With a recent spate of retirements from its wind sections, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is finally entering the Daniel Barenboim era. The average age in the winds has dipped below 50; their playing is more rigorous and disciplined; and their sound is brighter and more ornamented, in keeping with the Barenboim agenda of frenchifying this most German of American orchestras. Two noteworthy additions have been the new first chairs in the double reeds: oboist Alex Klein and bassoonist David McGill, both virtuosos, lead their sections with confidence, but neither is a prima donna. A Tulsa native, McGill started out on the clarinet, but switched to the bassoon as a teenager (a common path for double-reed students). At the Curtis Institute, he prepped with the legendary Sol Schoenbach; he graduated in ’83, and by ’88 he was with the Cleveland Orchestra, building a reputation that preceded him even outside double-reed circles. McGill brings to the CSO the clarity and precision one expects of a principal, plus a mastery of melody he says has been influenced by the phrasing of the great soprano Maria Callas. And as it happens, his tone perfectly matches that of his assistant principal, William Buchman. When they play in unison to double the volume of their mild-sounding instruments, it’s as though a single breath were animating both horns. McGill is spotlighted in the CSO concert that kicks off the Symphony Center’s free 24-hour musical cornucopia this weekend, paired with principal clarinetist Larry Combs in Richard Strauss’s Duet Concertino –one of the composer’s nostalgic last works and a rarely heard valentine to his favorite instruments. McGill’s fellow newbie Alex Klein will also step up, in Strauss’s Oboe Concerto. Saturday, 7 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.