Chicago Symphony Orchestra president to lead Kennedy Center

Deborah Rutter oversaw a rise in revenues but also the first musicians’ strike in 21 years.

December 11, 2013

CSO/Todd Rosenberg
Deborah Rutter of the CSO is headed to Washington.

Deborah Rutter’s legacy as President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is best exemplified by her connection to one man: Riccardo Muti.

When Daniel Barenboim stepped down after 15 years as the CSO’s musical director, Rutter helped lead the search for his replacement, eventually snagging the legendary conductor.

That musical coup gave the CSO new glamour and energy.  And it is one of reasons Rutter this week was tapped as President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

David Rubenstein, who is chairman of the Kennedy Center, said Rutter was chosen for her experiences leading large performing arts organizations. Rutter was at the Seattle Symphony Orchestra before joining the CSO in 2003. Rubenstein also cited her track record as a fundraiser, and ability to work collaboratively with other arts organizations.

But Rubenstein said that, in particular, Rutter’s efforts to reach new audiences were critical.

“We want to make sure that performing arts are available to younger people,” said Rubenstein, “In addition to people of diversity, and of all income levels.”

In her ten-year tenure, Rutter focused on new educational and civic initiatives.

She launched the Institute for Learning Access and Training.

And she raised the orchestra’s civic profile by bringing on famed cellist Yo Yo Ma to lead the the CSO’s “Citizen Musician” program.

Yo Yo Ma said though he feels “slightly bereft” at Rutter’s departure, he also stressed the team mentality at the CSO.

“It’s such a deep bench that the work remains,” said Ma. “I’m excited to continue my stuff as long as they’ll have me do it here.”

Rutter also faced challenges. CSO musicians went on strike last fall, for the first time in over two decades. And though ticket sales and fundraising are up, the orchestra is still running a small deficit.

Rutter said she hopes the orchestra’s “shared identity” around community outreach, whether at home or on tour, is her legacy.

“As we’re planning international tours, we bring along this concept of service, and of sharing music with people who can’t come to the concerts,” said Rutter. “I’m really proud of the fact that we understand that, and those are the values we live by.”

Rutter will continue at the CSO until June of 2014 and join the Kennedy Center in the fall.

is an arts and culture reporter at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter , Facebook and Instagram