Los Angeles Philharmonic / Music News & Info: Classical

Some implications of Deborah Borda leaving LA Phil to go back to NY Phil

The Los Angeles Philharmonic announced this morning that Deborah Borda, the orchestra’s President and CEO, will be stepping down from her post to take the same position with the New York Philharmonic.  The move becomes effective September 15, 2017.  The full press release is below.

She is, of course, no stranger to the NY Phil.  She was Executive Director of that orchestra for a decade before coming to the LA Phil in 2000 as Executive Vice President and Executive Director (and eventually getting the bump in title).

Since then, she has become one of the finest orchestral managers — perhaps THE finest — in the world, working with Music Directors Esa-Pekka Salonen and Gustavo Dudamel to establish the LA Phil’s position at the forefront of American orchestras in terms of quality and innovation of programming and presentations.  She was also instrumental in seeing Walt Disney Concert Hall through to its completion and christening.

She will definitely be missed.  The New York Times has already hailed the move as a “coup” for the NY Phil, and rightfully so.  Most didn’t think she’d move back to NY after having already dealt with that orchestra once.  According to The New York Times article, a recent meeting with Jaap Van Zweden, the NY Phil’s Music Director-Designate and (probably not coincidentally) guest conductor with the LA Phil this past weekend, helped to seal the deal.

What this will mean for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, especially as it approaches its 100th Anniversary season, is uncertain.

Will Ms. Borda try to recruit LA Phil acolytes to New York with her?  The NY Phil has lost many of its top administrators and is in the early stages of a planned renovation to its home in David Geffen (née Philharmonic and Avery Fisher) Hall.  While replacing its current President, Matthew VanBesien, with Ms. Borda is a huge step in the right direction, it is only the first step.

More daunting is, of course, the LA Phil’s need to replace her with someone who will not only continue the orchestra’s adventurous traditions but also someone who will continue to foster the very close working relationship between orchestra administration and the musicians.  Whereas most prominent American orchestras (including the New York Philharmonic) have endured some kind of labor strife including prolonged strikes and/or lockouts, the LA Phil has been a bastion of collegiality; the orchestra hasn’t seen a strike in about a half a century, and the base pay of LA Phil musicians is the highest in the country.

Ms. Borda has also had an eye for identifying and recruiting conducting talent.  She convinced Mr. Dudamel to become Music Director when other U.S. orchestras were just starting to recognize his talent.  Her track record of picking staff conductors is impressive:  Joana Carneiro, Lionel Bringuier, and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla all got their big-league orchestra start in LA.  Most recently, she hired the well-regarded Susanna Mälkki to be the first Principal Guest Conductor since Simon Rattle and Michael Tilson Thomas were given the title during Carlo Maria Giulini’s Music Directorship.  (Of course, Mr. Salonen was also supposed to hold the title before eventually being named Music Director, but that, as they say, is “a whole ‘nother story” for a different time).  Who else out there has those kinds of skills?

Let’s remember the last time the LA Phil tried to replace a managerial titan:  when Ernest Fleischmann, legendary impresario of the orchestra, decided to retire in 1998, the orchestra turned to Willem Wijnbergen, then the top administrator at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.  It seemed like a perfect fit at the time; Mr. Wijnbergen was young, he already had a reputation for shaking things up in Amsterdam, and he came with the recommendation of Mr. Salonen.  What could go wrong?

As it turns out, a whole lot.  Mr. Wijnbergen managed to alienate pretty much everyone at the LA Phil:  the board, the musicians, the staff, and the audience.  Daniel Rothmuller, the LA Phil’s retired Associate Principal Cello, once referred to him as “the biggest mistake the orchestra ever made.”

A year later, he was gone.  It was only then that Ms. Borda was wooed to Los Angeles from New York, where she was having her own troubles with that orchestra’s board and then-Music Director Kurt Masur.

More than one person used to make the following back-handed compliment about the LA Phil:  “Philadelphia is known for its strings, Chicago for its brass, Cleveland for its transparency, New York for its flexibility.  Los Angeles is known for its management.”

That statement was made during the heyday of Mr. Fleischmann’s tenure.  Since then, the LA Phil has made leaps and bounds in many areas, and the orchestra has a much stronger musical reputation.  But Ms. Borda has maintained the tradition of world-class management at the LA Phil.  Here’s hoping that the LA Phil finds the next person who is up to the task.

