Inside story: Why Deborah Borda is heading back to the NY Phil

Inside story: Why Deborah Borda is heading back to the NY Phil


norman lebrecht

March 15, 2017

When Jaap Van Zweden, who has been cancelling guest dates, turned up at the LA Phil last week, antennae started twitching.

The Dutchman does not fly without good reason.

Turns out, he was there to woo the hell out of the LA Phil’s president and get her to come back home and save the sinking and totally directionless New York Philharmonic.

Now we know: it worked. Jaap turned on all the charm and Deborah Borda, who eats soft maestros for breakfast, was convinced – both by his argument and by the concerts he gave with the LA Phil. She can handle the NY Phil’s designated music director.


photo: Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

So instead of seeing out the decade in a Pacific glow with an occasional Harvard sabbatical, Ms B is heading off to bang heads at the New York Phil, which has gone wildly off course since she quit 17 years ago, running deficits every year and eating up almost half the $300 million endowment she raised. What’s more the orchestra will soon be losing its home while Lincoln Center calls in the builders.

This is a tough job to enter at 67 years old, but she likes it tough.

Her departure leaves Los Angeles headless for its centennial season and Gustavo Dudamel without a trusted ally.

Watch that space. Watch this one.

Exciting times ahead.

UPDATE: New York prefers great manager to great conductor


  • Bye Bye says:

    van Zweden will rue the day he lured her to NY.

    Borda will not settle for second best on the podium (as VanBeisen did in hiring van Zweden instead of going all out for Salonen), and she’s already demonstrated she could be unsentimental about hiring and firing (as when she got rid of Masur who compared her to the Stazi).

    • enemigopublico says:

      No wonder Dudamel and Borda get on so well. He’s quite used to running around at the beck and call of a dictator.

  • Olassus says:

    This is the *biggest load of B.S.* I have read in six years of Slipped Disc.

    — it was all planned long ago
    — NY Phil board wants VanBesien out, Borda in
    — told to look, VB gets job in Ann Arbor
    — DB keeps quiet
    — so-called search starts
    — Jaap shows up in Los Angeles, “woos” DB
    — DB “accepts” on condition Bill Thomas does the work
    — 5 or 6 posters are lined up to spout nice words in Slipped Disc “bombshell,” not realizing that this gives the game away: nobody ever cares about executive moves!

    Does she think we are all idiots here?


    • Olassus says:

      … and of course DB initiated the whole thing — wanting to return to NY — by letting the NY Phil board know of her interest, probably more than a year ago.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      We suspect this was posted by noted conspiracy theorist D. J. Trump.

  • John Porter says:

    When Van Biesen was hired, she was quoted in the press as saying she was interested but refused to interview. So she didn’t get hired and now, without a search or interview!, she’s hired….

  • herrera says:


    People asked the exact same questions when she left NY for LA!

    Who would leave NY for LA? From an orchestra with $300 million in endowment and no deficit to one with $50 million and in deficit?

    The lady clearly has the confidence, the vision, the capacity that her peers don’t.

    At 67 she could retire (period!) to some no-stakes university arts organization in some quiet midwest college town, but instead, she’s taking a healthy bite at the Big Apple. Way to go!

  • Ernie says:

    Borda’s impact on the LA Phil has been a spectacular success at every level. She’s worth every penny. Sorry to see her go.

  • Ken says:

    Now that the horns are at least more accurate and not as often sounding like rampaging bulls, perhaps DB and the new music director can get the violins away from sight reading, sitting slovenly, and not holding their instruments up. Maybe they’ll even practice their parts and occasionally synchronize bowing?

    • John Borstlap says:

      My fly on the wall has informed me that there are not only plans to devise a method to synchronize bowing, and not merely per group but for the entire string session so that they will always move in the same way irrespective of differences in their parts, but also the trombone section which always looks so untidy when playing chords with different notes.

      Stokowski experimented in the thirties with his Philadelphians with entirely free bowing for every string player. This improved the sound quality considerably, but caused quite some accidents so that the eye hospital had to appoint extra medical staff to treat the flow of players every week.

