Obama's "hometown" orchestra a hit on Europe tour

Thu Oct 1, 2009 2:10pm EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - While it doesn't have the diplomatic clout of the city's favorite son Barack Obama, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has scored a huge success in Europe, getting audiences and critics on their feet in five countries.

"Dazzling and moving" a Zurich newspaper said of the CSO's performances of Haydn and Beethoven symphonies under the baton of 80-year-old Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink. A critic for a Luxembourg press group said the orchestra's concerts, which wound up in London last week, were "simply great art."

The reason critics and audiences were falling over themselves with praise and applause is it's rare in these straitened times for an American orchestra to venture to Europe, not to mention one as good as the CSO, consistently rated among the world's top 10, and with a conductor of the stature of Haitink, who's been conducting for well over half a century.

But Chicago, "the city of the broad shoulders" from the famous Carl Sandburg poem, has plenty of reasons to be proud.

Although born in Hawaii, Obama is a Chicagoan, rising from community organiser to Illinois senator to president, and he's given the so-called "Second City" and its cultural world a huge boost along the way.

On Sept 11, 2006, the CSO marked the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with a performance of Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait," a moving tribute to the nation's 16th president, with the text read by the man who would become the nation's 44th.

"I think he thinks of it (Chicago) as his hometown, I don't think he thinks of Hawaii that way," said Deborah Rutter, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association -- which comes up with the money to have the orchestra play on.

"We do have a very close relationship with many people who are close to him and a lot of the people in the White House are from Chicago," she told Reuters in an interview, adding that the day after the November election which took Obama to the White House, his daughters Malia and Sasha attended a youth concert.   Continued...