Photo credit:  photo by Vern Evans

Contacts: Sophie Jefferies, sjefferies@laphil.org, 213.972.3422
Photos: 213.972.3034
Team led by Board Chairman Jay Rasulo will lead search committee for next President
Los Angeles, March 15, 2017 – Los Angeles Philharmonic Board Chairman Jay Rasulo announced today that Deborah Borda will step down from her position as President and CEO to become President and CEO of the New York Philharmonic starting September 15, 2017.
The search for a new President will begin immediately, conducted by a committee led by Mr. Rasulo. A seamless transition and ever ambitious continuation of all the LA Phil’s programs and initiatives will be ensured.
“We want to thank Deborah Borda for 17 years of extraordinary service and for leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic to incredible success in so many areas,” said Jay Rasulo. “The prominence and exciting reputation which the LA Phil currently enjoys around the world is due in large part to her visionary and powerful leadership, along with the dedicated work of the two music directors with whom she worked, the orchestra, and the LA Philharmonic Association staff. We all wish her well in her future endeavors.”
Gustavo Dudamel stated, “Deborah and I have come such a long way together in the last 10 years, and it has been a truly productive road that we have traveled. Together we have fought for music education and community, and she believes, as do I, in breaking down walls, not building them. We will miss her energy, vision and spirit…and also her loving and caring presence!”
Deborah Borda said, “It is hard to believe that it has really been 17 years since I came to L.A. But what a 17 years it has been! With the support of our superb musicians, board and staff, the LA Phil has boldly defined a way forward for musical organizations throughout the globe. My gratitude is profound. I especially express my deepest thanks and admiration to my partner for now almost the past decade, Gustavo Dudamel. Leaving him and indeed my LA Phil family is not easy, but my solace is in returning to my home and my family. I have been blessed to work with such courageous and loving partners. The institution is in a robust and healthy state both artistically and financially and is wonderfully positioned to continue to make history… and it will!”
About the Los Angeles Philharmonic
The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, under the vibrant leadership of Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, presents an inspiring array of music from all genres – orchestral, chamber and Baroque music, organ and celebrity recitals, new music, jazz, world music and pop – at two of L.A.’s iconic venues, Walt Disney Concert Hall (www.laphil.com) and the Hollywood Bowl (www.hollywoodbowl.com). The LA Phil’s season at Walt Disney Concert Hall extends from September through May, and throughout the summer at the Hollywood Bowl. With the preeminent Los Angeles Philharmonic at the foundation of its offerings, the LA Phil aims to enrich and transform lives through music, with a robust mix of artistic, education and community programs.


7 thoughts on “Some implications of Deborah Borda leaving LA Phil to go back to NY Phil

  1. Pingback: NY steals back Borda – Singerpreneur

  2. “Will Ms. Borda try to recruit LA Phil acolytes to New York with her? ”
    After paying Ms Borda’s obscene salary, they won’t be able to afford anyone else.


  3. Those highly intelligent and successful people who know the relevant numbers firsthand and who really understand the true value of DB’s multi-dimensional contributions to the only classical music organization she has led this century consider her salary up until now to be perfectly reasonable and fully deserved.


    • Please correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t it Fleischmann who brought in Giuliani and Salonen, built Disney Hall, started the Bowl season, and discovered Dudamel? It seems to me these were the defining moments of the creation of the great orchestra we have today.


      • Given Mr. Fleischmann having more than double the tenure of Ms. Borda, I don’t think it’d be wrong to say he had more of an impact. That said, when Ms. Borda took over, it didn’t have quite the stature it does today. She deserves much of the credit to getting it to where it is today, as does Mr. Salonen.

        Mr. Fleischmann hired Giulini, Previn, and Salonen as Music Directors. My understanding was that both he and Mr. Salonen were on the jury of the Gustav Mahler conducting competition, and both suggested to Ms. Borda that she needed to see him in person. That said, it was Ms. Borda who invited him to conduct the LA Phil, first at the Hollywood Bowl, then WDCH. She was the one that hired him after only those two performances.

        Furthermore, she was the one that shepherded WDCH to completion. Does she deserve more or less credit than Mr. Fleischmann? I’ll say neither was more important than the other, and again, give most of the credit to Mr. Salonen.

        Mr. Fleischmann definitely did NOT start the Bowl season. The summers at the Bowl have been extant since the 1930’s.

        I think Ms. Borda deserves huge credit for getting the orchestra back on a sound financial and artistic footing after the short but disastrous tenure of her immediate predecessor, Willem Wijnbergen. She also ensured an amazingly smooth transition between Messrs. Salonen and Dudamel, and found a way to support his own artistic goals while maintaining the adventerous spirit that was developed under Mr. Salonen.


      • I should add this excellent quote from Alex Ross of The New Yorker:

        “Deborah Borda, who has been the L.A. Phil’s president and C.E.O. since 2000, played a decisive role in its rise. Managers tend to fall into two categories: those who prize order, thereby risking an excess of caution, and those who foment creativity, thereby risking chaos and waste. Borda has the rare ability to cultivate experiments and impose discipline in equal measure. “


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