      • Nancy Wilkem says:

        You made me laugh (difficult these
        Days!) Thanks!!

      • John says:

        There’s a video of Stokowski and the LSO performing the Meistersinger Prelude with free bowing. A quite wonderful homogenous sound. Didn’t see anyone getting blinded, though.

        • John Borstlapj says:

          The LSO players had better motorics, being British, which meant disciplined in those old days, so: the opposite of modern day British.

          • Nancy Wilken says:

            I salute “Slipped Disc” for maintaining a “blog” for NY’s “home team”. They R going
            “home” to their original beginnings @ Carnegie Hall & acoustics are impeccable.
            Could you expand on old British vs new British (am a Delius fan as well as Elgar).
            The New York Philharmonic (even if they DO slouch into rehearsal (always appear
            that the members have been on an all night “gig” but they DO wake up, the musicians
            “think” & believe in “free speech” if they want to express an opinion how the music
            should be or ought to be (conductors balk at being the victims of a democratically-
            minded orchestra which really isn’t one as the first Bernstein Scholar remarked — they
            are a group of musicians thrown together ad hoc, have their own ideas. They need a
            gentle but insistent leader who will “nurse” their talents into a whole “battalion” of the
            music which they, if approved by them (by the people here). The “dead” conductors
            they have buried throughout the years is remarkable. Even if not a New Yorker, let’s
            give them our wholehearted support — they will never be Vienna, Berlin, Chicago etc
            but they will be always our very own Home Team in America (oldest orchestra). They
            will find their Commandant (they were very disappointed cause they wanted Muti–he was smart,
            to avoid conflict, not allowed. Your Thomas Beecham always said the musicians always
            know more than he did? May the Maestro be correct here being “old” British?

          • John Borstlap says:

            To Nancy:

            With ‘old’ and ‘new’ British I meant the more general erosion of ‘Britishness’ under the domination of pop culture and loud-mouthed egalitarian opinions which whiped-out the famous stiff upper lip determination to not be peturbed.

            Van Zweden is, in a formal sense, Dutch, but outgrew the small-minded country already long ago. He is the European type of thorough, intense musicianship and able to have grips on large structures which flow naturally in his hands:


            As long as individual players don’t choose to play something different from what their part says, individualism in orchestras can contribute to performance quality. Where their personal opinion rubs with the conductor’s, sometimes debates erupt:


  • Nancy Wilken says:

    Would like “SOMEONE” whom would TRY to not only receive respect as well as “Love” from that orchestra whom
    have “broken” more than one conductor in their history. “Re-training” this orchestra to be what it CAN BE will
    take a “Jane Austen” characterization, maybe Queen Victoria II (aforementioned “I cannot speak well enough to be
    unintelligible”. Don’t think she will succeed as she has a heavy hand. Changing her at this age she’s in rocky
    waters. But she chose to be chosen. “Break a leg” as actors say! or the ghost guiding her hand, e.g., “Lennie”

  • Emil says:

    Nice gymnastics to include your customary jab at van Zweden and a couple kicks at the NyPhil.

  • NSMT says:

    DB is a force!! Fascinating move! Certainly to go back home and close to loved ones must be a huge factor – also the challenges are over in LA, while NY is a project to say the least – who else to get Geffen Hall done than DB who saw Disney Hall through? A god send for NY Phil, for sure.

    Also interesting this news breaks on the same day NY Phil is premiering E-PS’ new Cello Concerto. As much as Olassus’ comment seems conspiracy theory – consider a further outflow – DB at NY Phil w/ JvZ gets the orchestra and their finances on a better foot, the hall reno takes place –

    Then in 5 yrs if they’re not in love with Jaap, it’s a much smoother path for DB to talk her old friend E-PS into NY, after several more years of composing…also with her clout she could probably find a way to make it contingent that he would still get certain blocks of time to compose (with the NY Phil premiering his pieces.) What a coup that would be.

