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LA Phil comings and goings (Summer 2015 edition): big news in the flutes and clarinets, plus a little more (UPDATED on July 8)

This year’s Hollywood Bowl season is upon us.  Things kicked-off a few weeks ago, care of Journey, Ed Sheeran, and a sing-along Sound of Music, among other concerts.   The Los Angeles Philharmonic made their summer debut on the Bowl stage playing the score to Back to the Future while the film was shown above their heads, though the classical music performances don’t begin in earnest until tomorrow night when Lionel Bringuier and Yuja Wang return for some fun with Borodin, Prokofiev, Debussy, and Ravel.

Given all that, now would be a good time to review the latest info about musicians in the LA Phil.  The big news is in the woodwinds, where we’re anticipating one big gain in the flutes and a huge departure in the clarinets, so let’s start there . . .

Principal Flute

Denis BouriakovOpen auditions for a new Principal Flute were held in May to replace Julien Beaudiment, who unfortunately returned home to his native France a few months prior. There was great trepidation going into the auditions given that this was the orchestra’s fifth attempt made since 2008 to find a permanent resident for this chair.

Fortunately for everyone, there was a clear-cut “winner:”  Denis Bouriakov, one of two Principal Flutes of the Met Opera Orchestra, was offered the position without the need of playing a trial week.  One second-hand account of his audition referred to his playing as “stellar.”  You can judge for yourself by checking out some of his audio and video recordings HERE.

No official confirmation yet if he’ll accept or when he’ll start (yes, I asked the powers that be at the LA Phil), but given the continued financial and artistic turmoil at the Met, it’s almost certainly a matter of “when” not “if.”  Count on seeing him on stage in Los Angeles at the beginning of the Fall/Winter season or thereabouts.

If that weren’t enough indication that the Met is still hemorrhaging musicians, the orchestra’s other Principal Flute, Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson, recently won the audition for the same job at the Chicago Symphony; it’s the position recently vacated by Mathieu Dufour after winning an audition with the Berlin Philharmonic.  Orchestral observers and frequent readers of All is Yar will note that both Messrs. Höskuldsson and Dufour have their own connections to the LA Phil:  Mr. Höskuldsson was the runner-up when Mr. Beaudiment was given the LA job in 2013, while Mr. Dufour famously held the LA job for five months in 2009 before heading back to Chicago amid a PR mess. . . .  It certainly is a tiny world at this level of orchestral playing.

Principal Clarinet

Michele Zukovsky, Principal Clarinet, Los Angeles Philharmonic

Of all the 100+ musicians in the Los Angeles Philharmonic, few if any can command the level of respect and admiration that Michele Zukovsky does.  The orchestra’s legendary Principal Clarinet joined them in the wake Georg Solti’s aborted tenure as Music Director in the early 1960s while she was still a teenager.  In the five-plus decades that have ensued, she’s played for five actual Music Directors (Mehta, Giulini, Previn, Salonen, and Dudamel), two notable Principal Guest Conductors (Simon Rattle and Michael Tilson Thomas), and countless other guest conductors.  She’s played concertos, chamber music, solos, world premieres, you name it.  And she still plays like a bad-ass.

Well, the Michele Zukovsky era is coming to an end.  The LA Phil recently began advertising for auditions in October for a new Principal Clarinet.

UPDATE (July 8):  A spokesperson from the orchestra confirmed that her last concert will be December 20, 2015, and she’ll retire 11 days later on December 31st.  Additional info HERE.  Preliminary information from the orchestra had estimated her retirement to be the end of the summer, not the end of the year, and this story originally reflected that timing.

We all knew it would happen sometime, but now that it is practically here, I can’t help but feel a combination of sadness and deep admiration.  It’s a huge bummer to lose such a great musician, especially one with her skill and experience.  Unlike some principal players who stubbornly hang on to their jobs long after their skills have diminished, Ms. Zukovsky still sounds remarkable.  It’s a shame to lose her, but rather than lament her retirement, I’d like to paraphrase the great Vin Scully and say a prayer of thanksgiving that we’ve had the chance to hear her artistry for as long as we have.  Huzzah to her and best wishes as she winds down a magnificent career.  May she be fêted in every way imaginable.

In fact, they should name the position after her.  Upon her retirement, I hope that one of the many philanthropists that help fund the LA Phil steps up to endow the Principal Clarinet chair in her honor.  There is precedence:  when iconic trumpeter Adolph “Bud” Herseth retired from the Chicago Symphony after a similarly long tenure, an anonymous benefactor donated enough funds to allow the CSO to endow the “Adolph Herseth Principal Trumpet chair.”  Let’s hope someone in LA is equally appreciative of Ms. Zukovsky’s legacy.

