharmonic; only weeks later, the Tribune gave his entire tenure with the CSO a thumbs-down–and a chorus of readers briskly seconded it. He hasn’t endeared himself to those orchestra members and subscribers who long for a magnetic personality like Sir Georg Solti; he’s widely perceived as aloof or arrogant, and rarely charms a crowd the way Russian teddy bear Mstislav Rostropovich did when he took the podium during last spring’s Shostakovich festival. After almost ten years at the helm of the CSO, Barenboim is still based in Europe, and though after the Berlin rejection he might feel like hiding out over here, his time with the CSO may be running out. To be fair, Barenboim is a gifted and thoughtful, if mercurial, musician–a superb pianist, a warm and responsive chamber player–and a conscientious, if unpredictable, conductor. But he just hasn’t grown into an inspired leader: He seems to get more out of an orchestra as a guest, when he can fiddle around with interpretations without slogging through the organization’s day-to-day business and politics. The Bruckner symphonies he led as a visitor to the CSO in the 70s and 80s–still available on CD–sound sharper and more persuasive than the listless renditions he’s since conducted as the orchestra’s director. If Barenboim intends to stay, it’s time for him to hunker down, to rebuild the CSO, and to make his presence felt in the city’s cultural community. This season’s opening concerts are a good start: he’s programmed two great Mozart symphonies (no. 39 and no. 41) and a commission from distinguished German avant-gardist Wolfgang Rihm that will feature the maestro himself as soloist. Barenboim began his CSO stint by conducting well-reviewed concert stagings of the three Mozart-Da Ponte operas, so these Mozarts (and Rihm’s Sotto Voce for piano and small orchestra, a sort of postmodern Mozart concerto) may redeem him–for the time being. Thursday, September 30, 8 PM, next Friday, October 1, 1:30 PM, next Saturday, October 2, 8 PM, and next Tuesday, October 5, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. Also at Orchestra Hall, on Sunday, October 3, at 7:30 PM, Barenboim will lead members of the orchestra in an all-Mozart half hour, part of the CSO’s annual free 24-hour music marathon. Ted Shen