    Just a thought. Perhaps E-P never will take another US music directorship indeed…but if the position is negotiated as a different landscape, who knows? Totally thrilled he’s getting to compose more, in any case, but with the NY Phil’s rich history of conductor-composers – it’s just so very fitting to happen someday.

  • Kman says:

    I love orchestra performances but know nothing (beyond novice status) of this industry. As such, this blog provides some enjoyable insight (from both the posts and the subsequent, often dissenting, comments).

    A couple questions:
    – I assume “who eats soft maestros for breakfast” means “controls them.” But what does it mean to control them? Not let them program what they want? Order them to do things they don’t want to do? (like what?)

    – What does it take to right a ship like the NY Philharmonic? I assume fund raising is a big part – corporate and large gifts. But what else is an executive director to do? If audiences don’t come, how does she change that? Aren’t programming decisions primarily up to the music director (thus, influencing whether audiences attend)?

    • Nancy Wilken says:

      Charisma (one word) & Leadership &
      Courage & Patience Insightful as well
      Insightfulness for the future A Very Tall
      Order I could go on Spoke to couple of players @ talk given by first Bernstein
      Scholar (Lennie’s scores) & they remarked “They miss “Lennie” “as they
      Always did better with him” LB changed that orchestra so they need a
      Change agent as Maestro Levine was
      With The Met Orchestra!

  • Ruth Ann Carlock says:

    Tough job for a lady of 67? Seriously? What century are you living in?

  • Dileep Gangolli says:

    Not sure why one takes this sort of challenge in the twilight of a long and successful career with many of the leading organizations in the industry.

    Especially with the challenge of the hall renovation which is sure to go over budget and delays.

    But I wish her the best of luck!

  • herrera says:

    She faces a completely different and transformed landscape in the billionaire class of NY since she left for LA.

    The hierarchy in spending on the arts in NY: personal acquisitions from Sothebys/Christies, then naming rights to various galleries in the Moma, then to the Whitney, then the Met Museum… And already 4th down on the list, the Met Musuem is in serious financial difficulty.

    I’m not even sure the NY Phil is in the top 10, it certainly falls behind the Met Opera and Carnegie Hall. Maybe she could entice some Hollywood money but Geffen already took the big prize of naming the hall, and what else is left to name? The stage…

    • Andy Pannell says:

      Seems to me Salonen-Borda-Dudamel pioneered some cutting edge programming in LA (think “Tristan Project” with Sellars and festivals pairing modern and classic composers). The Phil combined virtuoso precision with flair and risk-taking. NY Phil, on the other hand, seems STEEPED in tradition and as maneuverable as an ocean liner. Will the old Queen be open to branching out for younger, more adventurous audiences?

      • John Borstlap says:

        What about GIlbert? I thought he brought a breeze of fresh air in terms of programming and drew younger audiences.

  • Nancy Wilken says:

    Don’t believe Van Zweden will be able
    to bring innovative repertoire so the tried & true traditional (van Zweden a
    Traditionalist — a “safe” choice”) Carnegie Hall may be able convince
    Ms Borda & Maestro van Zweden to
    Consider pulling from CH’s support of their new composers program–Let’s
    Cross our fingers!

    • John Borstlap says:

      Based upon ignorance. Van Zweden has done a lot of contemporary works. When MD of the Dutch Radio Philharmonic, he premiered many new works. Also in Dallas, and in Hong Kong. He is genuinely interested in new repertoire, with the caveat that it is not sonic art where the psychological dimension is absent. And that last ‘restriction’ is a purely musical one. If you look at his repertoire, what he has done over the last years, the picture is very eclectic with a wide range of idioms and styles.

      Such prejudices as expressed in the comment, stem from the idea that there exists something like ‘progressive music’ which is nonsense, and that a conductor who excells in Beethoven, BRuckner and Wagner would be inevitably unsympathetic to later music.

      There are only 3 types of music: 1) good music; 2) bad music; 3) music by [redacted]. JvZw keeps a strict diet of 1) and has his inner musical compass to show him the way, and ignores fashion, hipness, or the opinion of [redacted].

  • bob kaufmann says:

    how does this equation change now that the renovation has been drastically reduced?