Three major US orchestras in search of new leaders

Alison Vulgamore’s departure from Philadelphia last night leaves three hot seats vacant and few talents available to fill them.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic was left last week by Deborah Borda in the capable hands of Gail Samuel, the Acting President and Chief Executive Officer who is thought likely to get the job on a permanent basis.

The San Francisco Symphony has Derek Dean as Interim Executive Director. The difference between Acting and Interim speaks volumes.

Philadelphia does not know where to turn after seven years of tough love by a CEO widely referred to as Voldemort. It is an awful act to follow.



We hear complaints from all sides of the lack of leadership talent in orchestras. The problem is that vice-presidents rarely get a chance to prove themselves. Gail Samuel had six months in charge when Deborah Borda went off last year on sabbatical. She knows the ropes. Not many others do.

It’s a tough job, requiring passion, unsocial hours and the courage to take unpleasant decisions. It burns up the faint-hearted. The New York Phil’s immediate past chief lasted just four years in the seat. While well paid, it’s not a job that makes you lifelong friends. Or leads to better things. Many ex-orch prezzies now call themselves consultants.

Unless there’s someone on the Philadelphia board who fancies changing career, this could be a long, hard search that yields yet another set of excuses.



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  • Recently announced: Jonathan Martin is leaving Dallas for Cincinnati and Gary Ginstling is moving from Indianapolis for the National in DC. Neither orchestra is in the “Big Seven” but these are two more important vacancies.

    • The first thought I had when it came out Vulgamore was leaving Philly was that she might end up in Dallas. Seems like a natural landing spot for someone with her pedigree.

      Not saying it’s the right choice. Only that it seems very possible.

  • Arguably in the world’s top five in musical quality, the PO’s musicians are 7th in US orchestra’s pay and benefits. How long can they keep it up without a change not only in CEOs but in board leadership??

  • I am genuinely curious to hear Norman’s explanation of the difference between “acting” and “interim.”

    • I’m not Norman, but the difference typically is that “interim” implies that the interim person will not be considered for the position, whereas an “acting” person might or might not be.

      This is not hard and fast, of course.

      • This semantic difference is hardly any more than symbolic in real life, because there have been many instances in which Interim Something became The Something and conversely plenty of cases when Acting Something did not.

        • Sure, you can document exceptions. But you asked, and you received an answer.

          Also, an “interim” is often brought in from the outside, whereas an “acting” often ascends from within the organization. Again, just as I wrote before, this is not a hard and fast rule.

          • No, I am not the one who asked about that. But I do agree with this latest distinction to a greater degree than with the previous ones: indeed, interim is usually from outside and acting almost always from inside.

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