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A Portrait in Four Movements

The Chicago Symphony under Barenboim, Boulez, Haitink, and Muti

With an Introduction by Douglas W. Shadle and a Foreword by Alex Ross
“Playing in an orchestra in an intelligent way is the best school for democracy.”—Daniel Barenboim
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been led by a storied group of conductors. And from 1994 to 2015, through the best work of Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Bernard Haitink, and Riccardo Muti, Andrew Patner was right there. As a classical music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and WFMT radio, Patner was able to trace the arc of the CSO’s changing repertories, all while cultivating a deep rapport with its four principal conductors.

This book assembles Patner’s reviews of the concerts given by the CSO during this time, as well as transcripts of his remarkable radio interviews with these colossal figures. These pages hold tidbits for the curious, such as Patner’s “driving survey” that playfully ranks the Maestri he knew on a scale of “total comfort” to “fright level five,” and the observation that Muti appears to be a southpaw on the baseball field. Moving easily between registers, they also open revealing windows onto the sometimes difficult pasts that brought these conductors to music in the first place, including Boulez’s and Haitink’s heartbreaking experiences of Nazi occupation in their native countries as children. Throughout, these reviews and interviews are threaded together with insights about the power of music and the techniques behind it—from the conductors’ varied approaches to research, preparing scores, and interacting with other musicians, to how the sound and personality of the orchestra evolved over time, to the ways that we can all learn to listen better and hear more in the music we love. Featuring a foreword by fellow critic Alex Ross on the ethos and humor that informed Patner’s writing, as well as an introduction and extensive historical commentary by musicologist Douglas W. Shadle, this book offers a rich portrait of the musical life of Chicago through the eyes and ears of one of its most beloved critics.

272 pages | 12 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Chicago and Illinois

Music: General Music


“One of the life-changing pleasures and privileges of living in Chicago is the opportunity to hear the extraordinary Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing with some of the world’s greatest conductors on a regular basis. A Portrait in Four Movements is an addictive treat for anyone, like me, who has had so many unforgettable experiences in Orchestra Hall. Andrew Patner’s brilliantly evocative writing, informed by a magical combination of knowledge, passion, and wit, is combined with his unerring ability to persuade the four great maestri to share many observations of great insight. Totally engrossing.”

Anthony Freud, general director, president, and CEO of the Lyric Opera of Chicago

“Andrew Patner was an extraordinarily well-informed music critic and one who wore his immense learning with genuine grace. One learned from him about music and music making rather than about the idiosyncrasies of a critic. This book includes deeply informed and informative reviews of concerts by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and interviews with four of its greatest conductors. It is thus not only a wonderful collection of Patner’s writings but also an important set of insights into the modern history of one of the world’s greatest musical institutions.”

Don Michael Randel, former president of the University of Chicago and editor of the Harvard Dictionary of Music

"An orchestra's performance is so shaped by its conductor that an astute listener will know who is conducting by how the orchestra sounds. Such a listener was Patner, critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and radio station WFMT. This volume compiles his reviews of performances by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra...along with interviews with four of the orchestra's conductors during this period. This book...will primarily appeal to music fans who pay attention to who's at the conductor's podium, but it's an intriguing read for more casual fans as well: these are people whose lives revolve around thinking deeply about music, but their personalities and quirks, from Bernard Haitink's dry wit to Riccardo Muti's scholarly approach, shine through. A charming addition for followers of orchestral music."

Library Journal

“The interviews in A Portrait in Four Movements often read like relaxed conversations over drinks, even as they are guided by Patner’s subtle hand. . . For Patner, music was lifeblood for a rich and meaningful existence, and his role was to share it. We were — and now with this book, are — the fortunate beneficiaries.”

Chicago Tribune

"This publication of Andrew Patner’s reviews is an extremely successful joint effort that does indeed present fascinating portraits of four musical greats and their indisputable influences on the history and development of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. . . . The book is also a touching homage to a journalist who was clearly much more than just a music critic to the Chicago community and the orchestra he covered so devotedly."

Music Reference Services Quarterly

Table of Contents



I Daniel Barenboim (1991–2006)

Early Weaknesses and Emerging Strengths
Celebrating a Great Trumpeter
Taking on Signature Pieces
Lightning Strikes with Radu Lupu in Berlin
Returning Home to Argentina
Reaching New Heights at Home and Abroad
A Conversation among Geniuses
Going Out on Top
Looking Back at His Chicago Years

II Pierre Boulez (1991–2010)
A Visitor Enchants the City
Revelatory Analyses from the Podium
Ligeti, Ravel, Berio, and Berlioz
Tackling New Music
A Musician’s Evolution
Modernism from Mahler to Janáček
III Bernard Haitink (2006–2010)
Taking the Stage in a New Role
Impressing with a Wide Repertoire
Chicago’s Greatest Ambassador
Bruckner Beyond Words
A Profound Beethoven Cycle
Mahler by a Master Interpreter
A New “Creation”
Beethoven’s Greatest Mass

IV Riccardo Muti (2010–)
A Musical Romance
Triumph in the Verdi Requiem
Austria v. Germany
Celebrating His Arrival
Verdi’s Otello
Open Hands, Open Heart
New Music in Chicago and California
Cherubini: A Forgotten Classical Master
An Emotional Return to Italy with “His Orchestra”
Embracing Eclecticism
The Challenge of a “Universal” Mass Setting
Finding the Sacred in Verdi, Vivaldi, and Mozart
Verdi’s Macbeth
What Makes a Composer Italian?
A Musician’s Retirement and a Conductor’s Teacher
Three Russians
Afterword: Riccardo Muti Remembers Andrew Patner
Select Bibliography
Index of Composers and Works

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