Whether or not that happens, the orchestra’s clarinet section will still be in very good shape, especially with Burt Hara playing as acting principal.  In fact, one would assume that Mr. Hara would be a leading candidate to take over the Principal chair permanently, especially given his many noteworthy years holding the same position in the Minnesota Orchestra.  And I’m sure he’s not the only capable clarinetist who’ll throw his or her hat into the ring.  Stay tuned . . .

Associate Principal Horn and Principal Trombone

The brass section has had some activity, but so far, nothing has come of it.  Auditions held in May for a new Associate Principal Horn yielded no trial or job offers.  No word yet on whether or not they’ll invite musicians for private auditions or wait and hold another round of public auditions next season.

The search for a new Principal Trombone to replace the departed Nitzan Haroz continues.  As Principal Trumpet Tom Hooten told me during an interview last year, “We want to take the time to find the right player, and Nitzan set a very high bar.”

As mentioned last fall, John Sipher was given a two-week trial with the orchestra; however, he was not offered the position full-time.  A few months ago, he was named as the new Principal Trombone of the Colorado Symphony.

Meanwhile, the LA Phil has been hosting various guest trombonists to play first chair, most notably David Rejano Cantero (Principal of the Munich Philharmonic) and Colin Williams (current NY Phil Associate Principal and on leave as Principal of the Atlanta Symphony).  I’ve been told that the orchestra will continue to invite guest trombonists to sit in with the orchestra into the Fall/Winter season.


Not too much to report here.  Auditions for Associate Principal Cello will be held this month.  Tao Ni had been hired into the position a few years ago, but subsequently moved back into the section, and the chair has been open since then.

Still to come are auditions to fill the seats vacated by the retirement of Lawrence Sonderling and departure of Mischa Lefkowitz at the end of last summer;  in the meantime, Akiko Tarumoto has already been promoted from the second violin section to permanent fifth chair in the first violins.



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8 thoughts on “LA Phil comings and goings (Summer 2015 edition): big news in the flutes and clarinets, plus a little more (UPDATED on July 8)

  1. Great column, as usual. Can’t tell you what a big Michele Zukovsky fan I’ve been for decades. But let’s not forget the formidable David Howard, LA Phil bass clarinet, former acting principal clarinet, and dazzling caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland! He will help hold down that fort!


    • Thanks! Yes, David is an outstanding player and we’re all lucky to have him in the LA Phil. Even the newest member of the section, Andrew Lowy, has sounded great. Combined with Ms. Z and Mr. Hara, they’re quite an awesome foursome. I’d even go as far as saying that in my humble opinion, the clarinet section, both as it currently stands (Zukovsky, Hara, Lowy, Howard) and as it had been for the two decades prior (Zukovsky, Levee, Kaenzig, Howard), has been the most reliable and consistently excellent of all the orchestra sections going back to Andre Previn’s tenure. It may even be true going back even further, but I didn’t attend concerts with regularity until the late 1980s.


  2. The only currently active musician who joined LA Phil before Zubin Mehta became its music director, Michele Zukovsky is still playing as brilliantly and beautifully as ever. Considering that her father was the orchestra’s principal clarinetist for many years since long before she became his colleague and until well into 1980s, she has been connected with the LA Phil for nearly seven decades now. She certainly deserves to slow down her pace a little bit after 54 remarkable years. Her retirement will be the end of an era indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow – huge news about Zukovsky’s retirement. She is a great player and one of the rocks of the LAPhil. Certainly the clarinet section is in excellent hands, but still….I can imagine the sadness.

    Also interesting news about the new principal flute. I will be keeping an eye on the Met Orchestra auditions page. Did they appoint replacements for Anthony McGill and the departed principal bass? That’s wild if both of their principal flutes leave at the same time.


    • Earlier today, both the official Met website and the musicians’ own unofficial site still listed McGill and Tim Cobb (the bass player to whom you refer) as “on leave” while the two flutists have no such caveat . . . yet.


  4. Pingback: Update re: Michele Zukovsky, her last LA Phil concert date, and her retirement | All is Yar

  5. Pingback: LA Phil comings and goings (Fall 2015 edition): Principal Clarinet update and much more | All is Yar

  6. Pingback: A chat with Michele Zukovsky (part 1 of 2): the LA Phil’s outgoing Principal Clarinet reflects on how her 54-year tenure began, the audition process, and more | All is Yar

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