Los Angeles Philharmonic Finds Its Next Leader in Seattle


Walt Disney Concert Hall, the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Credit Emily Berl for The New York Times

The question has transfixed classical music for months: Who would the Los Angeles Philharmonic tap to fill the very large shoes of Deborah Borda, who helped make it one of the nation’s most vibrant and financially sound orchestras? A member of her team? An outsider from the world of business — or Hollywood?

The question was answered on Thursday, when the Philharmonic announced that it had reached beyond its ranks — but not beyond the orchestra field, or even the West Coast — for its next chief executive: Simon Woods, the innovative president of the Seattle Symphony.

Mr. Woods said in a phone interview that he hoped to build on the accomplishments of Ms. Borda, who left Los Angeles to lead the New York Philharmonic, and that he looked forward to working with his new orchestra’s music director, Gustavo Dudamel.

“I think that everybody has watched over the past 20 years as this organization evolved into this extraordinary artistic entity which is redefining how we think about orchestras,” said Mr. Woods, 54, who was born in London.

Since his arrival in 2011, the Seattle Symphony has raised its artistic profile, commissioning and presenting the premiere of “Become Ocean” by John Luther Adams, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. It established its own recording label, and worked with the city’s homeless. It raised some eyebrows in classical circles by performing the bawdy anthem “Baby Got Back” with Sir Mix-A-Lot. And after one of President Trump’s travel ban proposals this year, it responded with a free concert, “Music Beyond Borders,” that highlighted works by composers from nations that were targeted.


Simon Woods, the Philharmonic’s next chief executive officer. Credit Brandon Patoc

In Los Angeles, Mr. Woods will have far greater resources — and a far larger organization to run. The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s annual budget, the largest of any American orchestra, is approximately $125 million — nearly four times Seattle’s, which is $32 million. But he said he was undaunted.

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